Punt return TD lifts Rams past Vikings to get playoff spot
Brandon Powell returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to lift Los Angeles into the playoffs as the Rams pulled out a 30-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
The victory also sent the Rams' NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals into the postseason.
Sony Michel rushed for a season-high 131 yards and a score, Matt Gay made three field goals, and the Aaron Donald-led defense did its part, keeping the Vikings out of the end zone on two first-half trips inside the 10-yard line.
Matthew Stafford had his first three-interception game since Sept. 10, 2018, when he was picked off four times for Detroit against the New York Jets. But the Rams (11-4) still had more than enough to win their fourth straight game and pass Arizona (10-5) for first place in the NFC West.
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Kirk Cousins had 315 yards on 27-for-38 passing with a touchdown to K.J. Osborn with 8:21 remaining that cut the lead to 27-20. But his interception in the end zone in the first quarter loomed large all afternoon.
Alexander Mattison filled in for COVID-19-absent Dalvin Cook and had 70 total yards and a score for the Vikings (7-8), who failed for the fourth time this season to push their record above .500. They lost control of the third and final NFC wild-card spot.
Anthony Barr picked off Stafford twice, both deep in Rams territory, and the Vikings turned them into 10 points. Stafford went 21 for 37 for 197 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr., but he was out of sync for most of the game with several other throws that could've been intercepted.
Cousins was the sharper quarterback, coming off a couple of rough games, but he still couldn't get the Vikings a win. Only one of their first nine possessions went longer than 15 yards — that ended with Travin Howard picking off Cousins in the end zone after a pass intended for Osborn was deflected in tight coverage by Darious Williams.
That was the fourth interception in the last three games for Cousins. He was picked off only three times in the first 12 games.
Powell gave the Rams their first non-offensive touchdown of the season, their first special teams return score since Pharoh Cooper in 2017, and their first punt return touchdown since Tavon Austin in 2015 when they still played in St. Louis.
Jalen Ramsey kept Justin Jefferson on lockdown much of the game, but he still had eight catches for 116 yards. He passed fellow LSU alum and pal Beckham for most receiving yards in a player's first two seasons (2,851). Beckham had 2,755.
Cooper Kupp had a 37-yard reception on third down in the fourth quarter to help put the game away. He had 10 catches for 109 yards to become the first player with at least 90 receiving yards in 14 games of a single season. Antonio Brown (2014) and Michael Irvin (1995) did so in 13 games.
Rams: LB Ernest Jones (ankle) was hurt in the first quarter and didn't return. ... C Brian Allen (knee) limped off in the second quarter, forcing a further shuffle of the offensive line. Coleman Shelton, who started at LG with David Edwards shifted to LT, took over for Allen. When Edwards moved back to LG, Alaric Jackson entered at LT. Starting LT Rob Havenstein and backup Joe Noteboom were both out with COVID-19. ... NT Greg Gaines (hand) departed in the third quarter. ... RB Darrell Henderson Jr. hurt his knee in the fourth quarter on his only carry, a 17-yard gain. ... TE Tyler Higbee left with an apparent leg injury.
Vikings: WR Adam Thielen (ankle) returned from a two-game absence with three catches for 40 yards, but he aggravated the injury twice and barely played in the second half. ... Cook was joined on the COVID-19 reserve list by backup QB Sean Mannion and backup OT Rashod Hill. ... With Mason Cole (elbow) on injured reserve, Oli Udoh returned to his original starting RG spot.
The Rams play at Baltimore (8-7) next Sunday.
The Vikings play at Green Bay (12-3) next Sunday night.