May 27, 2024

Kyren Williams was not a mystery.

A few weeks ago, the Rams’ second-year running back rushed for more than 100 yards in an overtime victory at Indianapolis.

But it apparently took coach Sean McVay and his staff time to remember.

On Sunday, after a listless first half, the Rams gave the ball to Williams and he gave them a performance that keyed a 26-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium.

Williams rushed for a career-high 158 yards and a touchdown, star receiver Cooper Kupp played through his balky hamstring to amass 148 yards receiving and quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for a touchdown as the Rams evened their record at 3-3.

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp runs after a catch against the Cardinals.

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp runs after a catch against the Cardinals.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Rookie Byron Young and Jonah Williams sacked Cardinals quarterback Josh Dobbs, Aaron Donald recorded three tackles for losses, linebacker Christian Rozeboom intercepted a pass, and Young forced a fumble for a defense that shut out the Cardinals in the second half.

So now it is out there for the taking, the kind of stretch that if optimized could solidify the Rams as a legitimate postseason contender.

They are a .500 team — but perhaps a misleading one.

Wins in upcoming games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers — none currently ranking in the world-beater category — could catapult the Rams into serious contender status heading into their off week.

The question is: Will McVay continue to recall he has a running game?

That light turned on Sunday — perhaps after the Rams realized that the Cardinals ranked 22nd in the NFL against the run.

After giving Williams only two carries in the first half, the Rams put the ball in his hands 18 times in the second.

The second-year pro helped set up Stafford’s third-quarter touchdown pass to Kupp and keyed a field-goal drive before leaving the game because of an ankle injury.

Williams’ effort helped McVay continue his dominance over the Cardinals.

It does not matter if McVay is coaching against Bruce Arians, Steve Wilks, Kliff Kingsbury or new coach Jonathan Gannon. If the Rams have a healthy starting quarterback, they nearly always prevail.

Last season, Stafford did not play against the Cardinals at SoFi Stadium because of a concussion.

On Sunday, he completed 15 of 24 passes for 226 yards and helped the Rams make a dent in their trend of ineffective second-half production.

After an impressive final two quarters in their season-opening victory at Seattle, the Rams largely had been ineffective in the second half.

They blew a 23-point lead at Indianapolis before coming back to win in overtime. They were shut out in last Sunday in a 23-14 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles.

But Sunday they overcame a 9-6 halftime deficit by scoring 20 unanswered points.

The defense also showed that someone other than cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon could make game-turning plays.

Last week against the Eagles, the Rams tackled poorly. They delivered fewer big hits than the Dodgers in a playoff series.

But against the Cardinals, linebacker Ernest Jones made 10 tackles, Donald and Williams threw Dobbs to the turf and Young hit Dobbs from behind and forced a fumble.

Dobbs completed 21 of 41 passes for 235 yards. He rushed for 47 yards in seven carries.

The Rams went into the game still stinging from giving up a touchdown in the final 32 seconds of the first half against the Eagles.

On Sunday, with 43 seconds left in the second quarter, Stafford’s 49-yard pass to Kupp set up a field goal to pull the Rams within 9-6.

The Rams came out running in the second half.

Williams and Ronnie Rivers combined for eight straight carries and Stafford scrambled for a few yards before finding Kupp for a 13-yard touchdown that put the Rams ahead, 13-9.

On their next possession, Williams’ 31-yard run keyed an 80-play drive that ended with another Brett Maher field goal for a 16-9 lead.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Williams increased the lead with a five-yard touchdown run.

Maher added a field goal for the final margin.

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