Rams did what they were 'supposed to do.’ Now they’ll face the defending champs

Tyler Dragon
USA TODAY Sports+

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The first NFL playoff game at SoFi Stadium was a party.

Michael Buffer got the crowd hyped with his famous “let’s get ready to rumble” chant. Montell Jordan and Warren G performed at halftime. Dwyane Wade, Gabrielle Union and Jay Z were among the celebrities in attendance Monday night.

Between the white lines, however, a resounding statement was made — the Los Angeles Rams mean business.

The Rams obliterated the Arizona Cardinals 34-11 to advance in the NFL playoffs. They’ll now face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 3 p.m. Sunday.

Los Angeles (13-5) ran out to a 21-0 lead before Arizona (11-7) recorded a single first down. Midway through the second quarter, the Rams had more touchdowns (3) than the Cardinals had total yards (-1).

Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers runs against the Arizona Cardinals.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray finished with a career-worst 40.9 passer rating. Arizona averaged a meager 3.4 yards per play.

“Guys was just flying around. Playing fast and making big plays when we needed it. That’s what it’s about,” Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. “I feel like we were dominant out there. The quarterback wasn’t comfortable at all. I think he tried to get out the pocket a couple of times. We were able to run him down or do something to the point where we made him throw the ball and he made a bad throw. We did what we were supposed to do.”

Los Angeles and the Cardinals split meetings during the regular season, but in the first Monday night playoff game since 1988 — and the NFL’s first ever postseason contest on Martin Luther King Day — it was hard to fathom the Cardinals were once victorious over the NFC West champion Rams.

“I thought our guys were ready to go. Defense was outstanding from the jump…I thought we were able to sustain possessions,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “That was exactly what we wanted to be able to do. A lot of respect to the Cardinals. They had a good year, but our guys were ready to go.”

It was the type of performance the Rams needed before turning their attention to the defending Super Bowl champion in Florida.

Los Angeles executed in all three phases versus Arizona. The thorough beatdown should give the Rams momentum and confidence as they advance to the divisional round. 

The Rams mortgaged their future for a Super Bowl run, yearning to hoist a Lombardi Trophy for just the second time in franchise history. They traded away a smorgasbord of draft picks to acquire cornerback Jalen Ramsey (in 2019), quarterback Matthew Stafford (2021) and outside linebacker Von Miller (2021). Los Angeles has the oldest active roster in the playoffs, based on average age.

The Rams went after experience, talent and veteran leadership because they want to play for a title at their own dazzling $5.5 billion stadium, similar to what the Bucs did last year at Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl LV.

Los Angeles defeated the Bucs 34-24 Week 3 in Southern California. But they have to beat Tom Brady approximately 2,500 miles away from home Sunday to keep their Super Bowl dream alive.

“A huge challenge. Going into their place, a tough place to play, a place they've been really good this year. Obviously, a fantastic quarterback, great defense — a really good football team,” Stafford said. “It will be a big challenge for us. I think their team is different than when we played them last, and I think we are too.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports+ NFL Insider Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.