Jan 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) catches a touchdown pass against Arizona Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson (20) during the first half in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Stafford, Rams cruise past Cardinals

Matthew Stafford rushed for one touchdown and passed for two more as the Los Angeles Rams advanced to the NFC divisional playoff round with a convincing 34-11 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night in Inglewood, Calif.

Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. had touchdown receptions for the Rams, who used a dominating performance from their defense to earn an appearance in the divisional round for the third time in the past four seasons.

Stafford threw for 202 yards on 13-of-17 passing while the Rams had 140 rushing yards, led by Sony Michel (13 carries, 58 yards) and Cam Akers (17, 55).

Fourth-seeded Los Angeles will hit the road to face the second-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the NFC Championship Game.

Quarterback Kyler Murray had just 137 passing yards and two interceptions as the Cardinals lost for the fifth time in their last six games dating back to Week 14, when they took a 30-23 home loss to the Rams.

Arizona had minus-1 net yards near the midway point of the second quarter, following its first five drives of the game, and finished with 183 total yards. Cardinals running backs Chase Edmonds and James Conner combined for just 47 yards on 12 carries.

Rams coach Sean McVay said of his defensive players, “They played really well overall, but what they did in the first half, they held them to 40 yards. I think it was one of the best performances in playoff history being able to hold (down) an explosive offense like that, to be able to get a defensive touchdown, a couple of turnovers. Just so pleased with those guys.”

Los Angeles Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald added, “I feel like we were dominant out there. I feel like the quarterback wasn’t comfortable at all. … That was the game plan. We stuck to it, and we had some success out there.”

The Rams took a 7-0 lead with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter when Stafford lobbed a 4-yard TD pass to Beckham in the back, left corner of the end zone. Stafford’s 1-yard quarterback sneak with 11:58 remaining in the second quarter made it a 14-0 advantage.

Things only got worse on offense for the Cardinals when the Rams’ David Long Jr. intercepted a bobbled Murray screen pass and returned it 3 yards for a TD and a 21-0 lead with 7:59 remaining before the half.

Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “You come out against a really good team and don’t do anything right for the first two quarters, that’s what’s going to happen. You have to give them credit. They played a great game and we didn’t do much right, coaching or playing, in the first half.”

The Rams made it 28-0 on Kupp’s 7-yard TD reception early in the third quarter before the Cardinals finally got on the scoreboard. Connor rushed for a 2-yard TD with 4:11 remaining in the third quarter, and Arizona added a two-point conversion to trail 28-8.

The Cardinals lost safety Budda Baker late in the third quarter when he collided helmets with Akers and appeared to be knocked unconscious. He was taken off the field on a stretcher and was evaluated for a concussion at a local hospital. According to the team, Baker never lost feeling or movement in his limbs.

Stafford earned his first playoff victory in four tries after three prior defeats with the Detroit Lions.

Murray completed 19 of 34 passes in his first career playoff game, capping his third season.

Kingsbury said, “We have to use this as motivation and come back stronger from it, because that’s not indicative of who we want to be and unfortunately, that’s what showed up tonight.”

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws a pass against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

Nfl Seattle Seahawks At Arizona Cardinals

Rams 3.5-point favorites despite road split with Cardinals

While the Los Angeles Rams will play host to the first-ever Monday night playoff game, it is the Arizona Cardinals who are feeling completely familiar with the lead-up to the all-NFC West wild-card-round matchup.

The Rams-Cardinals primetime showdown will be the third meeting between the teams, with the road team having won the previous two. Los Angeles is a 3.5-point favorite at BetMGM and FanDuel.

While the Rams prevailed in a Monday night meeting at Arizona in December, it was the Cardinals who pronounced themselves playoff-worthy with a Week 4 victory at Los Angeles in early October.

The action has been nearly split at BetMGM with Arizona backed by 52 percent of the bets and 53 percent of the spread-line handle. However, Los Angeles has received the stronger support at FanDuel with 53 and 70 percent, respectively.

Defeats in four of their last five games cost the Cardinals an NFC West title and left them with something to prove Monday. But that was also the case in Week 4, when they arrived in Los Angeles on the heels of three consecutive wins to start the season amid questions of whether their hot start was sustainable.

The Cardinals not only delivered a resounding 37-20 victory over the Rams that day, behind two touchdown passes from Kyler Murray and 120 yards rushing from Chase Edmonds, but they went on to open the season 7-0.

Having gone 4-6 since that undefeated start, the Cardinals are once again having to prove that their time has arrived.

