Stafford, Rams rise in NFC playoff race with win over Commanders
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — On the second play of the second half, Cooper Kupp found himself running completely alone down the Commanders' sideline behind their NFL-worst pass defense.
Matthew Stafford still nearly overthrew his wide-open target, but Kupp made a fingertip catch to score the key touchdown Sunday for the Los Angeles Rams, who have grabbed almost every opportunity they've had over the past five weeks.
“Apparently a miscommunication over there, and we were able to get an easy one — as easy as Matthew is willing to make it,” Kupp said with a grin.
Stafford passed for 258 yards and hit Kupp and Demarcus Robinson for touchdowns, and the Rams hung on for a 28-20 victory over freefalling Washington.
Kyren Williams overcame the first two lost fumbles of his NFL career to rush for 152 yards and a touchdown for the Rams (7-7), while Kupp's eight receptions for 111 yards were highlighted by that 62-yard catch.
With a late defensive stand that shut down Washington's impressive comeback under backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the Rams secured their fourth win in five games and pushed their way into NFC playoff position.
“Definitely can finish the game better, but not going to apologize for a win,” Stafford said.
After sitting at 3-6 in its mid-November bye week during a self-described remodeling season, Los Angeles now occupies one of the three wild-card slots along with fellow .500 teams Minnesota and New Orleans, which will be at SoFi Stadium in four days.
“Unless you told me the season ended right now, it doesn’t mean anything to me,” coach Sean McVay said. “How we move forward and how we handle our business over the next 72 hours and then leading into the game on Thursday is what’s most important.”
Robinson made a 23-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter, and the Rams’ defense largely shut down the Commanders (4-10) until the final minutes. Los Angeles survived even after Brissett relieved Sam Howell and passed for 124 yards and two TDs on Washington's last two drives.
“We were running downfield more, and guys just made plays,” said Brissett, who had taken only three snaps this season for his new team after starting 11 games for Cleveland last year. "It was exciting. I had fun. I’m out of breath a little bit, but it was definitely fun to get back out there.”
Curtis Samuel caught two TD passes, including a 3-yard grab with 1:46 to play for Washington, which still lost its fifth straight game. The Commanders were eliminated from playoff contention for the seventh time in eight seasons.
“It’s tough that we got going late like that,” said Terry McLaurin, who had six catches for a career-high 141 yards and a touchdown. ”(Brissett) has played football for a long time in this league and been a starter, so he knows what it looks like. I definitely believe he gave us a boost late in the game, and I’m just happy for him."
Howell passed for 102 yards and threw a 19-yard TD pass to Samuel in the third quarter for the Commanders’ first points. Ron Rivera's club then had two more rough drives before Brissett gave it a jolt.
McLaurin caught a 29-yard TD pass and then made a 48-yard reception — Washington's first pass play all season longer than 40 yards — at the Los Angeles 1 with 4:47 to play.
Thanks to some sketchy clock management, a touchdown taken off the board by offensive pass interference and a drive-extending pass interference call on fourth down against Los Angeles' Derion Kendrick, the Commanders took eight snaps without scoring before Brissett's TD pass to Samuel more than three minutes later.
“That last little possession, we made them keep snapping the ball, keep snapping the ball," said Rams safety John Johnson, who intercepted Howell's last pass. "Felt like we did a decent job, but we’ve just got to limit the explosive plays.”
Los Angeles could have turned this game into a blowout with better execution. The Rams led only 13-0 at halftime despite taking the ball inside the Washington 10 on four of their five drives.
The Commanders also wasted their only early scoring chance when Howell's pass was batted down by Nick Hampton on fourth down at the Los Angeles 12.
Commanders: P Tress Way was slow getting up after he was hit while falling on a terrible snap late in the first half. He was evaluated for a concussion and a back injury, but returned in the second half. ... LT Charles Leno Jr. left in the second half with a calf injury. ... Leading rusher Brian Robinson Jr. sat out with a hamstring injury incurred before the bye.
Rams: CB Ahkello Witherspoon left with a groin injury in the fourth quarter. ... Starting RT Rob Havenstein (groin) and WR Tutu Atwell (concussion) sat out. Havenstein ... Backup DB Tre Tomlinson injured his thigh in the second half.
Commanders: At New York Jets on Sunday.
Rams: Host New Orleans on Thursday.
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