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Rams-Cardinals final score: Aaron Donald leads dominant defensive win over Arizona

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By: Dylan Deines

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Rams will face Tom Brady’s Buccaneers in the divisional round

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The Los Angeles Rams will continue their Super Bowl run after knocking off the Arizona Cardinals 34-11. Matthew Stafford won his first playoff game after 13 seasons in the NFL with an impressive showing at the league’s most important position while Cam Akers ran wild. The defense grounded the Cardinals high-flying offense with Aaron Donald and unsuspected hero David Long Jr. stepping up big in prime time. LA will take on Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week for the second time this year. Here is how it all went down.

First Quarter

The Rams got their first opportunity on offense following a three-and-out by the Cardinals. Their first snap of game was a handoff to Sony Michel that went for 35 yards. A false start penalty derailed the quick beginnings and the drive ended with a Stafford sack. Kyler Murray would get the ball at the nine yard line following a 43 yard punt from Johnny Hekker. The drive would end just as quickly as the last with the Rams defense forcing another three-and-out.

The offense for LA got started quickly for the second time when Stafford found Odell Beckham Jr. for a 17 yard reception. Following two positive runs by Cam Akers that set up third-and-1, Stafford got the first down on a quarterback sneak. A holding penalty on the next play put the Rams in a first-and-20 situation, but was overcome when Stafford found Tyler Higbee for a 22 yard pass. Three plays later Beckham came down with a jump ball in the corner of the endzone for the touchdown.

A Von Miller sack and an illegal forward pass lead to Arizona’s third three-and-out in a row. With the ball on their own 32 yard line, Sean McVay continued to rely on the run game on second-and-11 and Cam Akers found a hole for a 15 yard gain. Stafford followed that up with a 14 yard pass to Higbee that set the Rams up at midfield.

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Score: Rams 7, Cardinals 0

Second Quarter

On a third-and-2 set up by Cam Akers, Stafford lined up in empty gun formation and found a wide open Beckham for a 31 yard gain to set up first-and-goal at the Arizona two yard line. McVay called two QB sneaks in a row and was called short on both, but a challenge flag on the second attempt turned a potential fourth down decision into the Rams second touchdown of the game.

The destruction by LA’s defense continued in the second quarter when Aaron Donald created heavy pressure up the middle and forced Murray to the ground. Their fourth drive of the game ended the exact way the other three did—with a quick three-and-out. The Rams followed up with a three-and-out of their own after Akers dropped a deep pass from Stafford, though it could be argued that it was underthrown. Hekker’s second punt of the night pinned the Cardinals at their own one yard line.

Murray’s first attempt in his own endzone would be a controversial one. Murray found Green for a 20 yard gain, but Nick Scott came in for the tackle and forced the ball out of the hands of the receiver. McVay’s second challenge of the half reversed the original call on the play to an incomplete pass and kept it third-and-7 at Cardinals four yard line. His defense rewarded him with a pick-six in the endzone by David Long Jr. on a panicked Murray throw.

The Cardinals finally got something going on offense following the interception, but without some continued craziness. Long intercepted another pass from Murray that was intended for James Connor but somehow the running back was able to get it back. After gains of 11 and 10 yards, Murray threw his second interception of the game on a tipped pass that landed in the hands of Marquise Copeland. A holding penalty committed by Andrew Whitworth put the drive on hold for LA following the turnover and lead to Hekker’s third punt of the game.

Starting within their own 10 yard line for the third time in the game Arizona started the drive with a five yard false-start penalty. They then went three-and-out for the fifth time of the game. Much was the same with LA’s series, however. On a third-and-5 Higbee dropped a pass that would have converted a first down. The Cardinals ran the ball once to end the half.

Score: Rams 21, Cardinals 0

Third Quarter

LA’s first drive of the second half began with two runs by Sony Michel and then a 10 yard strike to Tyler Higbee to convert the first down. A defensive holding penalty kept the drive alive and was followed up with a trick-play that saw Beckham heave a 40 yard pass to Cam Akers.

Two plays later Kupp caught his third pass of the game and his first touchdown of the match.

Down four scores early in the third the Cardinals needed to make something happen on offense. Murray found Rondale Moore for a gain of 11 to move the sticks. On third-and-8 Leonard Floyd dropped Chase Edmonds down quickly for a minimal gain of four yards. On fourth-and-4, Murray scrambled away from pressure and made just enough happen for the first down. Christian Kirk came to life and had an excellent series—it was highlighted by a 30 yard gain that set up the Cardinals in the red zone following an unnecessary roughness penalty on Donald. James Connor finished the drive with a touchdown and Antoine Wesley secured the two-point conversion.

The Rams had an answer. Following a hard run for five yard by Akers, Van Jefferson got his first target of the game on a deep pass that was good for 41 yards to set the Rams up at the Cardinals 24. Akers continued to show his explosiveness with a eight yard pick up, but a holding penalty put the Rams back 10 yards. Stafford made up the yardage on a quarterback scramble. Akers was stuffed by JJ Watt for a four yard loss and forced Matt Gay’s first field goal attempt.

Score: Rams 28, Cardinals 8

Fourth Quarter

Following the field goal the Cardinals began their drive with completions of seven and four to get the ball moving. Murray then found Ejo Benjamin for a gain of 13 and followed that up with a gain of 12 to Zack Ertz. On third-and-10 Murray went deep to Wesley but Dont’e Deayon was credited with the pass breakup and a near interception. Now fourth-and-10, Murray ran away from the pass rush and found Kirk for the first down. The play was called back due to a holding penalty on the play. Matt Prater’s 55 yard field goal was successful.

Holding calls certainly became a trend on Monday—what would have been a 15 yard gain and a first down on a check down to Akers was negated by a holding penalty on the Rams. A hard-fought seven yard run by Akers set the Rams up for a third-and-8 and a neutral-zone infraction put them five yards closer. With an empty backfield in gun formation, Stafford threw a dart to Kupp in the middle of the field for a 29 yard gain. Kupp followed that up with a 16 yard gain that showcased his strength and agility as he ran away from his defenders.

Matt Gay’s 46 yard field goal was successful.

With the game efffectively over with just four minutes left in the game, Arizona came out fighting. Benjamin took a screen 13 yards on the first attempt of the drive. That was followed up with two incompletions from Murray to set up third-and-15 with a false start penalty. On fourth-and-9, Murray’s pass went out-of-bounds, giving the Rams back the ball with 3:04 in the game.

Hekker kicked the ball away and gave the Cardinals back the ball with just 1:05 left in the game. Ahead by 23, Stafford locked up his first playoff win after 13 seasons in the league.

Final Score: Rams 34, Cardinals 11