If you’re an LA Rams fan you probably pinch yourself whenever you see the NFC standings given the sorry state the team was left in at the end of last season.
The remodeling job spearheaded by rookie coach Sean McVay has brought a sense of pride to their sophomore year in So Cal and the belief that they are a ball club whose makeover has morphed them into a playoff contender.
Coming off a loss to the first place Vikings last week, the Rams could ill afford another defeat at the hands of another powerful division leader, one that’s embedded with a bit of humble pie history.
Sunday’s 26-20 victory over the Saints not only verified that they are as good as they seem, but vilification over an ugly incident in a 2016 match-up between them, masterminded by New Orleans veteran head coach, Sean Payton.
Holding a 42-21 lead late in the fourth quarter, Payton called for a gratuitous trick play that resulted in a 50-yard touchdown. The crafty coach was seen laughing on the sidelines, a seemingly obvious dig to Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a position he held under Payton’s watch from 2009-2011.
The two former colleagues had vials of bad blood between them stemming from their “Bountygate” days, the infamous scandal in which defensive players were paid slush money for everything from downing a punt inside the 10-yard-line to knocking opposing players out of the game. Williams’ role in the illegal activity eventually cost him his job with the Saints and an indefinite suspension, while Payton was given his walking papers for one year.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff and every player humiliated by Payton’s feud with Williams got a satisfying dose of redemption inside the friendly confines of the LA Coliseum, snapping New Orleans eight-game winning streak to stay a top the NFC West.
Los Angeles turned in a gutsy defensive effort against the high-scoring Saints (8-3), holding Drew Brees to 246 yards passing – a paltry 96 in the first three quarters, sacking him three times.
Without key cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley, sidelined by injuries, New Orleans struggled to stop Goff’s passing game, an impressive 28/43 for 354 yards and two TD’s.
Rookie Cooper Kupp had a career high 116-yard receiving day to atone for a couple of costly mishaps against Minnesota, Todd Gurley got it done on the ground rushing for 74 yards and field goal kicker Greg Zuerlein put it through the uprights four times out of five.
LA’s Sammy Watkins and Josh Reynolds caught a touchdown pass a piece in the end zone, proving that the absence of the shoulder impaired Robert Woods would be more of an inconvenience than a liability.
Rookie running back Alvin Kamara provided the highlights for New Orleans with an early 74-yard touchdown run, and a late TD reception in the fourth to close the gap by six. But a failed onside kick kept the Saints from repeating a come from behind rally as they did last week against Washington.
The 8-3 Rams, yeah, you heard it right, the 8-3 Rams are headed to the desert next Sunday for a second date with the Cardinals who they leveled in London a mere month ago, while the Saints, sharing the same record, will fight for their NFC South leading lives against the surging Carolina Panthers.