The Los Angeles Rams scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions, then needed two late takeaways to seal a 31-27 victory over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
Matthew Stafford’s third touchdown pass, a 10-yarder to Cooper Kupp, gave the Rams a 28-3 lead with nine minutes, 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
Atlanta (0-2) began chipping away at the lead with 3:20 to play in the third quarter on Marcus Mariota’s 4-yard touchdown pass to former USC standout Drake London, five plays after inside linebacker Mykal Walker intercepted a pass by Matthew Stafford and returned the ball 21 yards to the Rams’ 20-yard line.
The touchdown was London’s first in his two NFL games.
The Rams responded with Matt Gay’s 20-yard field goal on their next possession for a 31-10 lead with 12:13 left in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons drove 72 yards on eight plays in 3:59 on the ensuing possession, culminating with Mariota’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Olamide Zaccheaus.
The Rams were forced to punt for the only time in the game on their next possession. Troy Andersen blocked Riley Dixon’s punt, with Lorenzo Carter recovering at the Rams’ 26-yard line and running into the end zone for Atlanta’s first blocked punt for a touchdown since 1990.
“They had a free runner right up the middle long snapper,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. Long snapper “Matt (Orzech) just ended up missing his block. When you get that internal penetration like that, it’s going to be tough to be able to get it off.”
Mariota’s pass to London for the 2-point conversion cut the deficit to 31-25 with 4:57 left.
Kupp fumbled at the Rams’ 44-yard line after catching a 13-yard pass from Stafford. Falcons cornerback Darren Hall recovered at the Rams’ 40-yard line and returned the ball to 37.
Atlanta picked up a first down and were at the Rams’ 24-yard line with 1:18 remaining when Mariota’s pass into the end zone was intercepted by Jalen Ramsey.
Receiver Brandon Powell ran out of the end zone to concede a safety with six seconds left.
Dixon’s free kick went out of bounds, giving the Falcons the ball on the 50-yard line. Mariota was sacked by linebacker Justin Hollins and fumbled on the final play, with defensive tackle Aaron Donald recovering for the Rams.
“(I) haven’t been doing this that long, but I’ve been doing it long enough to know you never take a win for granted in this league,” said McVay, who is in his sixth season as the Rams’ coach and 14th as an NFL coach. “It’s too difficult to come by.
“We had too many turnovers, too many things that we didn’t capitalize on, but we found a way to be able to get it done.”
The Rams committed three turnovers, including two interceptions by Stafford. Atlanta converted the turnovers into seven points while the other two drives that began after turnovers ended with Mariota throwing interceptions.
Stafford completed 27 of 36 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 100.7 on a scale of 0 to 158.3 based on completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns per attempt, and interceptions per attempt. He was sacked twice, five times fewer than in the Rams’ season-opening 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills Sept. 8.
“I thought he did a great job,” McVay said. “I saw a guy that had total command, saw the field really well and it’s unfortunate that those two errors that we had ended up leading to turnovers, but you give them credit. They made those plays.”
Mariota completed 17 of 26 passes for 196 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions for an 81.6 passer rating. He was sacked three times.
When asked his opinion of Mariota’s performance, Falcons coach Arthur Smith said, “Well, take it in context. I mean some of the stuff, wasn’t necessarily his fault. He made enough plays and gave us a chance, right? He have two touchdown passes today? The one interception, I mean the way the ball bounced off (running back Cordarrelle Patterson) and then the one at the end it’s Jalen over the top, you got a chance on that.
“There’s things we’ll look at and clean up, but he’s operating pretty well for us right now.”
The Rams outgained Atlanta 337 yards to 261 and led 24-17 in first downs and 30:24-29:36 in time of possession in front of a crowd announced at 71,802 SoFi Stadium.
The Rams played without center Brian Allen, suffered a knee injury in the opener, which he started along with 20 games during the 2021 regular season and playoffs. Receiver Van Jefferson missed his second consecutive game following offseason knee surgery. He started all 21 games during the 2021 regular season and playoffs.
The victory was the Rams’ 600th since entering the NFL in 1937, the seventh team to accomplish the feat. The others are the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Commanders and Philadelphia Eagles, all of whom entered the league before the Rams.
The Rams scored in the first half on Stafford’s 1-yard pass to Allen Robinson II, Darrell Henderson’s 8-yard run and Stafford’s 3-yard pass to Kupp.
Atlanta’s only first-half points came on Younghoe Koo’s 26-yard field goal 2:44 before halftime. Koo missed a 44-yard field goal attempt on the game’s first drive.
“We came out and did a great job of really being able to assert control of the game and then we relinquished it because of self-inflicted wounds, but we had enough mental toughness, physical toughness to be able to find a way to still finish it out and come away with the win,” McVay said.
“So for that I’m proud and I’m excited about attacking some of these things that we’ve got to be able to fix if we want to go where we want to go.”