60,000 Fans Welcome Rams Back. It's Another Win In LA
November 30, 2017
Make no mistake about it... the 2017 Los Angeles Rams are the real deal. One week after a lackluster loss to the Minnesota Vikings the Rams defied the naysayers with a 26-20 wire-to-wire victory over the New Orleans Saints. Significant were the Rams overtaking the Saints for the #3 NFC playoff position with five games remaining in the regular season.
Over 60,000 showed up at the Coliseum on Sunday, November 26 to see the Rams (8-3) double their win total from last season. They also snapped the Saints (8-3) and quarterback Drew Brees' eight-game winning streak. Noted was anther three-phase clampdown under Sean McVay in only his 11th game as an NFL head coach.
In contrast, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton, his staff and players never found a rhythm. McVay: "... very tough, confident football team coming in here. No. 1 offense in the league and I thought our defense did a great job today... There's a lot of positive things and that was a tough, hard-earned win for us."
"I think that the guys set the standards themselves and I think they have high expectations week-in and week-out. I think that when you put in this amount of work that we do, you want to come away with a win."
Ram kick returner Pharoh Cooper got the fans involved immediately with a 40-yard kickoff return to start the game. Quarterback Jared Goff promptly directed a classic opening-game drive. A short slant pass to wide receiver Sammy Watkins finished off the 59-yard seven-play drive for the intial lead.
Goff: "It felt good. I think we had guys step up. Robert Woods goes down, our highest production guy right now and having Josh (Reynolds) step up and then Cooper (Kupp) doing what he did and then Sammy playing as well as he did."
Watkins: "I'm not going to say it was easy, we just got the right looks and right situations. We saw what was open and how the DB's were playing us. Had a lot of great inside routes and we connected on them."
Coordinator Wade Phillips' Ram defense got involved with two consecutive sacks on Brees near midfield three plays later. Defensive end Aaron Donald got his sixth sack of the season. Outside linebacker Robert Quinn completed the combo on third down, giving him 57.5 sacks for his career.
Quinn: "Brees is a Hall of Famer, no doubt. So if we let him get going early, we know the type of chaos he can cause for a defense. Like I said, guys just stayed to our game plan. As a pass rusher, we just worked our moves and once we got to him tried to get him down and just make his day a little hectic."
The Rams then moved 83 yards in 11 plays, ending with kicker Greg Zuerlein's 50-yard field goal. Zuerlein kept the Rams constantly in the lead throughout the game, nailing four field goals and two extra-points. Zuerlein currently leads the NFL in scoring by a wide margin with 129 points. Jeff Wilkins holds the Rams' single season record with 163 points scored in 2003.
The L.A. special teams again dominated under Coordinator John Fassel. Cooper's combined kickoff and punt returns blanked the Saints' return units 169 total yards to zero. Johnny Hekker launched three punts with precision and every kickoff into the end zone. Hekker's punts all landed inside the Saints' 20-yard line, contributing to their constantly poor field position.
One Saint who did show up was rookie running back Alvin Kamara. He smoked the Ram defense along the right sideline for a 74-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to awaken the thousands of Saints fans in attendance. Their loud chants evoked boisterous responses from the Ram faithful throughout the game.
The Rams took a 17-7 lead late in the first half with an impressive 86-yard eight-play drive. Goff used multiple weapons including a 53-yard completion to rookie wide receiver Kupp that put the ball on the Saints 7-yard line. Two plays later he hit rookie wide receiver Josh Reynolds in the back of the end zone. Saints kicker Wil Lutz added a 50-yard field goal just before half.
The Rams kept moving the ball in the second half but couldn't find the end zone. No problem as Zuerlein kept the Rams comfortably in front with three field goals of 46, 49 and 46 yards. Meanwhile, the Ram defense kept Brees and the Saints offense off-balance for three quarters.
The Saints threatened with a first-and-goal at the L.A. 5-yard line early in the fourth quarter. On third down Kayvon Webster came up with the stop of the game, tackling wide-open Saint receiver Michael Thomas one-on-one three yards from the goal line. Lutz nailed a 21-yard consolation field goal.
There was one last gasp. With 2:27 remaining in regulation Brees drove the Saints 75 yards in six plays in a mere 42 seconds ending with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kamara. The subsequent onside kick was cleanly recovered by Watkins and the Rams kneeled on the final two plays to run out the clock.
L.A. linebacker Alec Ogletree summed it up: "Yeah, we found a way to get it done and that's all you can ask for. We definitely missed a lot of opportunities to create turnovers, but after all we did enough to get the job done. It's a tough team to play against and get a win and we came out and did what we needed to win."
The Rams travel across the State border to take on the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday, December 3 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Los Angeles easily dismantled their NFC West opponent, 33-0, in an earlier season "home" game at Twickenham Stadium, London, England. The Rams controlled the ball for 39 minutes in the shutout victory.
Arizona (5-6) is struggling to remain in the NFC Wild-Card playoff chase. The Cardinals have been without the services of quarterback Carson Palmer, who suffered a season-ending broken left arm against the Rams in Week 7. They'll have to rely heavily on current starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, their leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, third in NFL this season with 72 receptions.
The Cards outlasted a tough Jacksonville Jaquar team, 27-24, last week on a Phil Dawson 57-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the game. Their defense held Jacksonville's offense to 219 total net yards. One thing's for certain, it's not going to be just another desert cakewalk for the Rams this Sunday.