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Winners & Losers: Matthew Stafford reverts to Detroit form in key game

Rams beat Giants, but tried to give away game at every turn

Los Angeles Rams v New York Giants Photo by Mike Lawrence/Getty Images

It wasn’t pretty and the Los Angeles Rams did nearly every thing they could to try to give the game away to the New York Giants, but ultimately LA secured a key victory to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Rams narrowly escaped New York with a win and can clinch a playoff berth on Sunday if either the Seattle Seahawks lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers tie one another.

The Rams were one of the hottest teams in the NFL heading into this game. The Giants had no business taking them down to the wire; however, three turnovers by LA’s offense and costly special teams errors allowed New York to hang around. Fortunately for Los Angeles, the Giants struggled with kicking issues of their own and Mason Crosby shanked the game-winning field goal attempt with seconds remaining on the clock.

There were a handful of individuals that rose to the occasion and helped secure a key victory, but there were also a number of losing performances in this game.

Winners

Aaron Donald, DE

Donald must have read my post before the game that asked whether Giants DT Dexter Lawrence is a better interior defensive lineman at this point in his career. The star pass rusher had one of his most dominant performances of the 2023 season and took Tyrod Taylor down for two sacks. He consistently lived in the backfield and it felt like Taylor was running for his life and playing outside of structure for most of the game.

Kobie Turner, DT

Byron Young, OLB

It’s been a while since Byron Young had a standout game, but his athleticism and high motor was felt in this one. The rookie chased down the mobile Taylor often and he forced several pressures as the opposing quarterback was letting go of the football. The box score officially credited him with one sack.

Young’s rookie counterpart, Kobie Turner, played what was probably his best individual performance of his first NFL campaign. Turner was dominant as a pass rusher early and he finished with two and a half sacks.

The future is bright for these two rookie defenders in Los Angeles.

Kyren Williams, RB

This game unfortunately snapped a streak of three 100-yard rushing performances for Williams, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t effective against a tough Giants front. Williams rushed 20 times for 87 yards (4.4 average) with three touchdowns. He also hauled in two receptions for 14 yards.

The Rams are just better with Williams in the starting lineup, and he consistently makes the offense better by refusing to go down for a loss and keeping LA ahead of the chains.

Puka Nacua, WR

Note Nacua is the third rookie on this list on a day where first-year players came up big for Los Angeles.

What is there left to say about the rookie phenom? He willed LA to an 80-yard catch and run by breaking through tackles and tight roping along the sideline. Nacua hauled in five catches for 118 yards and added another two rushes for 19 yards. He’s 30 yards and four receptions away from setting new rookie receiving records.

Losers

Lucas Havrisik, K (yes, again)

It’s malpractice for the Rams to keep Havrisik on the roster, and it’s fair to question if they moved on from Brett Maher too hastily. For those who clamored for LA to sign Mason Crosby, know he wasn’t the right answer either.

The Rams must find a permanent solution to the kicking position this offseason, and it could be the Achilles heel that ends their season with the margins growing ever tighter.

Special teams in general

For the second time in four games LA’s special teams allowed a long punt return touchdown. Sure, rookie punter Ethan Evans’ big-time leg is likely at least partially to blame for outkicking the coverage; however, the biggest issue is missed tackling. The Rams had multiple opportunities to take down Gunner Olszewski just as they did with Tylan Wallace in the game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Matthew Stafford, QB

Stafford had been playing the best football of his decade and a half NFL career coming into this game; however, in the most important game of the season he made costly errors against a struggling Giants team. Turnovers are the great equalizer. Stafford was at his best at avoiding turnovers this season—especially over the last month—but they always seem to come in bunches for him.

Both of Stafford’s interceptions against the Giants came on overthrows with pass rushers bearing down on him.

With an opportunity to clinch the playoffs this weekend on the line, Stafford’s individual performance was reminiscent of his days with the Detroit Lions. While Stafford was better than he ever got credit for in Detroit, his up and down performances and the Lions’ lack of success are not mutually exclusive.

Has he truly turned a corner in his career, or will the turnover issues pop up as the stakes grow higher and higher this season?

Demarcus Robinson, WR

Yes, Robinson was LA’s second-best receiver today and caught six passes for 92 yards. He works very well off-schedule with Stafford. However, after the Rams picked off Taylor with a chance to score before the half, Robinson fumbled to give New York favorable field position. The Giants ended up kicking a field goal to narrow the lead.

It may not seem like much, but committing turnovers is the quickest way to let bad teams hang around longer than they should.

Deep pass coverage (yes, again)

The Rams have struggled with deep pass coverage since the game against the Ravens. Lamar Jackson was able to create off-schedule and consistently find receivers behind the defense. The following week against the Washington Commanders, Jacoby Brissett came into the game in relief and helped draw Washington within striking distance. Derek Carr had life late last week on Thursday Night Football with the New Orleans Saints despite the Rams dominating on defense for most of the game.

Ahekllo Witherspoon was beat deep this afternoon for a touchdown. Cobie Durant also gave up a long reception that was ultimately overturned by a New York holding penalty. LA has to improve in this facet of the defense, though it will likely take upgrades at corner and safety over the offseason to apply a long-term fix.