Rams Win, Eye Showdown With Eagles
Final 32-16 Over Arizona Cardinals
December 7, 2017
It was all business in the desert as the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 32-16, on Sunday, December 3.
The game wasn't easy yet the Rams made the final score look easy, improving their 2017 road record to 5-1 and 9-3 overall. The special teams and defense kept the Cards at bay while the Rams scored on six of 11 offensive possessions.
The win at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale guaranteed the Rams a winning season for the first time since 2003 when they were 12-4 and finished first in the NFC West while playing in St. Louis. More relevant is L.A. retaining a one-game lead over the 8-4 Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West with only four games remaining in the 2017 season.
"Tough win against a great opponent today. Very tough atmosphere. I thought we kind of battled through, wasn't perfect especially offensively. We've got to clean up some mechanics and some different things like that," said Rams Head Coach Sean McVay postgame.
L.A.'s defense struck early. Leading 3-0, free-safety Lamarcus Joyner's interception and 46-yard return gave the Rams the ball at the Arizona 23-yard line. Ram quarterback Jared Goff threw to five different receivers during the short drive ending with a one-yard touchdown toss to tight end Gerald Everett on fourth down.
McVay: "Defensively, to get two take-aways: (Linebacker Alec) Ogletree turning the one interception into a touchdown was huge. Special teams was outstanding and to get to the ninth win for a lot of the guys that have been here and to lock up a winning season, certainly we know it’s a “one game at a time” mindset."
Five minutes later Ogletree threatened to turn it into a rout, intercepting Cardinal quarterback Blaine Gabbert's pass at the line of scrimmage and returning it 41 yards for a 16-0 lead. It also wiped out Goff's blunder three plays earlier, an interception by linebacker Kareem Martin at the Arizona 33-yard line.
"Yeah, I thought it was okay. Anytime you get a win you're happy but I wasn't happy with some of the errors I was making, mental errors and just not seeing everything great," said Goff. "Was able to bounce back though... Came back in the second half and kind of settled in and finished the game like I wanted to."
L.A. Kicker Greg Zuerlein opened the scoring with a 56-yard field goal, his first of four on the day. Zuerlein kicked 14 game-points to run his NFL season-leading total to 143. He also leads the league in kickoffs for touchbacks with 66, one reason opponents are constantly starting drives in poor field position against the Rams this year.
The other reason is punter Johnny Hekker. With the Rams holding on to a tenuous 19-13 third-quarter lead Hekker boomed a 70-yarder from the Rams end zone. The ball rolled out of bounds at the Arizona 21-yard line, denying the Cards great field position and momentum.
Four plays later Pharoh Cooper returned a punt 30 yards to the Arizona 30-yard line. Goff passes to running back Todd Gurley and tight end Derek Carrier set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Sammy Watkins minutes later. It was Watkins' sixth touchdown reception of the season, including four in his last five games. Gurley gained 158 yards from scimmage.
The Ram defense had a field day sacking Gabbert six times. Aaron Donald had two, Ethan Westbrooks had two, Matt Longacre and Robert Quinn had one each. The Rams currently rank third in the NFL with 37 sacks and are tied for first in touchdowns with three. Donald leads the team with eight sacks. Once again Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips' defense was the difference in the second half, yielding only three points.
The special teams blocked two kicks. Tyrunn Walker blocked an extra point attempt after Arizona cut the lead to 16-13 in the second quarter. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers blocked Phil Dawson's 45-yard field goal attempt with the Rams leading, 26-16, denying Arizona a one-score deficit in the fourth quarter.
The Rams' biggest test of the year is this Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Coliseum. Both lead the league in points scored with 361. The Eagles (10-2) are coming in slightly wounded, having their eight game winning streak snapped at Seattle, 24-10, on Sunday Night Football.
The obvious focus will be on last year's top two NFL draft choices: #1 Jared Goff and #2 Carson Wentz. Their very first NFL encounter is primed as Wentz is mentioned as a leading candidate for league MVP while Goff is evolving into the quarterback and leader the Rams believed they were drafting. The defense, offense and special teams for both teams are among the league's best.
"Obviously it'll be fun to play against him (Wentz) but I'm more excited to play their team. I think coming off a win now, we're going to enjoy this one," said Goff. "They're a great team and obviously one of the best in the league for a reason and it'll be a fun one at home. I hope we have a good atmosphere there and we'll be excited to get after it."
McVay: "You talk about being able to play in the National Football League and get a chance to play in games in the 13th game of the season with a team that's 10-2 coming into your place when you just got a chance to wrap up the third quarter of the season 3-1 and get to 9-3 overall, this is what you love about the NFL."