“It’s 0-0, and no one remembers the regular season,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It’s what you do here on out, and it’s a real opportunity for us to take the next step and see how good we can be.”

The game will not only be Murray’s playoff debut, but it will be the Cardinals’ first appearance in the playoffs since 2015-16, when they defeated the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round but were blown out by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.

Murray averaged 270.5 yards passing per game this season with 24 TDs and 10 interceptions. He had 383 yards passing in Week 14 against the Rams but did not throw a TD pass that day and was intercepted twice in a 30-23 Los Angeles victory.

“I like that we had two games to see how we played them, how they played us and what looked good and didn’t,” Kingsbury said. “So we can build off that.”

The Rams had a hot start of their own, despite their early loss to the Cardinals, opening with a 7-1 record. Then came a midseason slumber when they took consecutive defeats to a trio of playoff teams, the Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers and the Packers.

The Rams were just 2-5 against playoff teams this season.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford averaged 309.6 yards passing per game with 22 TDs and four interceptions over the first eight games in a Rams uniform, but those stats fell to 267.7 yards passing with 19 TDs and 13 interceptions over the final nine games as Los Angeles went 5-4.

Stafford did help wide receiver Cooper Kupp to a Rams-record 1,947 receiving yards, while Kupp also pulled off the wide receiver triple crown, leading the NFL in receptions (145), TDs (16) and receiving yards.

After their midseason swoon, the Rams pulled together a five-game winning streak that included their victory at Arizona, but questions started anew after their 27-24 defeat in overtime to the 49ers to close out the season. The Rams blew a 17-0, first-half lead.

Los Angeles’ offensive and defensive lines were dominated by the 49ers in the season finale, especially in the second half as San Francisco rallied.

“Whether we’re playing at home, playing on the road, things are going our way, things aren’t going our way, we continue to battle,” said Stafford, who has not won a playoff game in three chances. “That’s what it takes to win games in the playoffs, there’s no question. Right now, it’s testing us … but we’re a resilient group and we’ll be ready to go.”

Rams safety Jordan Fuller is out for the playoffs with an ankle injury and fellow safety Taylor Rapp (concussion) was ruled out Saturday. The injuries led to the Rams signing Eric Weddle out of retirement Wednesday and McVay said he will be activated prior to Monday’s game. Linebacker Leonard Floyd (back) will play.

Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (shoulder), who hasn’t played since Week 7, returned to practice Thursday and was activated Monday. Watt, 32, hasn’t played for the Cardinals since Oct. 24. Days later, Watt underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum, bicep, rotator cuff and separated shoulder.

Edmonds (ribs, toe) is slated to play, while fellow running back James Conner (ribs) is listed as questionable. Left guard Justin Pugh (calf) also is questionable.

–Field Level Media

Dec 25, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt watch the action from the sideline against the Indianapolis Colts in the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

Nfl Indianapolis Colts At Arizona Cardinals

Cardinals activate DE J.J. Watt ahead of playoff clash with Rams

J.J. Watt will be eligible to play Monday night when the Arizona Cardinals face the Los Angeles Rams in their NFC wild-card playoff game.

The Cardinals moved Watt from injured reserve to its active roster Monday afternoon. The Cardinals released defensive back Breon Borders on Sunday to make room on the roster for Watt.

Watt, 32, hasn’t played for the Cardinals since Oct. 24. Days later, Watt underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum, bicep, rotator cuff and separated shoulder.

The Cardinals placed the three-time Defensive Player of the Year on injured reserve on Nov. 6. Watt returned to practice last week.

In seven games for the Cardinals this season, Watt tallied 16 tackles, 10 QB hits, one sack, two pass breakups and one forced fumble. With Watt in the lineup, the Cardinals were 7-0 and allowed just 16.3 points per game.

Should Watt enter Monday night’s game, it will be the 11th playoff game he has featured in across 11 seasons in the NFL.

The Cardinals beat the Rams with Watt in the lineup in Week 4, taking a 37-20 victory in Los Angeles. Arizona then lost at home to the Rams in Week 14 without Watt, 30-23.

Monday night’s game is the final contest of the wild-card round.

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Green Bay Packers center Lucas Patrick (62) celebrates with quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the fourth quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

NFL announces divisional-round playoff schedule

With one game still play in the opening round of the NFL playoffs, the league on Sunday announced the schedule for next weekend’s divisional round.

Saturday’s action kicks off with a matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The top-seeded Titans will be well-rested following a first-round bye, while the fourth-seeded Bengals prevailed against the Las Vegas Raiders on Saturday 26-19.

