By Nick Shook
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The Los Angeles Rams (8-3) bounced back from a Week 11 loss to earn a statement win over the red-hot New Orleans Saints (8-3), outlasting a comeback attempt to take home a 26-20 win at the L.A. Coliseum. Here’s what we learned:
1. After a disappointing loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Sean McVay’s Rams came back with intensity usually reserved for a playoff game. From the opening kickoff returned by an amped Pharoh Cooper, the Rams played inspired football and appeared more than ready to get back to winning. Their first drive was efficient, covering 59 yards in seven plays and 4:07, with a touchdown pass on a hard slant to Sammy Watkins capping the possession. It almost looked too easy.
Things became more of a mixed bag as New Orleans adjusted, but Jared Goff was incredibly sharp in the first half, tossing two touchdown passes and helping Los Angeles build a 17-10 lead. Though he had his ups and downs, Goff’s line was eye-grabbing: 28 of 43, 354 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Todd Gurley quietly made an impact on the ground, and Cooper Kupp set a new single-game high with eight catches for 116 yards. And perhaps most importantly, the Rams got Watkins involved again, which can go a long, long way toward future successes for a team that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
2. Alvin Kamara is the real deal. The rookie running back has seen a well-documented bump in touches since the departure of Adrian Peterson, but his performance Sunday was arguably his best of his career. Filling the envisioned satellite back role perfectly, Kamara became New Orleans’ best option in both the running and passing game, rushing five times for 87 yards and a touchdown, and catching six passes for 101 yards and another score. Think about that: 188 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns on just 11 touches. Rarely does a player make such an impact in so few opportunities, and it’s even more uncommon to see a rookie doing it.
Each time he caught the ball, whether in the flats or running down the seam, it was must-watch action. He slipped multiple defenders on many of his runs and even hurdled another. New Orleans didn’t leave with a win, but the kid should be proud of his effort — and the rest of the league should be on notice from here on out.
3. A week after the Rams pressured, but struggled to polish off sacks on Case Keenum, they found multiple routes to Drew Brees. Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald and Samson Ebukam recorded one sack each, and seemingly constant pressure had Brees looking hesitant in clean pockets during an important drive early in the fourth quarter. Penalties brought back what would have been touchdowns on that drive, and the Saints were forced to settle for three points after Los Angeles stood firm inside its own 10. As for the entire afternoon, Brees looked much less than the usual sharp passer he’s been for much of the last decade and a half. On multiple occasions, Brees threw questionable passes into traffic, and was lucky to avoid at least two interceptions in the fourth quarter alone. The result was a Saints offense that looked like a shell of itself in the passing game, except when targeting Kamara. Minor concerns about Brees are justifiable after this week’s performance.
4. That same drive brought some questionable decision-making from Sean Payton. On an afternoon during which New Orleans was struggling to get quick stops and made its first red zone trip early in the fourth, Payton elected to kick a field goal when down 13 points with 10:09 and two timeouts left. Payton appeared to be out of the doghouse when corner P.J. Williamsintercepted a pass that tipped off the hands of Sammy Watkins, but then New Orleans immediately went three and out. Sure, it’s a breakdown of one small decision, but makes one wonder how Payton might handle a similar situation with his team in a game with greater implications.
5. Goff did the Saints a favor that allowed New Orleans another shot at cutting the deficit in the fourth with the aforementioned interception, which was an underthrown ball to an open Watkins. Individually, it’s a mistake that proved harmless, but it was one of at least a few underthrows Goff made to open receivers Sunday. Additionally, he overshot open receivers either at the goal line or in the end zone on a few occasions. For as well as the Rams are playing, and Goff is performing within the flow of the offense, these small mistakes could prove costly — but could also make the Rams that much more explosive if corrected.