Less than two weeks after Jared Goff broke his thumb at Lumen Field, the Los Angeles Rams‘ quarterback returned to Seattle, came off the bench and led the Rams to a gutsy 30-20 victory over the division-champion Seahawks in Saturday’s wild-card game.
The win avenges a Week 16 loss to the Seahawks that kept the Rams from playing for the NFC West title and advances Los Angeles to the next round of the playoffs.
“Two weeks ago you saw them smoking cigars and getting all excited about beating us and winning the division and we’re able to come up here and beat them in their own place,” Goff said after the game. “It feels good.”
The Rams will play next weekend at the top-seeded Green Bay Packers, if the New Orleans Saints beat the visiting Chicago Bears on Sunday. If the Bears prevail, the Rams will play the winner of Saturday’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Washington Football Team matchup.
The Rams’ triumph breaks the Seahawks’ string of 10 straight home playoff wins, which was the third-longest such streak in NFL postseason history. No fans were allowed in attendance at Saturday’s game because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With Goff continuing to recover from Dec. 28 surgery on his throwing-hand thumb, John Wolford made his second career start. But it ended abruptly with 5:40 to play in the first quarter. Wolford rushed for a 2-yard gain on a designed run, but he suffered a neck injury when he was tackled and was transported to a hospital for precautionary measures.
Wolford was released and celebrated with the team in the locker room after the game, according to Rams coach Sean McVay.
With a small bandage on his surgically repaired thumb, Goff entered the game and completed 9 of 19 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown as the Rams broke a two-game streak without an offensive score.
“For him to be able to throw the football is pretty impressive,” McVay said. “There were a couple limitations which led to the decision to go with John. I was real pleased with Jared, and I think it was a real credit to him to be able to handle this week the right way and have himself mentally ready to go.”
Though he did not publicly announce a starter before kickoff, McVay told the team Wednesday that Wolford, who led the Rams to an 18-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals in his first NFL start in Week 17, would start in the wild-card playoff.
“It was tough,” Goff said about McVay’s decision. “It was some long conversations we had, but ultimately I respect his decision. He’s the coach. He had to make a decision that he needed to make early in the week to get out in front of some stuff, and I get it, but as a competitor of course I wanted to play.”
Goff said his thumb felt fine throughout the game and refused to use it as an excuse for any inefficiencies, though he admitted it was not 100 percent.
“It’s in a good place, and I’m very capable with what I got going on right now,” Goff said.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Goff’s 155 passing yards were the most by any player off the bench in a playoff win since Jay Fielder’s 172 passing yards for the Jaguars in their 62-7 win over the Dolphins in the 1999 divisional round, a game best known as Dan Marino’s last career game.
As Goff toughed out playing 12 days after surgery, he had plenty of support from the his backfield. Running back Cam Akers rushed for 131 yards — the most by a Rams rookie in playoff history — and a touchdown on 28 carries and also caught two passes for 45 yards.
“He was huge,” McVay said. “We were able to control the time of possession, able to just eat up yards a little bit at a time.”
The Rams controlled the clock, 33:39 to 26:21. And under first-year coordinator Brandon Staley, the Rams’ top-ranked defense again stifled Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and frustrated leading wide receiver DK Metcalf.
Rams cornerback Darious Williams read a screen by Wilson, intercepted his pass and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a 13-3 lead in the second quarter. Leaguewide, there were 784 screen passes targeting wide receivers this regular season and zero interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“That’s a play that I knew was going to happen,” said Williams, who has picked off Wilson three times this season and has a team-best five interceptions. “I knew they were going to try to feature [Metcalf], get him the ball somehow, let him break tackles, and I just ran and jumped it.”
In the second half, the Rams were able to limit Wilson to one touchdown pass despite two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald leaving the game early in the third quarter because of a rib injury. Donald returned to the sideline but did not reenter the game.
McVay did not provide an update on Donald or wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury.
As for Metcalf’s frustrations, Williams credited cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who lined up across from Metcalf on 22 of 32 routes run. Metcalf had 3 receptions for 33 yards on 7 targets when Ramsey was the nearest defender, per NFL Next Gen Stats data.
“That’s all Jalen,” Williams said. “I don’t blame [Metcalf] for being frustrated.”
Wilson was sacked five times and finished 11-of-27 passing for 174 yards and two touchdowns, both to Metcalf, including a 51-yard score.