3 Takeaways from Rams' Playoff Win vs. Cardinals

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIJanuary 18, 2022

3 Takeaways from Rams' Playoff Win vs. Cardinals

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    During the regular season, the Los Angeles Rams and Arizona Cardinals split their two head-to-head matchups. But on Monday night, there was no question about which of the NFC West rivals was the better team.

    The Rams rolled to a 34-11 win over the Cardinals in an NFC Wild Card Round matchup at SoFi Stadium. Los Angeles scored the first 28 points of the game, as Arizona didn't get on the board until there were four minutes and 11 seconds left in the third quarter.

    It was a dominant showing by the Rams, who controlled the game in every phase. Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes and also had a rushing score, while David Long Jr. returned an interception for a TD in the second quarter after he picked off Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

    Now, Los Angeles will go on the road to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the defending Super Bowl champions, in the NFC Divisional Round on Sunday.

    Here are three takeaways from the Rams' playoff win over the Cardinals.

Stafford's 1st Playoff Victory Could Lead to More Soon

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Stafford had waited a long time to experience a postseason victory. Over his first 12 NFL seasons—all of which were spent with the Detroit Lions—he made the playoffs only three times. And the Lions lost all three of those postseason contests.

    In his first playoff game with the Rams, Stafford helped to make sure his new team wouldn't experience a similar fate. He went 13-for-17 for 202 yards as Los Angeles' offense put up 375 total yards and committed no turnovers in an impressive showing.

    Stafford threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. in the first quarter, had a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter and connected with Cooper Kupp for a 7-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. By that point, the Rams didn't need to go to the air often, as they had a 28-point lead.

    "I thought he did a great job leading the way," Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay said, per Greg Beacham of the Associated Press. "He’s still the same great player to me, and he always was before this game. ... So pleased be able to do this with him. He’s our leader out there, and we wouldn’t be here without him."

    Now that Stafford has notched his first career playoff win, he may not have to wait nearly as long to earn more. If he and the Rams build off Monday's victory, they could be in for a deep postseason run.

Midseason Acquisitions Are Playing Big Roles

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Rams added a pair of big-name players to their team during the regular season. On Nov. 2, they acquired edge rusher Von Miller in a trade with the Denver Broncos. Then on Nov. 11, they signed Beckham, who had been released by the Cleveland Browns earlier in the month.

    Both of those moves are now paying big dividends. On Monday, Beckham had four receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown (the first playoff TD of his eight-year NFL career), and he also completed a 40-yard pass to Cam Akers in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Miller had six tackles (three for a loss) and a sack while helping to lead Los Angeles' defense to a big night.

    Beckham and Miller are both veterans who have plenty of experience in the league. And Miller knows what it takes to win this time of year, as he was named MVP of Super Bowl 50 while leading the Broncos to a championship in the 2015 season.

    Although Beckham and Miller made impacts during the regular season, the Rams added them to try to make a push for a Super Bowl title. It's only been one playoff game, but the pair of standouts are off to a good start in trying to make that happen for Los Angeles.

The Competition Is About to Get Much Tougher

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Cardinals had a terrific start to the 2021 season, as they won each of their first seven games and were 10-2 at the end of Week 13. However, they ended the regular season with four losses in five games, so they didn't have any momentum heading into the postseason, and that was apparent Monday night.

    Although Arizona was a solid team, it wasn't much of a test for Los Angeles, considering the NFC West rivals had been trending in opposite directions in recent weeks (which allowed the Rams to win the division title). Now, things are going to get more challenging for Los Angeles.

    The Rams have a difficult road matchup against the Buccaneers in the divisional round. If they're victorious, they'll face either the Green Bay Packers or San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. And although San Francisco has the worst record among that group, it beat Los Angeles twice in the regular season.

    In the regular season, the Rams were 1-3 against the three other NFC teams still alive in the playoffs. That lone victory was a 34-24 win over the Bucs. But that also came in Week 3, before Tampa Bay hit its stride.

    It's quite possible the Rams will make a run to the Super Bowl, as they're a talented team that has now won six of its past seven games. In order to get there, though, Los Angeles will have to prove itself against some of the top teams in the league.