EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Los Angeles Rams have clinched a playoff berth. With a closer than expected victory against a scrappy Giants in a cold New Jersey, the Rams positioned themselves to secure a playoff spot. Then, a few hours after the game, the team gathered in the airport before taking off to see the Steelers defeat the Seahawks and lock in the Rams playoff berth before take-off.
Kyren Williams led the way with 3 touchdowns and 87 yards, while Puka Nacua went off for 5 receptions and 118 yards. Even though Matthew Stafford threw 2 interceptions and the defense didn’t have their best effort, the Rams found a way to get a victory.
The Rams are now 9-7 and the 6th seed in the NFC.
Here are my three takeaways:
Since the bye week, Matthew Stafford has been sensational, but against the Giants, he was pressured more than usual and was off. After the first few possessions where the Rams put together good drives, Stafford was erratic as the Giants blitzed and put pressure on him, which resulted in a few overthrows. You look at his line and see over 300 yards on great efficiency, but the two interceptions allowed the Giants to stay in the game and claw back into it.
Was it the cold weather? Maybe. Was it the fact that the pocket collapsed more in this matchup than the last 5 weeks? Yes. The offensive line has held up pretty well, but the Giants’ front and blitz package threw some wrenches into the Rams’ offensive plans. I fully expect Sean McVay and Stafford to get back on track and figure things out going into their matchup against the 49ers. Regardless of this performance, Stafford has solidified himself again as a top 5 quarterback in the NFL.
Somebody had to pick up the slack on the offensive end, and somebody had to make a play outside of Aaron Donald on the defensive end. So, Kyren Williams and Puka Nacua stepped up, and Kobie Turner locked the Giants down. Williams had a slow start, but broke free for a few chunk runs to go along with his three touchdowns to supplement the scoring for the Rams. What else is there to say about Puka Nacua? He once again had over 100 yards receiving, including an 80 yard run that set the Rams up for a score on third down in their own territory. Those two have been focal points on the offensive end all year, and bailed out a lethargic Rams offense throughout.
On defense, we know Aaron Donald is going to get double-teamed or even triple-teamed on most possessions. That’s where Kobie Turner came in to apply pressure and notch some sacks on a weak Giants offensive line. Turner had 2.5 sacks to bring his rookie total to 9 and solidify himself as one of the best defensive rookies in football. This core group of young players has been essential to the operation and success of the Rams.
If you would’ve told me the Rams would be 9-7 with a playoff spot clinched going into the final week of the season, I would have believed you. Others? Not so much. Many lines had the Rams at 6.5 wins or even lower before the season, questioning the ability of a lot of the roster. Now, this team has exceeded expectations by far and locked themselves into a playoff spot before their final game. It has been a remarkable turnaround for a team that was 4-12 last year and by all accounts, devoid of top end talent at the beginning of the year.
The emergence of young stars such as Puka Nacua and Kyren Williams, along with the development of Earnest Jones, Kobie Turner and Byron Young, have put the Rams in this spot. Les Snead and the front office deserve heaps of credit, but what Sean McVay and Raheem Morris have done for this team is incredible. Minimum signings such as Demarcus Robinson and Ahkello Witherspoon have paid off, while the veterans have performed admirably to supplement the young players. This team could be a force in the playoffs, but the Rams have over $60 million in cap space and multiple draft picks to use in the offseason. The future is incredibly bright.
The Rams travel to Santa Clara to take on their rival San Francisco 49ers. Kickoff time is undetermined as the NFL sorts out scheduling for the final week.