The Rams needed to beat Arizona on Sunday to assure themselves a playoff spot. And they had to do it with a little-known quarterback making his first appearance in an NFL game.
John Wolford delivered in Los Angeles’ 18-7 victory, becoming the first player with 200 yards passing and 50 yards rushing in his NFL debut.
His second NFL start could come at Lumen Field on Saturday in the Seahawks-Rams wild-card matchup. Here’s more on Wolford and the Rams (10-6) in our Three Things opponent preview:
Who starts at QB?
Jared Goff broke his right thumb when he smashed it against the helmet of Seahawks defensive end Benson Mayowa in the second half of Seattle’s 20-9 victory Dec. 27 at Lumen Field. Goff had surgery the next day.
Goff threw warm-up passes before the game Sunday against Arizona, and Rams coach Sean McVay hasn’t ruled out Goff returning this week.
But NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday that it will “be challenging” for Goff to make it back against the Seahawks, and that could mean another chance for Wolford.
Undrafted out of Wake Forest, Wolford was about to begin a career at a private equity firm when he got his first NFL shot with the New York Jets in training camp in 2018. He later played for the Arizona Hotshots of the Alliance of American Football — coached by Rick Neuheisel — and led the AAF with 14 touchdown passes in eight games before the league unceremoniously folded.
He was signed to the Rams’ practice squad for the 2019 season. And Sunday, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder led the Rams to the playoffs, completing 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He rushed for a game-high 56 yards on six carries.
“I thought he did a great job today,” McVay told reporters. “I thought he really gave us a chance offensively with the amount of plays that he made in the pass game, with his legs, athleticism, being able to extend things. … I was really pleased with John.”
Wolford’s mobility, McVay said, was the difference.
“I thought it really got us going,” he said. “John’s ability to … convert with his legs, that’s a big winning edge for us. That was a factor all day. You can just see some of the different things you’re able to do with him really showed up.”
Kupp’s status up in the air, too
The Rams played Sunday without leading receiver Cooper Kupp, who was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last Tuesday.
According to The Athletic, Kupp and defensive tackle Michael Brockers should be eligible to return for the game Saturday in Seattle, if they are asymptomatic.
Kupp, the Eastern Washington product, had eight catches for 66 yards against the Seahawks in December. He has 92 catches for 974 yards and three touchdowns in 15 games.
Running back Cam Akers, out because of a high-ankle sprain against the Seahawks, returned Sunday. He ran 21 times for 34 yards and had four receptions for 52 yards. The Rams placed Darrell Henderson on injured reserve after he sustained an ankle injury against the Seahawks.
No. 1 defense
The Rams finished the season ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense (281.9 yards per game), passing defense (190.7) and scoring defense (18.5). Brandon Staley, the Rams’ first-year defensive coordinator, has head-coaching interview requests from the Jets and Chargers, according to The Athletic.
Sunday, the Rams defense produced eight points — on a safety and pick-six from cornerback Troy Hill, who returned an interception off Arizona backup quarterback Chris Streveler 84 yards.
Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey — who has shadowed the Seahawks’ DK Metcalf for much of their two matchups this season — helped hold Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins to four catches for 35 yards.
“They were unbelievable all day, they’ve been unbelievable all year,” McVay said. “They’ve really been the strength of this team, and I thought they showed up in a big way.”