By Earl Heath, Contributing Sports Writer
New starter John Wolford had a lot on his shoulders in his first NFL start trying to help land the Rams a playoff spot. The rookie stepped up and came through. He was steady throughout the day helping lead the Rams to a 18-7 win over Arizona.
While filling in for the injured Jarred Goff who suffered a thumb injury in last weeks lost to the Seahawks the rookie had his first pass attempt picked off by the Cardinals Jordan Hicks. Two plays later the Rams trailed 7-0.
“That was a bad throw; a bad decision,” said Wolford. “You can’t make that throw it was a bad decision, but it was like once I threw it I settled in.”
Starting his first NFL game he settled down and got into a groove. He appeared in control of the offense and led the RAMS on a drives of 69 yards and 59 yards resulting in Matt Gay field goals of 28, 34 and 27 yards.
“I had a lot of fun, a little anxious going in,” added Wolford.
“If I am being 100% honest, once I got rolling I was just playing football.”
The 25-year-old completed 22 of 38 for 231yards and just the one interception, he also was the teams leading rusher with 57 yards on 6 carries. He led the RAMS on three drives that lasted seven minutes or longer helping them control time of possession 37:53 to 22:07. It was a bit frustrating not scoring touchdowns on some of the drives but that will come with time.
“We’ve got to do a better job in the red area,” said head coach Sean McVay. “I liked the way we moved the ball, I thought after his first throw he was the star of the game offensively. He made plays, we have to continue to make plays around him.”
Wolford was signed by the Rams in 2019. He previously played eight games in the AAF or Alliance of American Football where he was the leagues leading passer. That experience and his confidence showed he never looked rattled.
He helped matriculate the ball inside the five-yard line on two occasions where a fumble by Cam Akers and penalties disrupted the drives. Akers and Malcom Brown combine for 54 yards and Akers had four receptions for 52 yards.
The previous two weeks the Rams (10-6, 6-2 at home) failed to clinch a play-off spot with losses against the Jets and Seahawks. It’s the third time in four seasons the Rams clinch a berth under McVay.
The Rams defense was stingy all day holding the Cards to just 214 yards of offense and 15 first downs. The relentless D-line headed by Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Lennard Floyd forced a hold in the endzone by Arizona offensive lineman Justin Pugh which resulted in a safety.
With less than a minute left in the half and the Rams trailing 7-5 cornerback Troy Hill leaped in the air tipped the ball to himself and pick off a pass thrown by Cards QB Chris Streveler. Hill then raced from the far hash marks gained a convoy of blockers while cutting to the middle of the field and out-ran everyone for a 75-yard score to put the them up at the half.
“When I first hit it I noticed it kind of slowed down so that made it easier,” said Hill. “After that it was just ballgame.”
It was Hill’s third return for a score this season. In December he returned an interception 35 yards against the same Cardinals. In November he returned a fumble 20yards against the 49ers.
Troy Reeder and Jalen Ramsey lead the team with 10 each while Hill and Johnny Johnson had eight each. Samson Embukam had two sacks while Morgan Fox and Floyd had one apiece
As a team they have four defensive touchdowns tying the Colts for second best in the league. The defense had 4 sacks on the day and that made the 8th time this season they had four sacks in a game. They also are second in the league with 53 total sacks.
They finished the season the top ranked defense allowing just 282 yards per game. They never allowed a 100-yard rusher and only had one 300-yard passer (Josh Allen in week 3)
“They’ve been unbelievable all day,” said McVay. They’ve been unbelievable all year. To be able to come away with a safety, score a touchdown and a blocked field goal. They have been the strength of the team.”
RAMS NOTES: Wolford’s 56 yards rushing are the most by a RAMS QB since 2000 (Trent Green). The RAMS are 35-0 under McVay when leading at the half. McVay is 8-0 against the Cardinals with a 160point differential. Ashaun Robinson blocked field goal was the first by the RAMS since 2017.
NEXT: The RAMS will take on the Seahawks in the Wildcard round Saturday at 1:40. Chanel 11. It will be the third time this season the teams square off. The RAMS won in Week 10 by 23-16. The Seahawks won in Week 16 by the score of 20-9.