January 15th, 2021

Wolford, defence lead Rams past Streveler, Cardinals 18-7, into playoffs


By Greg Beacham, The Associated Press on January 3, 2021.

Los Angeles Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, rear, breaks up a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) during the first half of an NFL football game in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – John Wolford passed for 231 yards and rushed for 56 more in his NFL debut, and the Los Angeles Rams are headed to the playoffs with an 18-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

Troy Hill returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown to lead yet another dominant defensive performance by the Rams (10-6), who earned their third post-season berth in four years under coach Sean McVay.

Wolford bounced back from an interception on his first career throw with a steady effort in place of Jared Goff for the Rams, who would have gotten into the playoffs even with a loss because Green Bay beat Chicago while a few minutes were left at SoFi Stadium.

Despite failing to score an offensive touchdown for the second straight game, Los Angeles still snapped its two-game skid heading to the post-season with its eighth consecutive win over Arizona (8-8).

Los Angeles’ fearsome defence led the way, scoring nine points on Hill’s pick-6 and a safety while holding the Cardinals to 214 yards. Coordinator Brandon Staley’s unit finished the regular season allowing the fewest points (296) and total yards (4,511) in the NFL.

Kyler Murray passed for 87 yards after sitting out for most of the first three quarters with an ankle injury for the Cardinals, who missed the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Arizona would have clinched a post-season spot with a victory.

After Murray played the opening series, backup Chris Streveler passed for 105 yards in his first significant NFL action. The backup also threw that crucial interception to Hill shortly before halftime.

Streveler previously spent time with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League before joining the Cardinals last February. The 25-year-old won a Grey Cup with the Bombers against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2019.

Murray returned for the fourth quarter, but his first drive ended in a blocked field goal by A’Shawn Robinson, and he couldn’t get the Cards any closer to a breakthrough.

Jonathan Ward scored Arizona’s only touchdown less than five minutes into the game.

Wolford was forced to take his first NFL snaps in this crucial game after Goff injured his thumb last week. The Wake Forest product showed why McVay is high on him – after a big early bump, that is.

Wolford’s debut started horrifically when he threw a terrible interception to linebacker Jordan Hicks on his first dropback deep in Rams territory. Ward scored two plays later, but Wolford shook it off and led the Rams on three lengthy drives in the first half with his arm and his feet.

Wolford racked up 47 yards rushing in the first half – more than Goff managed in any game of his five-year career.

Murray said he would play all week despite a leg injury, and he appeared to run easily during the Cardinals’ first series. But while Wolford was throwing his interception, Murray was walking to the locker room for examination of an ankle injury.

Streveler took over and hit Ward with a short pass for an 11-yard TD. The Rams’ defence took control after that, allowing just 47 yards for the rest of the half.

Los Angeles also got a safety when Arizona left guard Justin Push held Robinson in the end zone moments after Cam Akers fumbled at the 1. Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd also triggered a $1.25 million bonus in his contract with another sack, his 10th of an outstanding season.

Hill then put the Rams ahead when he tipped Streveler’s underthrown pass to himself and rambled downfield for his second pick-6 against Arizona this season. The touchdown was the third in six games for a six-year pro who had never scored before this stretch.

Murray returned for the fourth quarter and immediately drove the Cardinals deep into Rams territory, but Jalen Ramsey made a remarkable deflection on third down before Robinson blocked a field-goal attempt with 9:01 to play.

Wolford made a handful of big plays down the stretch, including a scramble for a first down on third-and-8 with 2:40 to play, all but sealing the victory.

INJURIES

Cardinals: WR Larry Fitzgerald didn’t play because of a groin injury in what could have been the final game of his impressive 17-season career. … Hicks injured his neck shortly after his interception in the first quarter, and he didn’t return.

Rams: They played without their leading passer, leading rusher (Darrell Henderson) and leading receiver (Cooper Kupp).

UP NEXT

Cardinals: A long off-season after a talented team still produced their fifth consecutive non-winning season.

Rams: A trip to Seattle for a post-season date with the Seahawks next weekend.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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