The Titans and Bengals did not meet during the regular season.

Saturday’s nightcap (8:15 p.m. ET, FOX) features the NFC’s top seed, the Green Bay Packers, playing host to the sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers in a rematch from a wild Week 3 contest. Green Bay snuck out of the Bay Area with a 30-28 triumph in that one as Aaron Rodgers engineered a last-minute drive that Mason Crosby punctuated with a 51-yard field goal on the final play.

The Packers, who had a first-round bye, won five straight games late in the season before losing to the Detroit Lions in a meaningless Week 18 matchup. The 49ers closed the regular season with seven wins in their final nine games and then rode the momentum to a 23-17 road victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Next Sunday’s first game will take place at Tampa Bay, where the second-seeded Buccaneers will play host to either the No. 4 Los Angeles Rams or the No. 5 Arizona Cardinals at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. The Rams and Cardinals are set to square off Monday night in the final game of wild-card weekend.

The defending champion Bucs disposed of the Philadelphia Eagles 31-15 on Sunday. Tampa Bay lost to the host Rams 34-24 in Week 3. Tom Brady and the Bucs did not face the Cardinals this season.

The Kansas City Chiefs will play host to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday (6:30 p.m. ET on CBS) in the final game of the divisional round. Second-seeded Kansas City routed the Pittsburgh Steelers 42-21 on Sunday evening, while No. 3 seed Buffalo obliterated the New England Patriots 47-17 one day earlier.

The teams met back in Week 5, when the Bills went into Kansas City and left with a 38-20 victory behind Josh Allen’s three passing TDs and one rushing score.

The conference championship games will take place on Jan. 30 and the Super Bowl will be on Feb. 13 at Inglewood, Calif.

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) is tackled by Los Angeles Rams free safety Taylor Rapp (24) in the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Rams S Taylor Rapp (concussion) ruled out vs. Cardinals

Los Angeles Rams free safety Taylor Rapp was ruled out of Monday night’s NFC wild-card game with the Arizona Cardinals due to his concussion.

Rapp was unable to clear the protocol and Los Angeles coach Sean McVay on Saturday termed his upcoming absence as “a big loss for us.”

The 24-year-old Rapp was hurt during the regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers.

“He’s doing everything in his power to get back as quickly as possible,” McVay told reporters.

In addition to Rapp (94 tackles, four interceptions), Los Angeles lost 23-year-old strong safety Jordan Fuller (114 tackles) to a season-ending ankle injury.

The injuries led the Rams to lure six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle out of retirement. Los Angeles signed Weddle to its practice squad and McVay said Weddle will be activated prior to Monday’s game.

Weddle, 37, hasn’t played in an NFL game in just over two years when he played in the Rams’ final regular-season game in 2019.

“He’s done a great job,” McVay said of Weddle. “He’s brought a great energy. He’s a great communicator. He’s a great leader. He’ll be ready to go. What exactly that role looks like, we’re still working through. Got a lot of confidence in (expected starters) Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess as well.”

Also, running back Buddy Howell (hamstring) is doubtful and receiver Van Jefferson (shoulder) is questionable.

Arizona listed six players as questionable, including running back James Conner and left guard Justin Pugh (calf).

–Field Level Media

Dec 13, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) against the Los Angeles Rams at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Familiar foes Rams, Cardinals have something to prove in playoffs

While the Los Angeles Rams will play host to the first-ever Monday night playoff game, it is the Arizona Cardinals who are feeling completely familiar with the lead-up to the all-NFC West wild-card-round matchup.

The Rams-Cardinals primetime showdown will be the third meeting between the teams, with the road team having won the previous two.

And while the Rams prevailed in a Monday night meeting at Arizona in December, it was the Cardinals who pronounced themselves playoff-worthy with a Week 4 victory at Los Angeles in early October.

Defeats in four of their last five games cost the Cardinals an NFC West title and left them with something to prove Monday. But that was also the case in Week 4, when they arrived in Los Angeles on the heels of three consecutive wins to start the season amid questions of whether their hot start was sustainable.

The Cardinals not only delivered a resounding 37-20 victory over the Rams that day, behind two touchdown passes from Kyler Murray and 120 yards rushing from Chase Edmonds, but they went on to open the season 7-0.

Having gone 4-6 since that undefeated start, the Cardinals are once again having to prove that their time has arrived.

“It’s 0-0, and no one remembers the regular season,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It’s what you do here on out, and it’s a real opportunity for us to take the next step and see how good we can be.”

