Super Wild Card Weekend featured two divisional matchups.
And both were blowouts.
Two days after the Buffalo Bills crushed the New England Patriots in an AFC East showdown, the Los Angeles Rams closed out the wild card round with a 34-11 victory over the NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium on Monday night.
The Cardinals and Rams split the regular-season series, with the road team being victorious in each game. But Los Angeles broke that trend in the rubber match against an Arizona team that went 8-1 away from University of Phoenix Stadium during the regular season.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford turned in a near-flawless performance to earn the first playoff victory of his 13-year career. Previously 0-3 in the postseason, Stafford went 13 of 17 passing for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
The Rams also got a big performance from running back Cam Akers, who was playing just his second game since returning from an Achilles tear he suffered in July. Akers turned his 18 touches into 95 yards, the most of any Rams skill position player.
Los Angeles opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 4-yard pass from Stafford to wideout Odell Beckham Jr., who made an impressive catch for the first playoff touchdown of his career.
Following a Cardinals three-and-out, Stafford scored from one yard out on a QB sneak early in the second quarter as the Rams went up 14-0.
Los Angeles then got some help from Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
With Arizona backed up near its own goal line, Murray threw a desperation pass as he was being sacked by linebacker Troy Reeder in the end zone. The ball didn’t reach the intended target, wide receiver Rondale Moore, and instead fell into the arms of linebacker David Long Jr. for a 3-yard pick-six -- the shortest in NFL playoff history.
Murray was picked off again on the subsequent series, this time by defensive tackle Marquise Copeland after running back James Conner couldn’t haul in an off-target pass.
Over seven first-half possessions that didn’t end in a kneel down, Murray and the Cardinals’ offense went three-and-out five times, committed two turnovers and allowed a touchdown as L.A. took a commanding 21-0 lead into halftime.
On the first possession of the second half, the Rams marched right down the field and added to their lead on Stafford’s 8-yard connection with star wideout Cooper Kupp.
Arizona answered with a long TD drive of its own, with Conner running it in from two yards out to finally get the Cards on the board late in the third quarter, but it was simply too little too late.
Murray was considered a top MVP candidate earlier this season, but he looked far from that in his playoff debut. By the midpoint of the third quarter, Beckham Jr. had more passing yards than Murray thanks to the wideout’s 40-yard pass to Akers on a trick play.
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The third-year QB eventually passed Beckham Jr. in passing yards, finishing 19 of 37 for 137 yards, two picks and no touchdowns. He rushed just two times for six yards as Arizona posted a measly 183 yards of total offense and went a combined 1-for-11 on third and fourth down.
A blowout defeat in the postseason is disappointing on its own, but it's even more disappointing for the Cardinals considering how they started the season and where they were just over a month ago. Arizona won its first seven games and was 10-2 through Week 13. But Kliff Kingsbury’s team dropped four of its final five games, including losses to the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks, and had to settle for a wild card spot.
The Rams, who beat out Arizona for the NFC West crown, will now travel to Tampa to face the defending champion Buccaneers in the divisional round. Los Angeles beat Tampa Bay 34-24 at SoFi Stadium back in Week 3. Stafford threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns in that victory over Tampa Bay.
If the Rams can beat the Bucs again, they'll be just one win away from playing in Super Bowl 56 at their home stadium.