Running back Cam Akers rushed for more than 100 yards and three touchdowns.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield played efficiently and with occasional flashes. Veteran tight end Tyler Higbee stepped up with a career-high performance and the defense intercepted four passes to ease the offense.
Nothing, of course, came easy for the defending Super Bowl champion Rams during their losing season.
But for one game, they executed and played the long-sought-but-never-attained complementary kick that coach Sean McVay hopelessly craved.
The Rams’ 51-14 win against the hapless Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium on Sunday was a welcome respite for McVay and the Rams organization.
“That’s how you want it to look,” McVay said.
It was also a dose of what could have been. Or, at least, how the Rams believed their team could play for the second straight season.
After proclaiming their intent to come back and become the first team to repeat as champions in nearly two decades, poor play, questionable coaching decisions, and a seemingly endless string of injuries sent the Rams into a historic nosedive.
Three of the team’s cornerstone players — quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive lineman Aaron Donald — suffered season-ending injuries
But from start to finish on Sunday, the Rams (5-10) had reason to feel good about themselves. They scored on all eight possessions and amassed the most points since 54-51 on the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018.
“This has been less than ideal,” McVay said of his sixth season, “and it’s really the first time you’ve seen him in this role, where there’s been a lot of failure in a lot of cases and we’re not getting the results we are.” we would want.
“This weighs heavily on me because you want it to be like” Sunday’s performance.
Akers, a third-year pro, rushed for 118 yards on 23 carries and scored on rushes of two, two, and four yards. It was the best game of the season for a player who had been exiled from the squad for more than two weeks earlier this season due to role conflicts.
It was the first time Akers rushed for more than 100 yards since gaining 131 yards in a 2020 season NFC wild card playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks. And it followed up Akers’ solid performance in last week’s loss to the Green Bay Packers, a loss that eliminated the Rams from playoff contention.
“Stick to the run, not walk away from it when we’ve had a bad play or a bad play, just trust it,” Akers said. “I think she paid dividends.”
In his second start for the Rams, Mayfield completed 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He wasn’t fired.
Mayfield credited the offensive line for protecting him and establishing the running game with Akers.
“This makes my life easy,” Mayfield said. “So, it’s fun to watch when you get the guys at a pace like that and they keep fighting for those extra yards and he really feels it, he does great reads, great cuts. … he Built last week and continued it.
Higbee caught nine passes for 94 yards and two touchdowns. The seventh-year pro now holds team tight end career records with 299 catches for 3,063 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“I’m just trying to make my plays and help this team win games,” Higbee said. “And sometimes it requires a tight end to get more balls thrown at him.”
Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant intercepted two passes, one returned 84 yards for a late touchdown which provided the exclamation point. Linebacker Bobby Wagner and cornerback Jalen Ramsey also intercepted passes. After losing to the Packers and missing the playoffs for only the second time under McVay, all that was left for the Rams to play in their final few games against the Broncos, Chargers and Seahawks was pride.
“We were busted last week, but we still approached this week the same way. We still come out with the same energy,” said Wagner, who also had a layoff. “And we knew that if we played well, we’d be able to make a game like that.”
Mayfield, however, has an opportunity to show other teams that he’s still capable of starting in the NFL. He looked the part in a win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Dec. 8, but not in the Packers’ loss.
With the defense providing excellent field position on Sunday, he played with confidence.
Meanwhile, Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson continued to struggle in his first season with the Broncos. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 214 yards and touchdowns, with three interceptions. The Rams sacked him six times.
Durant intercepted a pass on his first possession to set up Higbee’s first touchdown. Wagner, a former teammate of Wilson’s in Seattle, intercepted a pass in the second series to set up Akers’ first touchdown. Wagner also fired Wilson.
“I told him if we ever played against each other, I’d take it,” said Wagner, “so it was good to do it.”
With just over four minutes left, Durant caught a pass from Brent Rypien and rushed to the sideline for a touchdown.
“I just broke it,” Durant said, “and the rest is history.”
In two weeks, even McVay and the Rams can put the season in the past.
But when they left the stadium on Sunday, for one of the few times this season, they tasted the present.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.