MATTHEW Stafford rushed for one touchdown (TD) and passed for two more as the Los Angeles Rams advanced to the National Football Conference (NFC) divisional playoff round with a convincing 34-11 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night in Inglewood, CA.
Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham, Jr. had touchdown receptions for the Rams, who used a dominating performance from their defense to earn an appearance in the divisional round for the third time in the past four seasons.
Stafford threw for 202 yards on 13-of-17 passing while the Rams had 140 rushing yards, led by Sony Michel (13 carries, 58 yards) and Cam Akers (17, 55).
Fourth-seeded Los Angeles will hit the road to face the second-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
Quarterback Kyler Murray had just 137 passing yards and two interceptions as the Cardinals lost for the fifth time in their last six games dating back to Week 14, when they took a 30-23 home loss to the Rams.
Arizona had minus-1 net yards near the midway point of the second quarter, following its first five drives of the game, and finished with 183 total yards. Cardinals running backs Chase Edmonds and James Conner combined for just 47 yards on 12 carries.
Rams coach Sean McVay said of his defensive players, “They played really well overall, but what they did in the first half, they held them to 40 yards. I think it was one of the best performances in playoff history being able to hold (down) an explosive offense like that, to be able to get a defensive touchdown, a couple of turnovers. Just so pleased with those guys.”
Los Angeles Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald added, “I feel like we were dominant out there. I feel like the quarterback wasn’t comfortable at all… That was the game plan. We stuck to it, and we had some success out there.”
The Rams took a 7-0 lead with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter when Stafford lobbed a 4-yard TD pass to Beckham in the back, left corner of the end zone. Stafford’s 1-yard quarterback sneak with 11:58 remaining in the second quarter made it a 14-0 advantage.
Things only got worse on offense for the Cardinals when the Rams’ David Long, Jr. intercepted a bobbled Murray screen pass and returned it 3 yards for a TD and a 21-0 lead with 7:59 remaining before the half.
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “You come out against a really good team and don’t do anything right for the first two quarters, that’s what’s going to happen. You have to give them credit. They played a great game and we didn’t do much right, coaching or playing, in the first half.”
The Rams made it 28-0 on Kupp’s 7-yard TD reception early in the third quarter before the Cardinals finally got on the scoreboard. Connor rushed for a 2-yard TD with 4:11 remaining in the third quarter, and Arizona added a two-point conversion to trail 28-8.
Stafford earned his first playoff victory in four tries after three prior defeats with the Detroit Lions.
Murray completed 19 of 34 passes in his first career playoff game, capping his third season.
Kingsbury said, “We have to use this as motivation and come back stronger from it, because that’s not indicative of who we want to be and unfortunately, that’s what showed up tonight.” — Reuters