May 29, 2024

The Rams put on a show for new Dodgers superstar Shohei Ohtani.

And they once again showed the rest of the NFL that they could be one of the league’s most dangerous teams down the stretch of their playoff run, if not a no-doubt home run.

With Ohtani watching from Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s suite, the Rams’ closer-than–it-needed-to-be 30-22 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night at SoFi Stadium tightened their grip on a postseason berth.

“We sure make it interesting, don’t we?” coach Sean McVay quipped, adding, “It’s going to make for a good Christmas.”

Quarterback Matthew Stafford continued his extraordinary play, receivers Puka Nacua and Demarcus Robinson caught touchdown passes, and Kyren Williams eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing this season as the Rams improved to 8-7 and held on to an NFC playoff spot.

Safety Jordan Fuller intercepted a pass and linebacker Ernest Jones IV and rookie lineman Kobie Turner had sacks for a defense that helped the Rams win for the fifth time in six games.

Jordan Fuller (4) celebrates with Rams teammates after intercepting a pass thrown by the Saints' Derek Carr.

Jordan Fuller (4) celebrates with Rams teammates after intercepting a pass thrown by the Saints’ Derek Carr.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Ohtani was on the sideline before the game and in the Rams’ locker room afterward. Early in the second quarter, after cameras projected his image on the giant videoboard, Ohtani opened his leather jacket to reveal a custom No. 17 Rams jersey.

“Big dude,” Stafford said, adding, “He’s going to be fun to watch.”

Ohtani, who received a $700-million contract from the Dodgers, had to enjoy observing Stafford, who threw passes seemingly from 700 million arm angles.

The Saints came into the game ranked sixth in the NFL in passing defense and scoring defense, but facing Carolina Panthers quarterback Bryce Young and New York Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito is not nearly the same as facing a red-hot Stafford.

Stafford completed 24 of 34 passes for 328 yards, making plays from inside and outside of the pocket. In the last five games, the 15th-year pro has passed for 14 touchdowns with one interception.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) was throwing passes from all sorts of arm angles against the Saints.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) was throwing passes from all sorts of arm angles against the Saints.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

On Thursday night, nine of Stafford’s passes went to Nacua, who like Ohtani wears No. 17.

“It put a big smile on my face, seeing him rock the 17,” said Nacua, who amassed a career-high 164 yards receiving and caught his fifth touchdown pass. “I thought it was cool.”

Nacua also recovered an onside kick before the Rams ran out the clock.

The Rams play the Giants on Dec. 31 and then finish the season at the San Francisco 49ers.

The 49ers hold the No. 1 seed in the NFC, so it remains to be seen how 49ers coach — and McVay nemesis — Kyle Shanahan approaches the finale.

That might not matter if the Rams do not defeat the Giants.

If they beat the Giants and the 49ers, they are assured a playoff spot.

“We win,” safety John Johnson said, “we in.”

The Rams will travel to the East Coast with confidence, especially Williams. The second-year pro rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown in 22 carries. It was his third consecutive 100-yard performance and his sixth this season.

The Rams' Kyren Williams leaps into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run against the Saints.

The Rams’ Kyren Williams leaps into the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run as the Saints’ Paulson Adebo (29) is unable to stop the back.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“Getting 1,000 yards, that was my goal,” said Williams, who has rushed for 1,057 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games. “But I’m not satisfied. I’m going to go get a lot more.”

The Rams offense also has received a huge lift from Robinson. The veteran signed a minimum contract before the season and waited patiently for an opportunity to contribute.

Against the Saints, he caught six passes for 82 yards and scored a touchdown for the fourth time in as many games.

Fuller’s third-quarter interception was the most significant play for a secondary that had been burned for multiple explosive plays in a defeat to the Baltimore Ravens and Sunday during a victory over the Washington Commanders.

Saints quarterback Derek Carr — who had passed for zero touchdowns with seven interceptions in three previous games against the Rams — connected with Rashid Shaheed for a 45-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He also threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes.

Rams special teams also remain suspect.

Lucas Havrisik kicked field goals from 20, 22 and 32 yards but missed a 47-yard attempt that shifted momentum late in the first half. Also, the Saints blocked an Ethan Evans punt late in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown.

The defense set the tone early when Jones broke up a pass and sacked Carr on consecutive plays of the Saints’ opening drive.

The Rams led 17-7 at halftime and were ahead 20-7 in the third quarter when Fuller’s interception set up Williams’ 10-yard touchdown run. The Rams added another field goal in the fourth quarter for a 30-7 lead.

Carr’s five-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson pulled the Saints to within 16 points. The blocked punt set up Carr’s 35-yard touchdown pass to A.T. Perry with 3:53 left, and Carr’s two-point conversion pass to Chris Olave cut the lead to eight.

Nacua then recovered the onside kick. A few minutes later, the Rams were celebrating in the locker room with Ohtani.

“We still got a lot of work, a lot of things we can clean up,” Jones said, “but we’re rollin’.”

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