The game will not only be Murray’s playoff debut, but it will be the Cardinals’ first appearance in the playoffs since 2015-16, when they defeated the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round but were blown out by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game.

Murray averaged 270.5 yards passing per game this season with 24 TDs and 10 interceptions. He had 383 yards passing in Week 14 against the Rams but did not throw a TD pass that day and was intercepted twice in a 30-23 Los Angeles victory.

“I like that we had two games to see how we played them, how they played us and what looked good and didn’t,” Kingsbury said. “So we can build off that.”

The Rams had a hot start of their own, despite their early loss to the Cardinals, opening with a 7-1 record. Then came a midseason slumber when they took consecutive defeats to a trio of playoff teams, the Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers and the Packers.

The Rams were just 2-5 against playoff teams this season.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford averaged 309.6 yards passing per game with 22 TDs and four interceptions over the first eight games in a Rams uniform, but those stats fell to 267.7 yards passing with 19 TDs and 13 interceptions over the final nine games as Los Angeles went 5-4.

Stafford did help wide receiver Cooper Kupp to a Rams-record 1,947 receiving yards, while Kupp also pulled off the wide receiver triple crown, leading the NFL in receptions (145), TDs (16) and receiving yards.

After their midseason swoon, the Rams pulled together a five-game winning streak that included their victory at Arizona, but questions started anew after their 27-24 defeat in overtime to the 49ers to close out the season. The Rams blew a 17-0, first-half lead.

Los Angeles’ offensive and defensive lines were dominated by the 49ers in the season finale, especially in the second half as San Francisco rallied.

“Whether we’re playing at home, playing on the road, things are going our way, things aren’t going our way, we continue to battle,” said Stafford, who has not won a playoff game in three chances. “That’s what it takes to win games in the playoffs, there’s no question. Right now, it’s testing us … but we’re a resilient group and we’ll be ready to go.”

With Rams safety Jordan Fuller out for the playoffs with an ankle injury and fellow safety Taylor Rapp in concussion protocol, the Rams signed Eric Weddle out of retirement Wednesday. Linebacker Leonard Floyd (back) is expected to play but was listed “out” for Thursday’s walkthrough.

Cardinals defensive end J.J. Watt (shoulder), who hasn’t played since Week 7, returned to practice Thursday but was extremely limited. Edmonds (ribs, toe) was limited but said he was prepared to play, while fellow running back James Conner (ribs) did not practice and will be a game-time decision.

–Field Level Media

Dec 1, 2019; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Rams safety Eric Weddle (32) against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Wounded Rams sign Eric Weddle out of retirement for WC game

Retired safety Eric Weddle rejoined the Los Angeles Rams on Wednesday and could be in the starting lineup for the wild-card matchup with the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.

Weddle, now 37, was a six-time Pro Bowl selection but last played in 2019. He retired at the end of that season with the Rams and said he wouldn’t stick around for a backup role.

He might not have to worry about being second string as he hits the field with the Rams for practice.

Only two safeties on the active roster are healthy: Terrell Burgess and Nick Scott.

Weddle’s agent, David Canter, announced the move early Wednesday.

Weddle started all 16 games for the Rams in 2019 with Wade Phillips orchestrating the 3-4 unit. He said following the season finale that he needed surgeries on his shoulder and knee if he wanted to ever seriously consider playing again.

It is unclear whether Weddle passed a physical, typically a requirement to make NFL contracts official, before Canter’s social media announcement. But reports indicate the Rams also had discussions with Weddle in December.

Injuries hit the Rams hard at safety. Jordan Fuller suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 18, and Taylor Rapp left the game with a concussion.

Weddle spent 13 seasons in the NFL with the Chargers, Ravens and Rams and had one full season remaining on his deal when he retired officially on Feb. 6, 2020. He has 29 career interceptions.

–Field Level Media

Jan 9, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk (11) is tackled by Los Angeles Rams free safety Taylor Rapp (24) in the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

49ers come back from 17 down, beat Rams to make playoffs

Robbie Gould kicked a 24-yard field goal with 2:48 remaining in overtime Sunday afternoon, allowing the San Francisco 49ers to earn a wild-card spot in the NFC playoffs with a come-from-behind 27-24 victory over the host Los Angeles Rams.

Rookie cornerback Ambry Thomas intercepted a Matthew Stafford pass six plays later, assuring the 49ers (10-7) the No. 6 seed in the West and a meeting with the third-seeded Dallas Cowboys in the first round of the playoffs.

