LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams are only on the fringe of the NFC playoff race, and they would need a spectacular finish just to avoid their second straight losing season.
The fact that the rebuilding Rams (4-6) even have a chance at such a surge is a testament to the remarkable work done by their defense, which has overperformed this season after a massive roster purge.
Coordinator Raheem Morris' unit had another outstanding outing Sunday in Los Angeles' 17-16 comeback victory. The Rams allowed 87 yards and just four first downs in Seattle's three-point second half, and LA kept the Seahawks out of the end zone for the final 50 minutes.
Matthew Stafford's offense finally scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, and the Rams won when Seattle missed a 55-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds. Everybody knew which unit got the job done for LA.
“Unbelievable effort by our defense today,” coach Sean McVay said. “They kept us in the game. I think the grit was on display. The mental toughness, the ability to get stops, the ability to be able to feed off of one another.”
Seattle lost Geno Smith for two series late in the game, but that didn't explain the Rams' latest chapter of defensive play that's been far better than almost anybody expected. Los Angeles frustrated Smith and his impressive group of receivers, holding them to 73 yards passing in the second half and getting a key interception.
It's becoming tough to remember that nearly every preseason evaluator ranked the Rams' defensive talent in the bottom three of the NFL this summer after the team decided to part ways with almost all of the veteran contributors around Aaron Donald.
Linebacker Ernest Jones was the only proven returnee, and the Rams replaced the likes of Jalen Ramsey, Bobby Wagner, Leonard Floyd, Nick Scott and Taylor Rapp largely with rookies and last season's backups.
Yet Morris and Donald are making it work: While Donald is again performing at an elite level, the Rams are overcoming their talent deficit with hard work, good schemes and big plays. They also hit on two potential future standouts in the third round of the draft, getting edge rusher Byron Young and nose tackle Kobie Turner.
They're far from dominant, ranking in the middle of the NFL in points allowed and yards allowed. The Rams still need a significant influx of defensive talent in the offseason to be a Super Bowl contender again.
But only two opponents — offensive powerhouses San Francisco and Dallas — have scored more than 24 points against the Rams this season.
“We're getting better every week we play together, and you can see it,” said cornerback Derion Kendrick, who made his first career interception in the fourth quarter. “We're just doing our jobs and playing for each other, and this is what happens.”
The Rams haven't been statistically great against the run this season, but they held Seattle to 68 yards rushing — just 14 in the second half. Donald, Turner and Bobby Brown are the makings of a solid defensive front, and Jones has filled Wagner's 2022 role as the do-everything leading tackler.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Rams have scored a measly 57 points in their last four games combined. McVay turned down a gimme field goal in the first half for a failed pass on fourth down from the Seattle 2. Given the passing game's inconsistency behind an up-and-down offensive line, Los Angeles has to start running the ball more effectively — and Kyren Williams' likely return from injured reserve this week should help.
Kendrick had another roller coaster of a day, but he got the job done. The Seahawks repeatedly targeted the cornerback, who allowed only three short completions and made the pick that kick-started the Rams' eventual comeback. Kendrick also committed a pair of 15-yard penalties, the second for celebrating his interception.
Cooper Kupp had just one catch for 11 yards before he hurt his right ankle, and McVay didn't immediately know if it's yet another serious injury. Kupp missed a huge opportunity in the first quarter when he couldn't haul in a long, underthrown pass from Stafford for a sure touchdown. The Super Bowl MVP hasn't had a 50-yard receiving game in his last four outings since a strong two-game start to the season.
Kupp's injury could be yet another setback for the Super Bowl MVP, but the Rams' passing game actually improved when he was out against Seattle, with McVay getting more creative without Stafford's No. 1 target.
1 — The number of points Lucas Havrisik thought he had scored on the Rams' go-ahead field goal with 1:31 left. Havrisik claimed he thought the Rams had just scored a touchdown when he went out to kick his 22-yard winner.
A visit to the Arizona Cardinals, who have the NFL's second-worst record. It's an opportunity to stay in the playoff race for another week — and lament what might have been possible if the Rams hadn't blown their lead against Pittsburgh last month.
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