The roar of the crowd echoed through Los Angeles’ glitzy SoFi Stadium on Thursday night as the hometown Rams staved off a furious fourth-quarter comeback attempt by the visiting New Orleans Saints to secure a pivotal 30-22 win.
With the high-stakes victory, the Rams kept their playoff hopes alive and well by improving to 8-7 on the season. It was a must-win game for the defending Super Bowl champions, who have endured an up-and-down campaign but appear to be peaking at just the right time.
Behind an efficient performance from veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, who completed 24 of 34 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns, the Rams offense clicked on all cylinders for much of the primetime showdown. But it was the late-game heroics of Los Angeles’ defense that sealed the much-needed result in front of a raucous home crowd that brought the noise all night long.
“We earned the opportunity to be in this position,” said Stafford, who has rediscovered his best form in recent weeks after some early season struggles. “I’m just proud of the way these guys have put their heads down, gone to work, and shown up.”
Things appeared to be headed for a blowout after the Rams opened up a commanding 30-7 lead late into the fourth quarter. But the pesky Saints rallied with 15 unanswered points in a flash to make things interesting down the stretch. Ultimately, however, the Rams’ defense was able to do just enough to keep their foot on the gas and eke out the victory, much to the delight of the home faithful.
Rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua was Stafford’s go-to target, hauling in nine receptions for a career-high 164 yards and one touchdown. The impressive outing from the first-year standout included several key catches to move the chains and help the Rams salt away precious time late in the fourth quarter.
“I feel like we’re playing our best football right now, and everybody is just enjoying the moment,” said Nacua, who has burst onto the scene in recent weeks. “We go out there, and just the confidence we have in each other is making playing football so much fun.”
Nacua’s big night saw him eclipse 150 receiving yards for the fourth time this season, establishing a new rookie record in the Super Bowl era, per NFL Research. Demarcus Robinson added 82 yards and a touchdown reception, while running back Kyren Williams rushed for 104 yards and another score.
After sleepwalking through the first half of their title defense, the Rams have now won five of their last six games, their only loss coming in overtime to the AFC-leading Baltimore Ravens. With two contests remaining, they are knocking on the door of the playoffs as they look to become just the second team ever to repeat as champions in the salary cap era.
“We’ve had stakes since the bye week, so I’m just proud of the way these guys have put their heads down, gone to work, and shown up,” said Stafford, referencing the season’s midpoint when Los Angeles was mired in mediocrity at 3-5.
Facing a Saints team also clinging to postseason life at 7-7, the Rams dominated early before holding off a late charge to escape by the skin of their teeth. New Orleans quarterback Derek Carr racked up 319 yards and three touchdowns through the air, but a key interception thwarted the comeback attempt.
Under the direction of wunderkind head coach Sean McVay, Los Angeles has rediscovered its offensive mojo after some predictable growing pains adjusting to life without former feature weapons like wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and linebacker Von Miller, both of whom departed in free agency.
While unheralded players like Nacua have admirably filled the void, the biggest constant has been Stafford and league-leading rusher Cooper Kupp, who form one of the most dangerous quarterback-receiver duos in the league. After besting the Saints, they will now set their sights on another nationally televised matchup on New Year’s Eve against the upstart New York Giants, whom Stafford coincidentally beat on the same holiday last season to clinch a playoff berth.
Adding even more star power and intrigue to Thursday’s proceedings was the presence of baseball phenom Shohei Ohtani, who recently signed a massive contract with the crosstown Dodgers and was in attendance decked out in Rams gear. The two-way Japanese sensation, fresh off an MVP season, greeted Rams players in the locker room afterwards, perhaps bringing some good fortune as the team gears up for a potential Cinderella run.
With the bright lights of Hollywood shining down, Stafford and the Rams took center stage and delivered when it mattered most. Their win over the Saints epitomized the time-tested championship mettle that will be required for them to complete their mission of going back-to-back.
As another capacity crowd filed out into the Southern California night, the Rams left little doubt that they remain the team to beat in the NFC West. And with the postseason fast approaching, theirvictory showed why you can never count out a tested veteran squad led by a battle-hardened quarterback who has been there before.
Under the Friday night lights in Los Angeles, the Rams showed they still have what it takes.