After blowing a 17-0 lead and seeing a five-game winning streak come to an end, the Rams (12-5) fell to the No. 4 seed in the NFC and will host the fifth-seeded Arizona Cardinals next week.

Despite the loss, the Rams won the NFC West title over the Cardinals (11-6) after Arizona was beaten by the Seattle Seahawks.

Needing a win or a tie to keep their season alive, the 49ers won the overtime toss and Jimmy Garoppolo, playing 17 days after suffering a torn ligament in his right thumb, directed a 12-play, 69-yard drive that chewed up the first 7:15 of the 10-minute extra session.

Gould’s field goal was his second of the game.

The Rams got one final possession and advanced to their 38 at the 2:00 warning, But Stafford’s next pass deep down the right sideline was picked off by Thomas, ending the game.

Garoppolo threw for 316 yards and one touchdown, completing 23-for-32 passes, but he shared the offensive spotlight with Deebo Samuel, who ran for a 16-yard score, threw 24 yards to Jauan Jennings for another, and caught four passes for 95 yards.

Stafford finished 21-for-32 for 238 yards with three three touchdowns, two to tight end Tyler Higbee.

Both quarterbacks threw two interceptions.

The Rams appeared headed for a regulation win when Jalen Ramsey intercepted a pass in the end zone to preserve a fourth-quarter tie, and Stafford hit Cooper Kupp with a 4-yard, go-ahead score with 2:29 remaining.

But after an exchange of punts, Garoppolo drove the 49ers 88 yards in five plays, including a 43-yard, catch-and-run connection with Samuel.

Two plays later, Garoppolo found Jennings over the middle for the 14-yard score that tied the game at 24-all.

The Rams dominated the game’s first 29 minutes, going up 17-0 on Higbee’s scoring receptions of 2 and 15 yards in the second quarter, after an earlier Matt Gay 43-yard field goal.

Gould’s first field goal, a 42-yarder, sent the 49ers to the halftime break down 17-3.

Brandon Aiyuk caught six passes for 107 yards for the 49ers, while Elijah Mitchell was the game’s leading rusher with 85 yards on 21 carries.

Kupp hauled in seven balls for a game-high 118 receiving yards for the Rams, who were held to 64 yards rushing.

In beating Los Angeles for the sixth straight time, the 49ers outgained the Rams 449-265.

–Field Level Media

Jun 8, 2021; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA;   Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers (23) participates in drills during mini camp held at the practice facility at Cal State Lutheran. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Rams activate RB Cam Akers for first time this season

The Los Angeles Rams activated running back Cam Akers to the active roster for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the visiting San Francisco 49ers.

Akers, 22, was believed to have been lost for the season when he came away with an Achilles tendon tear during summer workouts in advance of training camp. He is expected to see limited action Sunday with running back Sony Michel getting the bulk of the carries.

The Rams (12-4) can wrap up their third NFC West title in the past five seasons with a victory over the 49ers. San Francisco (9-7), which is still fighting to become playoff eligible, enters with a five-game winning streak over Los Angeles.

Akers gained 625 yards rushing on 145 carries with two touchdowns over 13 games (five starts) for the Rams last season as a rookie out of Florida State. He added 11 receptions for 123 yards and a score.

–Field Level Media

Jun 8, 2021; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA;   Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers (23) participates in drills during mini camp held at the practice facility at Cal State Lutheran. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Rams RB Cam Akers makes another jump in injury return

Rams running back Cam Akers was a full participant in practice and could be ready for an expanded role when Los Angeles wraps the regular season against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

Akers was designated to return from the injured reserve list on Dec. 23, a transaction that came as a complete shock to some.

Akers was believed to be lost for the season when he tore his Achilles tendon in July, just before training camp opened. The injury left Darrell Henderson as Los Angeles’ main running back, with the Rams then acquiring Sony Michel from the New England Patriots.

Akers began practicing mostly on his own and did limited position work during the 21-day window.

“He sure looks good. He looks like he could carry — play a lot of plays, but I do think you want to be smart with an incremental approach,” Rams coach Sean McVay told reporters. “Is that 10 snaps? Is that 20? Is that 25? I think that’s something that as the week progresses, we’ll have a better feel for, but definitely want to get him involved.”

The Rams clinched a playoff berth and can clinch the NFC West by beating the 49ers, or if the Arizona Cardinals lose to the Seattle Seahawks.

As a rookie out of Florida State last season, Akers showed his versatility with 625 rushing yards on 145 carries with two touchdowns, while he also had 11 receptions for 123 yards and another score.

–Field Level Media