Jared Goff, stingy defense lead LA Rams past Saints, 26-20
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams methodically drove downfield on their opening possession, and Sammy Watkins caught a precise slant from Jared Goff for a touchdown.
Drew Brees then got the ball for New Orleans’ first drive, and the Rams sacked him on back-to-back plays.
From that auspicious start to the recovery of the Saints’ final onside kick, the Rams emerged from a dismal decade of losing football on Sunday with their most impressive win of the season.
And Goff’s squad seems capable of accomplishing a whole lot more.
Goff passed for 354 yards and hit rookie Josh Reynolds for another touchdown , and the Rams snapped the Saints’ eight-game winning streak with a 26-20 victory in a meeting of NFC division leaders.
The Rams (8-3) also ended a streak of their own: This franchise’s 10-year run of losing regular seasons is finally over.
For the first time since 2006, the Rams will finish at least at .500 after doubling their win total from their relocation season in 2016.
“That’s the best feeling ever, just being on a winning team,” said Watkins, who had four catches for 82 yards. “It makes it easy to go out there every week and work hard.”
The victory was an enormous statement about the Rams’ ability to play with the NFC’s best, but their fifth win in six games has put them in position for much bigger accomplishments.
After bouncing back soundly from a loss at Minnesota, this revitalized franchise is steaming toward its first playoff berth since 2004 and its first winning season since 2003.
“There were some games this year where we realized we could play with anybody,” Goff said. “This was, for sure, one of them.”
Alvin Kamara made a brilliant 74-yard touchdown run and a late TD reception for the Saints (8-3), who finally lost for the first time since Sept. 17.
Veteran coordinator Wade Phillips’ defense turned in a gritty effort against the high-scoring Saints, holding Brees to 246 yards passing — just 96 in the first three quarters.
“We never found a good rhythm of run-pass,” Brees said. “It just felt like everything was really tough sledding. The minute we’d get something going, there would be a penalty that would set us back, and then we’d be off the field.”
One week after rallying from 15 points down late in the fourth quarter to beat Washington in overtime, the Saints fell behind on the opening drive and never caught up.
New Orleans struggled to stop Goff’s passing game with its top two cornerbacks sidelined by injuries, and the Rams steadily moved the ball to win a meeting between two of the NFL’s top three highest-scoring teams.
“You could point to a number of things, but really, in so many areas, I thought we were sloppy,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said.
“We hurt ourselves. ... We’ve got a big game coming up next week (against NFC South co-leader Carolina), and we’ll get ready to play it, but we can’t gloss over this, though. We’ve got to look at this closely.”
The Rams made two lengthy drives ending in fourth-quarter field goals, and Watkins recovered the onside kick after the Saints finally trimmed Los Angeles’ lead to one score on Kamara’s TD catch with 1:45 to play.
Aside from Kamara’s remarkable capacity for big plays, the Rams largely limited the NFL’s most prolific offense. Even with Brees getting rid of the ball quickly, Los Angeles held the Saints to 346 yards — 69 below their average, and just 189 in the first three quarters.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was his usual nightmare, getting his fifth sack in six games along with two tackles for loss.
“I thought our defense did a great job today making them earn tough yards,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “We’ve got some pretty good players on defense.”
CARVING IT UP
Goff went 28 of 43, patiently picking at the Saints’ defense in his fourth 300-yard game of the season despite the absence of top receiver Robert Woods. Rookie Cooper Kupp set career highs with eight catches for 116 yards, and Reynolds made his first career TD catch in the second quarter.
GREG THE LEG
NFL scoring leader Greg Zuerlein kicked four field goals for the Rams, giving him 127 points in 11 games this season. He also missed a 63-yard attempt into the wind at the halftime gun, but McVay didn’t regret trying it: “More times than not, he’s going to hit that kick.”
Saints: Starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore (ankle) and Ken Crawley (abdomen) sat out as expected. ... LT Terron Armstead injured his hamstring during the third quarter.
Rams: Linebacker Connor Barwin was ruled out shortly after halftime with an arm injury. ... Woods (shoulder) missed his first game of the season.
Saints: Return home to host the Panthers on Sunday in a showdown for first place in the division.
Rams: A trip to Arizona on Sunday to face the Cardinals, who got blown out by the Rams in London earlier this season.