It wasn’t the offense, and it wasn’t the defense. In Week 8, to preserve their undefeated record, it was the Rams’ special teams that came through.
Sunday afternoon’s Rams-Packers game in Los Angeles was unfolding as a game you might envision seeing again in January, the NFC’s best team vs. the NFC’s best quarterback. And then, late in the game, Ty Montgomery made the ill-fated decision to take the kickoff after the Rams’ go-ahead field goal out of the end zone. Never mind that he didn’t have a good chance of advancing the ball further on a return than he would have from simply taking a knee for the touchback, and you’d waste precious seconds to even try. Then, Rams special-teamer Ramik Wilson jarred the ball loose from Montgomery’s grasp as they collided.
It wasn’t quite over yet. The clock read 1:56 and the Packers had one timeout remaining. If they stopped the Rams from getting a first down, they could still get the ball back before time expired. Rodgers, who has a well-known talent for successfully tossing Hail Marys, was huddling with his receivers on the sidelines in preparation.
But Todd Gurley—who else?—took a pitch easily around the left side of the Packers defense on third-and-10. He could have scored easily, but he slowed up and let himself be tackled in bounds, having the awareness to know that the safest way to end the game was to kneel out the clock.
The Rams won, 29–27, now an 8–0 team that seems to always find a new way to win. The Packers fell to 3-3-1, an even .500, third place in the NFC North.
The game started off oddly, with the Packers defense unexpectedly stymieing the explosive Rams offense. QB Jared Goff was sacked to end the Rams’ first three possessions—twice by defensive lineman Kenny Clark and once by linebacker Blake Martinez. The Rams punted on their first five possessions. The Packers held a 10–0 lead early in the second quarter, after the aberrant scoreless quarter by Sean McVay’s squad.
But their first spark came from special teams, when Johnny Hekker booted a perfect 52-yard punt that was downed by Rams teammate Sam Shields at the one-yard line. With the Packers efforting to get out of their own end zone, linebacker Mark Barron surged forward to tackle Packers running back Aaron Jones behind the goal line, putting the Rams on the board with a safety. After the free kick, two big pass plays to Brandin Cooks and Todd Gurley set the Rams up for their first points of the day scored by the offense, a one-yard touchdown by receiver Josh Reynolds.
Whether it was halftime adjustments by McVay or individual player efforts, the Rams offense found a surge in the second half. Los Angeles took the lead on a play when the entire offense went left, except for Gurley, who caught a pass going right across the middle of the field, and scampering 30 yards for a touchdown without being touched. He converted on the two-point play for a 16–13 lead. On the Rams’ next possession, Reynolds—playing in place of the injured Cooper Kupp—made an in-cut neatly behind Packers safety Jermaine Whitehead to get open for his second touchdown of the day.
But you can never count out Rodgers. He’d been working Davante Adams on Rams CB Marcus Peters, and he hit that connection again for 41 yards to spark a scoring drive capped by a 33-yard TD run by Aaron Jones. The Packers defense stopped the Rams on a critical third-and-seven, thanks to an open-field tackle by Martinez and CB Kevin King. That held Los Angeles to a field goal, and kept it a one-score game. Then, Rodgers struck again, taking back the lead on a 40-yard TD pass to rookie receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who swiped inside cornerback Troy Hill to sprint past him on a go route.
The Packers led, 27–26, with just inside of nine minutes to play—the perfect scenario to test the perfect team. The Rams punted, after a third-down sack by Clay Matthews. Then Green Bay punted, after a third-down sack by Aaron Donald. This was the game for which we all were hoping.
The Rams got the ball back with 5:20 play, already in Green Bay territory after a poor 25-yard Packers punt. From the edge of field goal range, Gurley broke off a 23-yard-run. But then, a costly holding penalty on left guard Rodger Saffold backed up the Rams. McVay made a somewhat surprising decision to play it safe. They ran Gurley on second-and-20, and third-and-16. He was stopped, and they kicked the go-ahead field goal.
Rodgers was supposed to get the ball back, with time—and that’s when the kickoff coverage unit forced the fumble. The Rams certainly had flaws in this game. Goff was sacked five teams as the offensive line often got beat up front and struggled to pick up the Packers’ disguised blitz looks. The defense gave up three plays of 40-plus yards and a total of seven plays of 20-plus yards. You don’t need to imagine the possibilities for what could have happened if Rodgers got the ball back, because he’s pulled off his magic so many times before. So, the Rams found a way to make sure that didn’t happen—and in doing so, passed their biggest test yet this season.
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