Running back Cam Akers rushed for more than 100 yards and three touchdowns.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield played efficiently and with occasional flash. Veteran tight end Tyler Higbee stepped up with a record-setting performance, and the defense intercepted four passes to make it easy on the offense.
Nothing, of course, has been easy for the defending Super Bowl-champion Rams during their lost season.
But for one game, they executed and played the long-sought-after-but-almost-never-achieved complementary football that coach Sean McVay has hopelessly coveted.
The Rams’ 51-14 victory on Sunday over the hapless Denver Broncos at SoFi Stadium was a welcome respite for McVay and the Rams organization.
“That’s what you want it to look like,” McVay said.
It also was a dose of what might have been. Or, at least, what the Rams believed their team could play like for the second season in a row.
After proclaiming their intent to run it back and become the first team to repeat as champion 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 Sunday, the Rams (5-10) had reason to feel good about themselves. They scored on all eight possessions and amassed their most points since a 54-51 over the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018.
“This has been anything but ideal,” McVay said of his sixth season, “and really it’s the first time when you look at it in this role, where there’s been failure in a lot of instances and we’re not getting the results we want.
“That weighs on me a lot because you want it to be like” Sunday’s performance.
Akers, a third-year pro, rushed for 118 yards in 23 carries and scored on runs of two, two and four yards. It was the best game of the season for a player who had been exiled from the team for more than two weeks earlier this season because of conflict about his role.
It was the first time Akers rushed for more than 100 yards since he gained 131 yards in a 2020 season NFC wild-card playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks. And it followed Akers’ solid performance in last week’s defeat by the Green Bay Packers, a loss that eliminated the Rams from playoff contention.
“Sticking with the run, not going away from it when we had a bad play or a negative play — just trusting it,” Akers said. “I think it paid dividends.”
In his second start for the Rams, Mayfield completed 24 of 28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He was not sacked.
Mayfield credited the offensive line for protecting him and establishing the running game with Akers.
“That makes my life easy,” Mayfield said. “So, it’s fun to watch when you get guys into a rhythm like that and they continue to fight for those extra yards and he’s really feeling it, making great reads, great cuts. … He built off 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.
“Just trying to make my plays and help this team win games,” Higbee said. “And sometimes it calls for a tight end to get more balls thrown his way.”
Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant intercepted two passes, one he returned 84 yards for a late touchdown that 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 the Rams had left to play for in their final games against the Broncos, Chargers and Seahawks was pride.
“We got eliminated 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 sack. “And we knew if we performed well, we’re capable of doing a game like that.”
Mayfield, though, has an opportunity to show other teams that he remains capable of starting in the NFL. He looked the part in a victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Dec. 8, but not in the defeat by the Packers.
On Sunday, with the defense supplying excellent field position, he played with confidence.
Meantime, Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson continued to struggle in his first season with the Broncos. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 214 yards and touchdown, with three interceptions. The Rams sacked him six times.
Durant intercepted a pass on the first possession to set up Higbee’s first touchdown. Wagner, a former teammate of Wilson’s in Seattle, intercepted a pass on the second series to set up Akers’ first touchdown. Wagner also sacked Wilson.
“I told him that if we ever played against one another, I would get him,” Wagner said, “so it was cool to do that.”
With just more than four minutes left, Durant picked off a pass by Brent Rypien and raced up the sideline for a touchdown.
“I just broke on it,” Durant said, “and the rest is history.”
In two weeks, McVay and the Rams also can put the season in the past.
But as they left the stadium Sunday, for one of the few times this season, they relished the present.