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2021 NFL playoffs: What we learned from Rams' win over Cardinals on Super Wild Card Weekend

Los Angeles Rams
2021 · 12-5-0
Arizona Cardinals
2021 · 11-6-0


1. The Rams' big names stepped up. We begin with the play of Odell Beckham Jr., an in-season addition who has steadily increased his contributions as the season has progressed. Beckham hit a new high mark Monday night, catching two passes on the Rams' first scoring drive, including a back-corner fade for a touchdown from four yards out. Beckham added in a 40-yard strike to running back Cam Akers on a trick play, helping to keep the Rams' offense moving and again proving his rare athleticism to the football world. Von Miller recorded a sack, and Matthew Stafford was dialed in, completing 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns, which earned him a 154.5 passer rating -- the highest by a Rams QB in a playoff game in history, per NFL Research. Finally, Cooper Kupp continued to do Cooper Kupp things, catching five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. It wasn't just the big names, though. David Long intercepted a desperate Kyler Murray pass attempt and returned it for a touchdown, and Marquise Copeland recorded an interception of his own. After wondering whether the star-studded Rams would live up to expectations for much of the regular season, they certainly did so Monday night, and made a loud statement in the process.

2. Did the Cardinals forget to get off the bus? Dallas was the clubhouse leader for least prepared playoff team entering Monday, but Arizona upstaged the Cowboys by playing even worse in the first half. Murray and Kliff Kingsbury's offense struggled in every area, with Murray playing so poorly, Beckham took a temporary passing yards lead over Murray with his one 40-yard attempt. Murray looked lost from the start of the game, failing to help the Cardinals establish any sort of offensive rhythm, and it wasn't long before Arizona looked up at the scoreboard at SoFi Stadium and saw a 21-0 deficit. Arizona was woefully unprepared for its first playoff game with Kingsbury and Murray, and it showed from the very beginning. The Cardinals will have months to attempt to answer how they allowed themselves to take the field in such a poor state.

3. A healthy Cam Akers makes the Rams much more dangerous. Akers made an improbable return from an Achilles tear suffered during the summer to jump-start a Rams rushing attack that suddenly became a two-headed monster with Akers and Sony Michel. The combination was highly effective Monday night, with Akers and Michel combining for 113 yards on 30 carries, and though neither reached the end zone, they certainly did their part. This was the element the Rams needed most to elevate their offense, because we already know what Kupp is capable of doing, and Beckham is only getting stronger as time passes. Add in a legitimate rushing attack, and you have a beast of an offense that makes one half of a scary football team in January.

4. Is an offseason reckoning ahead for the Cardinals? Arizona hasn't been anywhere close to the red-hot team that won 10 of its first 12 games, instead devolving into an average team that was headed to the playoffs thanks to its strong start. There was some hope the Cardinals had recovered enough to be a contender following their win over the Cowboys in Week 17, but we learned Monday night that was nothing more than a lie. Monday night capped two straight collapses to end each of Arizona's last two seasons, and it's fair to wonder if Kingsbury will be judged accordingly. Save for the late Marty Schottenheimer's exit from San Diego, it's rare a team cleans house after a massive playoff disappointment, but the Monday night display from the Cardinals certainly makes one wonder whether such critique might be ahead. Arizona didn't have even a semblance of an answer for anything Los Angeles did and didn't wake up until the game was essentially decided. That's simply not good enough for a team many thought would make a legitimate run at the NFC crown.

5. Kyler Murray face-planted on the big stage -- again. Murray's MVP candidacy feels as if it came together ages ago, and he didn't suddenly rediscover his premier form Monday night. Murray was overwhelmed at best, appearing gun shy with Los Angeles' rush bearing down on him, leading to incompletions and turnovers that buried the Cardinals. Instead of watching Murray lead the Cardinals to success, the football world witnessed a struggling Murray sink his team. He's still a few steps from being considered a premier quarterback, because although he can be a really special player when things are going right, he's consistently failed to deliver when the lights shine brightest.

NFL Research: The Rams led by 21 points at halftime, their largest halftime lead in a playoff game in franchise history. The only other time the Rams led by 15-plus points at halftime in a playoff game was their only other postseason meeting with the then-St. Louis Cardinals in the 1975 Divisional Round.

Next Gen Stat of the game: Matthew Stafford completed 7 of 9 passes for 148 yards, one touchdown and a 155.8 passer rating against the blitz Monday night.

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