The Los Angeles Rams assured themselves of a return to the NFL playoffs after a one-season absence with an 18-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at SoFi Stadium despite their offense being held without a touchdown.
The victory gave the Rams (10-6) the second of the three NFC wild-card berths in the expanded playoffs and a wild-card round matchup against the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks (12-4) Saturday in Seattle.
The Rams split two games with the Seahawks during the regular season, with both teams winning on their home fields. The Rams won 23-16 Nov. 15, while Seattle won 20-9 last Sunday.
Rams coach Sean McVay has said quarterback Jared Goff will return for the playoffs. He missed Sunday’s game after undergoing surgery Monday to repair a fracture in his right thumb suffered in the loss to Seattle.
The Rams would have been assured of a playoff berth even if they had lost Sunday because of the Chicago Bears’ 35-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The NFL added a third wild card team in each conference, increasing the playoff field to 14 teams in the 32-team league.
Playing without their leading receiver and leading rusher in addition to Goff, the Rams scored on 28-, 34- and 37-yard field goals by Matt Gay, an 84-yard interception return by Troy Hill with 20 seconds left in the first half and a safety five minutes, 21 seconds before halftime when Arizona guard Justin Pugh was called for holding.
John Wolford completed 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards in his NFL debut and ran for a game-high 56 yards on six carries. The six carries were the most by a Rams quarterback since 2000.
The Rams outgained the Cardinals, 333-214 and led 21-15 in first downs and 37:53-22:07 in time of possession.
Arizona (8-8), which would have been assured of a playoff berth with a victory, scored on backup quarterback Chris Streveler’s 11-yard touchdown pass on its second possession, two plays after linebacker Jordan Hicks intercepted a pass by Wolford and at the Rams’ 20-yard line and returned the ball to the Rams’ 14.
Cardinals’ starting quarterback Kyler Murray injured an ankle when “I got landed on in an awkward situation” when he was sacked on a third-down play on their opening possession and did not return to the game until their first possession of the fourth quarter.
Streveler completed 11 of 16 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Murray completed eight of 11 passes for 87 yards.
Cooper Kupp, the Rams’ leading receiver, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. Running back Darrell Henderson was placed on the reserve/injured list Thursday because of an ankle injury. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers, a starter in each of the first 15 games on the season, was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Thursday.
Hill’s interception return was the Rams’ fourth defensive touchdown of the year, tying the Indianapolis Colts for the league lead. It was the season’s longest interception return for a touchdown and the second longest interception return.
It was the second time this season Hill has returned an interception for a touchdown. He also returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown Nov. 29 in a 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
The Rams completed the regular season allowing a league-low 281.9 yards per game, the fourth time they have had the league’s top-ranked defense. It was the first time they led the league in total defense since 1978.
The Rams defense sacked both Murray and Streveler twice, their eighth game of the season with at least four sacks. Their 53 sacks were second in the league behind the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 56.
The Rams have won eight consecutive games against Arizona, a streak that began in McVay’s first game against the Cardinals.
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