February 24, 2024

The Rams departed for the airport Sunday night with numerous questions hanging over their heads.

Was their mistake-filled 26-25 victory over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium the style-points aberration it appeared to be?

Will quarterback Matthew Stafford bounce back from two interceptions with another outstanding string of error-free performances?

Can the woeful kicking game and punt coverage ever be solved?

But after winning for the sixth time in seven games, the biggest unknown involved the Rams’ playoff fate.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks while the Rams were en route home, the Rams would land in Los Angeles assured of a playoff berth. If the Seahawks prevailed, the Rams probably would have had to beat the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers in the finale.

Rams coach Sean McVay planned to watch the Seahawks-Steelers game on the plane.

“We’ll see if the WiFi works,” McVay said.

It could not have worked out any better for the Rams. They boarded the plane and delayed takeoff until the Steelers’ 30-23 victory over the Seahawks was over, a team official said.

So a Rams team that oddsmakers picked to win 61/2 games is returning to the postseason. After missing out in 2022 while in the throes of the worst Super Bowl hangover in history, the Rams are back in the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons under McVay. The Rams will be the No. 6 or No. 7 seed depending on what scenarios unfold in the final weekend of games.

McVay was aware of the stakes going into Sunday’s game. If the Rams had lost, their playoff probabilities would fall with them.

The Rams celebrate after the Giants' Mason Crosby (21) missed a potential game-winning 54-yard field goal.

The Rams celebrate after the Giants’ Mason Crosby (21) missed a potential game-winning 54-yard field goal.

(Adam Hunger / Associated Press)

“If we didn’t take care of our business … I don’t know what the percentage is, but I know it would significantly drop,” he said.

The Rams did just enough to beat a bumbling Giants team that fell to 5-11. Running back Kyren Williams rushed for three touchdowns. Stafford passed for two. And Puka Nacua amassed more than 100 yards receiving, including a spectacular 80-yard play that moved him closer to NFL rookie receiving records.

Rookie lineman Kobie Turner and Aaron Donald, linebacker Ernest Jones and safety Jordan Fuller led a defense that amassed six sacks but gave up more explosive plays.

Kicker Lucas Havrisik missed two more extra-point attempts and the Rams gave up a 94-yard punt return for touchdown. The Rams committed three turnovers and a lost fumble. They gave up a punt return for a touchdown for the second time in four games.

And they still won, improving their record to 9-7. It is the first time the Rams have been two games over .500 since 2021.

“We’re never going to take for granted being able to get wins,” McVay said, “And there was also a lot of things we tried to do to not win this game … but our guys found a way and sometimes you need to be able to have these types of games to have a sense of urgency.”

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) runs for a touchdown against the Giants after a catch in the first half.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) runs for a touchdown against the Giants after a catch in the first half.

(Adam Hunger / Associated Press)

The Rams were not assured of victory until Giants kicker Mason Crosby — whom the Rams signed and released a few weeks ago — missed a 54-yard field-goal attempt in the final minute.

“That was a crazy game,” said Stafford, who had a pass intercepted for the first time in five games. “Not the cleanest of football, but find a way to win.”

Said Donald, who had two sacks: “It wasn’t perfect, but we found a way. We can build off it.”

Like Donald, veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein has been through four playoff runs with the Rams. It doesn’t matter how late-season victories are achieved, he said.

“I’m not ignorant that we need to fix some stuff,” he said, “but with all the mistakes and miscues, we found a way to win the game.”

Jones made 13 tackles, the last one for a two-yard loss that forced Crosby to attempt a longer kick. Jones intimated that style does matter.

“A win is a win, but I think this team, we’re past that,” Jones said. “We’ve got to go out and win these games in a fashion we should. We let a lot go by and we just didn’t finish the way we should.

“We definitely will take the win, but we can be better.”

With the top seed in hand, it remains to be seen whether 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan will rest starters against the Rams. The Rams have not defeated the 49ers in the regular season since 2018, a string of nine games.

“Just excited for the opportunity to play games that mean something this late in the season is a lot of fun,” said Stafford, who completed 24 of 34 passes for 317 yards.

Williams rushed for 87 yards in 20 carries and scored on runs of four, two and 28 yards.

“We’re not looking far into the future,” he said. “We’re right here in the present, living it, staying in the moment and just having fun doing it.”

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