Rams wallop Texans for fourth win in a row
It was a weird week by the standards of the usually well-oiled Rams, with one prominent player traded, another seeking to be traded, and some starters injured. It might be a wild week ahead, with more action expected around the NFL trade deadline.
In between, the Rams enjoyed a relatively drama-free 38-22 victory over the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on Sunday.
If they wanted peace and quiet, they got it. The home team left it until late in the game to offer reasons to cheer for a crowd that was socially distanced, but not for health reasons. Houston sports fans had better things to shout about, with the Astros in the World Series.
Wide receiver Robert Woods, whose second touchdown made it 38-0 in the fourth quarter before the Rams pulled most of their starters, said players had to “stay the course” amid the distractions of the trade of linebacker Kenny Young and the imminent parting with wide receiver DeSean Jackson.
“We’ve got a game to play,” Woods said. “It was guys trying to get in a rhythm, stay locked in and get this win. Off-the-field stuff, we’ve just got to let it go when we get between those lines.”
Before pulling most of their starters in the fourth quarter, the Rams rolled up big numbers on offense and had a shutout on defense until the Texans scored three times against the backups in the last nine minutes.
“I really liked how we came out from the jump,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, “to be able to come out on the opening drive to score, get the stop and then be able to go right back down the field.”
Cooper Kupp, coming into the game leading the league with 56 receptions, 809 yards and nine touchdowns, recorded another seven catches for 115 yards and one touchdown, an 11-yard pass from Matthew Stafford that made it 31-0 in the third quarter.
Darrell Henderson rushed for a season-high 90 yards, carrying for one touchdown and catching a Stafford pass for another, running behind a line that had a good day with Joe Noteboom filling in at left tackle for injured Andrew Whitworth.
Stafford completed 21 of 32 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 22 touchdown passes in eight games for the Rams, more than Jared Goff had all last season.
After 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford is enjoying his first experience on a team that’s 7-1 at what used to be the midpoint of an NFL schedule, before this year’s expansion to 17 games.
The Rams are 7-1 (the Texans fell to 1-7) and pulled into a first-place tie in the NFC West on wins and losses, though the 7-1 Arizona Cardinals officially lead the division based on the head-to-head tiebreaker, having won the teams’ first meeting.
“I feel lucky to be where I am, surrounded by the people I’m surrounded by,” Stafford said. “Every week, you’ve got to go out there and prove it.”
Kupp’s first three catches and 37 yards came on the Rams’ opening drive to a 3-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Henderson.
Stafford threw his second touchdown pass of the game when he hit Woods from 2 yards out after Ernest Jones’ interception in the second quarter.
Woods later ran 16 yards with a Stafford pitchout for the touchdown that made it 38-0 with :02 to go in the third quarter.
Things will get harder for the Rams, who face the Tennessee Titans and road games against the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers in November.
Sunday, the Rams were completing a stretch of three games — and wins — against the soft-touch New York Giants, Lions and Texans (now 1-7).
But it hadn’t been as easy a week as it should have been.
Players were caught off guard when the Rams announced last Monday morning they were trading Young to the Denver Broncos in a deal involving draft picks and the benefit of salary-cap relief.
Then, on Friday, coach Sean McVay confirmed the Rams agreed to let Jackson seek a new team after he saw less and less action since a 75-yard touchdown in Week 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With more cap room to play with and Jackson to trade or potentially release, the Rams will have activity of some kind before the NFL’s trade deadline Tuesday at 1 p.m. Los Angeles time.
Jackson didn’t travel with the team to Houston. Pregame scratches included Whitworth (knee) and nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (pec), both injured in last week’s victory over the Lions. Cornerback Robert Rochell (knee) didn’t get on the field Sunday, though McVay said he was available if needed.
Jones, the rookie drafted in the third round from South Carolina, made his first NFL start in Young’s spot and made the afternoon’s big defensive play. Stepping in front of Danny Amendola at the Texans’ left sideline, Jones intercepted fellow rookie Davis Mills’ pass, kept his balance and stayed in bounds, and returned it to the Houston 12. That set up the first Woods touchdown.
“It was kind of everything I’ve been wanting,” Jones said of getting his chance to play. “I come into every game and I want to affect it in any way — tackles, breakups, anything.”
Jones filled the stat sheet, finishing with a team-high seven tackles, a share of a sack, another tackle for loss and two hits on the quarterback, although he negated a big play when his illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty wiped out Donte Deayon’s first NFL interception.
“Ernest Jones balled out,” said defensive tackle Greg Gaines, who played more with Joseph-Day out and recorded a half-sack.
The defense, seeking the Rams’ first shutout since a 34-0 win over the Cardinals in 2018, was teeing off on Mills and one of the NFL’s worst offenses in the third quarter.
Leonard Floyd was credited with 2-1/2 sacks and one solo sack in a span of two three-and-out possessions for the Texans in the third quarter, giving him 6-1/2 for the season. Aaron Donald had two, his first multi-sack game this season, and has 5-1/2.
McVay didn’t sound bothered by the backup defense giving up three touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, a futile rally to within 16 by the Texans that made a difference for bettors on either side of a 16-1/2-point spread.
“I thought they were really smothering,” McVay said of the first-unit defense. “I know we see those points on the board at the end, but when you look at the guys that are our starters and our first groups, I thought they did a great job applying pressure.”
The Rams’ special teams had the game’s last word when Ben Skowronek downed a Johnny Hekker punt at the Texans’ 2 with 1:51 on the clock.
But special teams had more bad moments, giving up an onside kick during the Texans’ late-game rally and a 44-yard kickoff return in the first half, and seeing punt returner Tutu Atwell knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury early in the second half.
McVay said he didn’t have an immediate update on Atwell’s status.
Atwell, the slightly built second-round draft pick, has been mentioned as an option to replace Jackson as the Rams’ nominal big-play receiver. But the rest of their receivers continued to show they can team up with Stafford to produce explosive gains. Van Jefferson beat the Texans’ defense for a 68-yard catch and run to set up Kupp’s touchdown.
“We’re not worried about it. You guys are talking about it,” Woods said. “When you look at our receiving room, we have top explosive plays week in and week out and year after year.”
Different kind of week. Same kind of result.