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Rams step up, handle Seahawks to keep pace in NFC playoff race

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 12/9/2019 Mike Jones, USA TODAY
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LOS ANGELES -- Faced with a virtual must-win situation while hosting divisional foe Seattle, the Los Angeles Rams pulled off 28-12 victory Sunday night.

In so doing, the Rams kept one game back of the Minnesota Vikings for the final wil-card berth and also knocked the Seahawks down from the first seed in the NFC standings to the fifth. 

BOX SCORE:  RAMS 28, SEAHAWKS 12

The Rams still have a very slim margin for error, but for this week at least, they took care of business. 

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Here are three things we learned in this matchup. 

1. Defense answers the call — The Rams’ defense hasn’t consistently lived up to expectations this season, but Sunday night the unit looked like the unit that helped carry L.A. to the Super Bowl last season. And thanks to that outing by the defense, the Rams emerged victorious and kept their slim playoff hopes alive.

While the Rams' offense seemingly did everything it could in the second half to give Seattle a chance, the defense repeatedly delivered one strong stand after another to erase the transgressions of the offense and special teams units. The Rams did a good job of pressuring Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, sacking him five times, and they held the Seahawks to 5-of-14 on third-down conversions. The Rams also denied Seattle on a first-half fourth-and-1 play in which the Seahawks elected to go for a first down rather than attempt a field goal.

One of the biggest stops came late in the third quarter when Aaron Donald sacked Russell Wilson for an 11-yard loss, moving the ball from the L.A. 41 to the Seattle 48, forcing a punt. 

2. Flashes of the old — Jared Goff picked up where he left off in last week’s big day against Arizona and marched his team downfield on a drive capped by a Malcolm Brown touchdown run on the Rams’ first play of the game. Then, Goff threw two touchdown passes in the first half. Finishing with 292 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 22-of-31 passing, he looked like his 2018 self and not the player that has struggled with decision-making and accuracy this season.

Rams coaches did a good job of using the play action to buy their quarterback time, and they frequently rolled him out so he wasn’t a sitting target. Goff got the ball out quickly and kept pressure on Seattle’s defense.

a group of football players on a field: Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (18) celebrates with quarterback Jared Goff (16) and wide receiver Robert Woods (17) after scoring a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of a NFL game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. © Richard Mackson, USA TODAY Sports Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (18) celebrates with quarterback Jared Goff (16) and wide receiver Robert Woods (17) after scoring a touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half of a NFL game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Another Rams player that looked like the 2018 version of himself was Todd Gurley. He finished with 79 rushing yards and 34 receiving yards on 27 total touches as Rams coaches have evidently done away with their load-management approach. L.A.’s offense just works so much better when the Rams have the full services of the versatile back. The Seahawks had to respect the threat of the run and couldn’t key on Goff as aggressively as they would have liked.

The third quarter, however, was definitely ugly for Goff and the offense. He threw two interceptions — one returned 55 yards for a touchdown — to safety Quandre Diggs. And the Seahawks also blocked a 37-yard field goal attempt. But fortunately for the Rams, a strong defensive outing ensured that the Seahawks inflicted only so much damage. And then, in the fourth quarter, the offense regained its footing and Gurley capped a seven-play, 95-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run, his ninth of the season.

3. Best division in football? — With three weeks left in the regular season, three of the NFC West’s four teams remain in the hunt for a playoff bid. The 49ers regained the top spot in the NFC, the Seahawks dropped to the fifth seed and the Rams kept their hopes alive. And so, it’s hard to argue with the notion that the NFC West is the best division in the league.

The Cardinals aren’t a factor, but it’s hard to find a division with a more formidable trio than San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. The NFC North has a strong tandem in the Packers and Vikings, but the Bears are wildly inconsistent. The NFC South has the Saints and no other challenges. The NFC East is an embarrassment. The AFC North has one (Ravens) and possibly two (Steelers) playoff teams. The AFC East has New England and Buffalo, but the Jets and Dolphins are irrelevant. And the AFC West basically has only one legit squad: the Chiefs. So the crown for best division in football has to go to the NFC West. 

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rams step up, handle Seahawks to keep pace in NFC playoff race

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