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Matthew Stafford overcame three turnovers to produce a game-winning drive that lifted the Los Angeles Rams to a 20-19 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday.
The next hurdle stared the quarterback down: the potential for a tainted Wi-Fi connection during the team charter’s return to Los Angeles and the possibility of not seeing how the Arizona Cardinals-Dallas Cowboys game would go.
“Sometimes the pilot gives us updates,” Stafford said, smiling. “So hopefully he can be up to date with his updates … Grew up as a Cowboy fan, a Cowboy fan tonight.”
The Rams were at 36,000 feet somewhere over central West Virginia when the Cardinals defeated the Cowboys, who – at least temporarily – shattered their hopes of winning a third NFC West title in five seasons under coach Sean McVay.
“That would be phenomenal,” said receiver Odell Beckham Jr. before starting on the potential to win the division. “I do not think I’ve been a conference champion or anything like that in my career, so that would definitely be a true achievement.”
With a playoff spot in hand, the Rams have another chance to win the division in their regular season finale next Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers (9-7), to whom they have lost five in a row. The Cardinals (11-5) will host the Seattle Seahawks (6-10) at State Farm Stadium. The Rams can win with a win over the Niners or a Cardinals loss to the Seahawks.
On Sunday, the Rams left Baltimore unsure of their division fate. But despite getting 12 wins for the second time in McVay’s five years as a coach, they know they need to play better to reach their Super Bowl goals.
“We found a lot of different ways of doing things that we can not do as we move forward,” McVay said. “But we ended up overcoming it.”
Stafford delivered yet another up-and-down performance while receiver Cooper Kupp continued to log a historic season. The defense came through, despite some internal turmoil, in clutch moments.
“The counterforce continues to shine through,” McVay said. “It certainly wasn’t perfect.”
Stafford completed 26 of 35 passes in 309 yards and two touchdown passes with two interceptions and one lost fumble deep into Ravens territory. It was his second game in a row with more turnovers and his fifth this season.
“I hate going through all of these, to be honest with you,” Stafford said, explaining the scenarios that caused each turnover. “I’m tired of doing it.”
Stafford watched as safety Chuck Clark intercepted a pass in the first quarter and returned it to a 17-yard touchdown. In the second quarter, Stafford launched a deep ball to Beckham, who was surrounded by purple jerseys, which Clark also picked off. Finally, in the third quarter, Stafford took pressure from the right, was strip-sacked by Baltimore’s outside linebacker Tyus Bowser and lost a fumble.
Thirteen of the Ravens’ 19 points were earned on Ram’s revenue.
Stafford now has four interceptions returned for a touchdown this season, the most in the NFL and a draw for most of any season in his 13-year career (he also threw four in 2012). His four pick-sixes equate to the number quarterback Jared Goff threw during his five seasons in Los Angeles before the Rams traded him, along with two first-round picks, to the Detroit Lions in exchange for Stafford last offseason.
“There are some things we need to get better at,” McVay said. “And he would be the first to tell you that. I thought he was best when his best was required.”
Despite the striking turnover figures, Stafford also leads the NFL in another crucial category: game-winning drives since 2009.
He produced the 42nd in his career Sunday against the Ravens, leading a nine-play, 75-yard drive, which he finished with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Beckham with 57 seconds left to give the Rams a one-point victory .
“Knowing they believe I can make those games,” said Beckham, who also caught a critical 5-yard pass at fourth-and-5 to maintain the winning drive. “Just finding a way to dig deep. It was not our best day, find a way to dig deep and win.”
“I love that situation, to be honest with you,” Stafford said of the chance to win the match. “I like to take a knee in the fourth quarter a lot more. There’s no doubt about it. But then there’s the situation.”
Stafford went 14-to-14 in the second half.
Kupp finished with six catches on 95 yards and a touchdown, and became the Rams’ single-season record holder for yards after breaking Isaac Bruce’s mark of 1,781 yards in 1995. With his 15th touchdown reception of the season, Kupp also joined the elite team and became the fourth player in NFL history with 100 receptions, 1,500 receiving yards and 15 receiving touchdowns in a single season, along with Randy Moss (2003), Marvin Harrison (2001) and Jerry Rice (1995).
Defensively, the Rams overcame a worrying start where cornerback Jalen Ramsey and safety Taylor Rapp came into a momentary altercation on the pitch. The secondary seemed split on the sidelines after the run, but McVay said cooler heads prevailed.
“Two big competitors. They both wanted to do the right thing. There was a bit of a mix there,” McVay said. “They went on. I don’t think it affected our ability to move on.”
Security Jordan Fuller later recorded his first interception of the season, which the offense converted to an 18-yard touchdown reception by Kupp to get the Rams on the board before the break, cutting Baltimore’s lead to 10-7.
Outside linebacker Von Miller, who was acquired in a blockbuster trade ahead of the trade deadline in November, came through with a timely firing of quarterback Tyler Huntley on Baltimore’s last drive of the game that stopped any chance of a Ravens victory at the last second.