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2020 Rams Recall: A Week 17 win over the Cardinals

NFL: JAN 03 Cardinals at Rams Photo by Kevin Reece/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Though I’ve already used this phrase to describe the deteriorating relationship between Sean McVay and Jared Goff in the second half of last season several times before, I’ll say it again: Maybe this was the straw that over-strawed the driink.

Or whatever.

Going into Week 17, the LA Rams had lost three of their last five games and every defeat had an element of competitive devastation. Losing to the 49ers with Nick Mullens at quarterback not only finalized San Francisco’s sweep, it emphasized that the Rams number one defense could be defeated by formula when it wasn’t being overmatched by talent. Losing to the Jets three weeks later was a double-down on that same reality. And losing to the Seahawks in Week 16 established the reality that opportunity knocked for LA last season, but the Rams consistently chose to stay on the couch.

Those three losses alone might not have guaranteed Goff’s exit from SoFi Stadium prior to their being any fans in the stands, but then came an opportunity for McVay that few thought possible this soon: a chance to get a look at the offense with anybody-but-Goff under center.

From November 20, 2016 to December 27, 2020, Jared Goff started 73 of a possible 74 games, including playoffs. The only exception being a meaningless Week 17 game in 2017 in which Sean Mannion started against the 49ers, and the Rams lost 34-13 at home to one of the lesser teams in the league that year. But to be fair to Mannion, he was only one of many backups who started for LA that day.

On January 3, 2021, a fresh start in a new year, McVay had no choice but to start John Wolford in place of Goff, who had suffered a broken thumb on his throwing hand in the previous game against Seattle. Wolford is a former undrafted free agent out of Purdue and while he was in his second year with LA, he didn’t even have a 2020 preseason to “warm up” with the Rams starting offense at any point until the week before a must-win game versus Arizona.

But for many Rams fans — and Rams coaches — there was an element of relief that finally the world would get to see the offense — the starting offense — with anybody-but-Goff at quarterback.

If LA had lost the game, stumbled into the playoffs at 9-7, and looked even more helpless without Goff than they did with Goff (despite an early season offensive surge, the Rams finished 22nd in points and that feels almost generous given how stout the defense was in helping setup the offense with golden opportunities), then maybe McVay has no choice but to tell management he wants to keep Goff after the season.

And if instead McVay felt that the offense could finally breathe again after suffocating for most of the previous three months, then the head coach goes in the complete opposite direction and demands that the team look for other options.

We don’t need to recount the results of the Week 17 game entirely because you already know what happened:

  • Wolford wasn’t great and the Rams offense wasn’t dramatically improved — LA only scored 18 points and had two turnovers, while the rushing offense with Cam Akers was completely deflated — but he did attempt nine deep passes. I don’t have Goff’s numbers in front of me, but I have written a recap of the entire LA Rams season recently (this series) and I feel like you’d have to go at least a month back to find a total of nine deep pass attempts over multiple games. The offense completely stopped this idea of “deep” passing except when it became absolutely necessary late in the game. In this case, McVay trusted Wolford’s deep passing attack and though he had six incompletions, he also completed deep passes to Akers, Robert Woods, and Tyler Higbee. Wolford threw deep often, but he also threw them early, and that was more interesting than anything else that the Rams had done in the passing game over the previous two months.
  • The Rams won.
  • Kyler Murray entered the game hurt and left the game early. If Murray had been healthy throughout, it’s entirely possible that the Rams would have lost given that they only managed 18 points. But that’s not what happened and LA went into the playoffs at 10-6.

As soon as the Rams could open up the offense and prove that they’re capable of winning without Goff, that might have been the un-strawing of Jared Goff. Had it not been for Wolford’s injury against the Seahawks in the wild card round, we may have never seen Goff attempt another pass for LA in his career. He did have a few more, and he did help the Rams get a playoff win, but that might only make it more obvious that by the end of the season McVay was truly done with the quarterback.

And also uber-confident that Wolford’s not a bad option as your number two.

2020 Season Results

Week 1 - Win over the Cowboys

Week 2 - Win over the Eagles

Week 3 - Loss to the Bills

Week 4 - Win over the Giants

Week 5 - Win over a Football Team

Week 6 - Loss to the 49ers

Week 7 - Win over the Bears

Week 8 - Loss to the Dolphins

Week 9 - BYE

Week 10 - Win over the Seahawks

Week 11 - Win over the Bucs

Week 12 - Loss to the 49ers

Week 13 - Win over the Cardinals

Week 14 - Win over the Patriots

Week 15 - Loss to the Jets

Week 16 - Loss to the Seahawks

Week 17 - (9-6) Los Angeles Rams vs (8-7) Arizona Cardinals

FULL HIGHLIGHTS

Important Personnel Notes

  • John Wolford started in place of Jared Goff
  • Kyler Murray exited after going 8-of-11 for 87 yards. Backup Chris Streveler went 11-of-16 for 105 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
  • Cooper Kupp and Michael Brockers were both on the COVID-19 reserve list.
  • Micah Kiser remained out with injury.
  • The Cardinals were without Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk.

This is hardly a “great” game for McVay and the Rams. Despite what it may have meant for Goff, it wasn’t as though LA could set their sights on a future with Wolford: the offense scored a total of nine points, all on field goals, and they also had five punts, a lost fumble, and an interception.

Were it only up to the offense, the Rams probably would have lost this game.

But Arizona would do even worse, managing only seven offensive points, all of which came on a 14-yard touchdown drive following an interception that came on Wolford’s first career pass attempt.

Nothing went wright for Arizona after Streveler’s touchdown pass to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead.

A field goal made it 7-3.

A safety made it 7-5.

A non-professional throw by the Cardinals landed softly in the hands of Troy Hill, who went 84 yards to make it 12-7 at halftime.

Following Arizona’s touchdown in the first quarter, their drives went like this:

Punt, Punt, Safety, Punt, Interception, Punt, Blocked FG, Punt, End.

Wolford finished the game completing 22-of-38 passes and gaining 231 yards through the air, but he also added an element of scramble that Goff doesn’t have and he rushed for 56 yards, too.

It’s not a win to put your stamp on, if you’re McVay. But it is a win to pull your straw out.

Final Score: Rams 18, Cardinals 7

Up next: at Seattle Seahawks, Wild Card Round