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Rams fend off late rally, boost playoff chances with win over Saints

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — A pair of teams harboring realistic playoff hopes squared off on “Thursday Night Football,” with the Los Angeles Rams playing host to the New Orleans Saints at SoFi Stadium.

Only one consistently looked like a postseason team. The Rams defeated the Saints 30-22, fending off a late New Orleans rally while riding another 300-plus yard passing game from quarterback Matthew Stafford to move to 8-7 and increase their playoff probability.

The Saints, meanwhile, will stumble into a critical meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next week at 7-8, with the postseason odds perhaps less worrying than New Orleans’ listless performance on Thursday. The Saints rallied from 30-7 down in the fourth quarter to close to within 30-22 at the 3:53 mark, but could draw no closer.

Here are the important things to know for both teams from the Week 16 meeting:

Los Angeles Rams

The Rams have won six out of their past seven games — their only loss coming in overtime to the AFC-leading Baltimore Ravens — and now have a 78% chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN Analytics. Their chances would have fallen to 17% with a loss.

The Rams’ offense has come alive since quarterback Matthew Stafford returned from a thumb injury in Week 11 and Los Angeles has now scored at least 28 points in five straight games.

Running back Kyren Williams — a player head coach Sean McVay has praised multiple times for making the Rams a much better team when he is on the field — passed 1,000 rushing yards for the season. He is the first Rams player to hit that mark since Todd Gurley in 2018.

QB breakdown: Stafford completed 24 of 34 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns against the Saints. He now has thrown multiple passing touchdowns in five straight games, his longest such streak since joining the Rams, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Promising trend: The Rams’ rookie pass-rushers continue to grow. Kobie Turner, who sacked Derek Carr on fourth down in the second quarter, now leads NFL rookies with 6.5 sacks this season. He passed teammate Byron Young, who has six. Turner trails only Aaron Donald for the most by a Rams rookie since sacks became an official stat.

Buy a breakout performance: Demarcus Robinson scored a touchdown for the fourth game in a row and now appears to be the Rams’ No. 3 receiver, passing Tutu Atwell. Robinson finished with six catches for 82 yards and a touchdown against the Saints.

Troubling trend: The Rams’ kicker woes continue, as Lucas Havrisik missed a field goal from 47 yards in the second quarter. Los Angeles has missed a league-high 11 field goals this season. It’s the most by any team since the 2015 Buccaneers (11), according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Rams’ special teams woes also included a blocked punt in the fourth quarter that set the Saints up for a touchdown that made it 30-22. — Sarah Barshop

Next game: at Giants (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, Dec. 31)



Ohtani gifted Rams jersey at SoFi Stadium vs. Saints

Shohei Ohtani is given a Los Angeles Rams jersey ahead of the their “Thursday Night Football” game against the Saints.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints had the opportunity to significantly increase their chances of making the playoffs with a win against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan knew the implications. In an interview Tuesday, he said, “The moment we falter is the moment we give somebody else our fate.”

The Saints didn’t just falter, they took a major step back in one of their most pivotal games of the season. The loss took the NFC South race out of the Saints’ hands and will now require them to both win out and get some help to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2020 season.

The Saints made it a one-possession game after Saints quarterback Derek Carr led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, throwing touchdowns to tight end Juwan Johnson and wide receiver A.T. Perry.

But in similar fashion to a 33-28 loss to the Detroit Lions on Dec. 3, the Saints put themselves in an early hole big enough to fend off any chances of a late comeback.

The Saints travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Sunday.

Silver lining: The Saints aren’t eliminated from playoff contention, but they made the task significantly more difficult. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Saints would have had a 72% chance of making the playoffs with a win but that number dropped to 24% with the loss.

Eye-popping stat: Saints wide receiver Rashid Shaheed was one of the lone bright spots of the game after he scored a 45-yard touchdown in the first half. It was his fifth reception of 40 or more air yards this season, the most in the NFL and the most by a Saints receiver since ESPN began tracking air yards in 2006.

QB breakdown: Carr’s late touchdowns likely made the offense look more effective than it was for most of the game. Carr threw three touchdowns, including two deep balls to Shaheed and Perry, but he wasn’t effective against the Rams’ blitz and did not fare well on third or fourth down.

Pivotal play: Saints safety and special-teamer J.T. Gray got his hands on a fourth-quarter punt, just days after being flagged for running into the kicker against the Giants. Gray won’t get the credit for a blocked punt this time because it crossed the line of scrimmage, but he got his hands on the ball, giving the Saints a short field and an opportunity for a quick touchdown to Perry to make it a one-score game. — Katherine Terrell

Next game: at Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, Dec. 31)


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