The Los Angeles Rams ability to capitalize on big plays led to a 30-23 playoff-clenching victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The victory also hoisted LA into the NFC West’s top spot with two games left on the 2021 slate.
It was far from a resounding win, but each facet of the Rams team, offense, defense, and special teams, were able to forge stellar individual performances, close calls and good breaks into big plays and then cash in on them. There were also negative big plays to be sure, but the game is not played in a vacuum, and the Vikings are good team playing for their playoff life.
10:44, 1st qtr.- Matthew Stafford gets sneaky
On their opening drive, the Rams face fourth down and one yard to go at mid-field. LA calls a quarterback sneak, but the snap is fumbled by Stafford and drops straight down. Remarkably, the football is not kicked askew by the offensive line, By now, the interior blockers have surged forward, the QB snatches up the ball and follows for a first down.
On the next play, a Stafford pass hits Cooper Kupp down the sideline for 20 yards and a first down deep in Vikings territory. LA would score a touchdown five plays later.
Just an aside. On the Rams scoring play, although eventually ruled as a TD, the ball came loose and Minnesota linebacker Eric Kendricks scooped it and took off down the sideline. Matthew Stafford hustled over and made a diving swipe at Kendricks feet. Could Stafford have nicked up his right hand on the shoestring tackle?
00:56, 1st qtr.- LA linebackers flex their muscles
The Vikes had mounted a nice drive, moving within the Rams 10 yard line. On second and goal, linebacker Troy Reeder shot an interior gap on a run blitz, and the Viking guard bumped him off course. Minnesota running back Alexander Mattison takes the handoff and gets jammed up in the line, he re-directs and bursts towards open field off the edge. Reeder doesn’t give-up on the play and hustles his way into a tackle for short yardage.
On the next play, Viking QB Kirk Cousins throws to wide receiver KJ Osborn at the goal line. Although cornerback Darious Williams has tight coverage, the ball caroms off Osborn’s hands. After dropping into zone coverage, Rams linebacker Travin Howard has rotated towards the pass and is in position to grab the tipped ball and repel the Vikes scoring attempt.
5:12, 2nd qtr.- Not all the big plays broke for the Rams
Minnesota punts to the LA 28 yard line. As returner Brandon Powell settles under the punt, Ben Skowronek screens him off from the ball while trying to make a block. The football hits the field and takes a Viking bounce all the way back to eight yard line.
Two plays later, Stafford sets to pass. Ram center Coleman Shelton losses control of defensive tackle Armon Watts, who then barrels at the LA QB. Staff is able to evade Watts, but throws wildly into the flat and into the arms of LB Anthony Barr for an interception.
Ugly INT by Matthew Stafford, throws it right to Anthony Barrpic.twitter.com/OWtOrDg3BV— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 26, 2021
3:54, 2nd qtr.- Turn about is fair play
After the interception, the Vikings take over at the Rams seven yard line and are in great position to score.
On the next play, LA DT Greg Gaines bullrushes the Vikings interior and sacks Cousins for a big loss. Minnesota is forced to settle for a field goal.
11:13, 3rd qtr.- Stafford and the Rams get tipsy
The second half began with an exchange of punts. On their second possession, LA starts at their own 12 yard line. Staff drops back to pass and inexplicably, throws toward triple coverage. The throw is tipped at the line and again intercepted by Anthony Barr, who returns it to the one.
On the next play, RB Mattison powered through Jalen Ramsey and Jordan Fuller for a Viking TD.
8:34, 3rd qtr.- Some movin’ and some groovin’
The Vikes are within three points and dominating the third quarter. Minnesota faces 3rd and four. Before the snap, tackle Brian O’Neill moves and cost the Vikes a penalty. Now needing nine yards to extend the drive, Cousins goes back to pass, is chased from the pocket, and tackled a yard short of the line to gain. The Vikings are forced to punt.
On the next play, Brandon Powell fields the punt and darts down the sideline behind a wall of Rams blockers. He runs untouched into the end zone and an LA touchdown.
"Down the right sideline... TOUCHDOWN LA! Brandon Powell!"— x - Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 27, 2021
| Radio Call of the Game: First special teams TD of the season pic.twitter.com/8Ye1NFxIod
14:52, the 4th qtr.- Rams momentum starts when Kupp’s is stopped
The Rams are clinging to a seven-point lead and have driven to midfield. Kupp takes in a short pass on the sideline and appears to have it pried from his grip. The referee ruled that Kupp’s forward progress had been stopped and as such, the play was ended. No review.
On the next play, RB Darrell Henderson speeds through a big hole on the left side for 17 yards and a first down deep in Viking territory. The Rams would go on to score and put the game away.
The Rams control their own destiny. Winning out versus the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers would assure an opening playoff home game and give the Rams their first division title since 2018. LA has now won four games in a row, are peaking at the right time, creating and cashing in on big plays and (gulp) getting help from the special teams unit.