Antelope Valley Press

Surprising Rams roll into playoffs

Los Angeles rides momentum with 7 wins in 8 games


LOS ANGELES — Not many teams are heading into the postseason playing better football than the Los Angeles Rams, who have won seven of eight since their bye week to earn a history-rich playoff showdown in Detroit.

And while momentum doesn’t always mean much in the playoff cauldron, the Rams (10-7) finished out their regular season at a level that showed they’re capable of doing big things this year — and they’re also not nearly as far from championsh­ip contention as they appeared to be during the past offseason.

The Rams even finished the regular season strong while resting their most important players. LA’s 21-20 victory over San Francisco featured plenty of backups but also plenty of reasons for the Rams to be optimistic both this week and next season.

“It’s about coming together at the right time and continuing to gel as a group,” coach Sean McVay said Monday. “I think our veteran leaders really elevated everybody around them, and then you get some guys that are able to contribute a lot faster than what is normally expected based on, ‘hey, you’ve got to. We’re counting on you.’ ... We’re excited to be where we’re at. I think we’ve got some good momentum, but now we’re all 0-0.”

The Rams were 3-6 at the bye, with their playoff chances seemingly slim. They got healthier during their week off — most importantl­y with Matthew Stafford returning from injury — and quickly reeled off a string of increasing­ly impressive performanc­es.

They did it with veteran leadership from Stafford, Aaron

Donald and Cooper Kupp, but also with youngsters stepping up in ways they’ve rarely done for McVay’s Rams, who haven’t made a first-round draft pick since 2016 — a year before the coach arrived. Puka Nacua’s historic season got the biggest headlines, but a half-dozen draft picks made major contributi­ons while leading a contingent of nearly two dozen first- and second-year players on the NFL’s second-youngest roster.

“I see a connected team,” said McVay, who posted his sixth winning record and his fifth 10-win season in seven years with the Rams. “I see a team that supports one another. I see a team that responds to adversity better, and then I see a team that has a whole hell of a lot of fun just going out and cutting it loose, and I think that’s when we’re at our best.”


The Rams finished seventh in the NFL in total yards per game (359.3) and eighth in points (23.8). Stafford fell just short of a 4,000-yard passing season despite missing 2½ games, Kyren Williams became the Rams’ first 1,000yard rusher since 2018 and Nacua became the most prolific rookie receiver in NFL history. With a much-improved offensive line making everything possible, McVay put together another outstandin­g offensive team.


The Rams finished the regular season with 41 sacks, tied with the Lions for 23rd in the league — and the fewest among the 14 playoff teams. Although Kobie Turner (9) and Byron Young (8) finished 1-2 for the most sacks in the NFL by rookies this season, Los Angeles would benefit greatly from more consistent pressure on opposing quarterbac­ks moving forward, starting with Donald and his defense going against old friend Jared Goff in Detroit.


Safety Russ Yeast lost his starting job earlier this year, but he came up big in Week 18 when starter Jordan Fuller went down with an injury. Yeast led the Rams with seven tackles and made two big pass breakups, including a vital play on the Niners’ final drive. If the Rams need to rely on Yeast in Detroit, this performanc­e made them more comfortabl­e about it.


The Rams waived defensive lineman Earnest Brown on Monday, his 25th birthday. The fifth-round pick in 2021 never earned a regular role in three seasons with Los Angeles, playing in just 12 games. The move opens a roster spot for depth purposes heading to Detroit.


Fuller injured his ankle at San Francisco, and McVay is unsure whether his defensive captain will play. He will miss Wednesday’s practice at a minimum. Fuller had played more snaps than anybody on the Rams’ defense until his injury. “I think we do need to be prepared and get contingenc­y plans in place, but we’re hopeful that he might be able to make it to the game,” McVay said.


1,148 — The number of snaps played by rookie left guard Steve Avila, the only player who didn’t miss a single snap for the Rams this season. Los Angeles’ massive upgrades to Avila and Kevin Dotson at the guard positions were a major key to its offensive improvemen­t this season.


Los Angeles doesn’t face nearly as much external pressure as the Lions, who will play with the weight of franchise failure and a success-starved fan base on their shoulders. Except for Stafford, the Rams can play without much history or expectatio­n looming above them. Whether that’s good or bad will be determined Sunday night.

 ?? Associated Press ?? Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (17) is congratula­ted by teammates after catching a pass to set a rookie record for receiving yards against the 49ers during the second half on Sunday in Santa Clara.
Associated Press Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (17) is congratula­ted by teammates after catching a pass to set a rookie record for receiving yards against the 49ers during the second half on Sunday in Santa Clara.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States