Kyren Williams' return helps keep Rams in NFC playoff picture with rout of Cardinals

Before kickoff Sunday, the retractable roof at State Farm Stadium opened, letting sunshine beams pour down onto a patch of the grass field.

Rams players out for early warmups soaked it up.

A few hours later, after routing the Arizona Cardinals, the Rams left here with rays of hope and looking like a — dare it be said — legitimate playoff team.

Matthew Stafford passed for four touchdowns, running back Kyren Williams had a career performance and safety Jordan Fuller and defensive lineman Kobie Turner led a defense that remained steadfast in a 37-14 victory in front of 62,177 that kept the Rams in the hunt for a spot in the NFC playoffs.

Stafford connected twice with tight end Tyler Higbee and twice with Williams for touchdowns as the Rams won their second game in a row and improved their record to 5-6.

“It’s about one week at a time,” coach Sean McVay said when asked if the Rams were rounding in a playoff-caliber team, “And if we do that and continue to get better, then I think those conversations always take care of themselves, and that’s what served us well in previous years as well.”

Williams, a second-year pro, returned from injured reserve and amassed 204 total yards, rushing for 143 yards in 16 carries and catching six passes for 61 yards.

It was Williams’ first game since rushing for a career-best 158 yards in a 26-9 victory over the Cardinals on Oct. 15. Williams suffered an ankle injury in that game that sidelined him for four games.

“I’m an artist,” Williams said, “and this is my canvas. This is what I really love to do.”

So getting back onto the field was “a blessing,” he said.

“When you’re out from something that you love for so long, for four weeks, not being able to do what you do best, it feels good to be back,” he said.

Royce Freeman added 77 yards rushing and a touchdown as the Rams eclipsed the 30 points they scored in a season-opening victory over the Seattle Seahawks at Seattle.

“When we can run the ball like that, when you’ve got guys and you’re able to be efficient in the run game — that makes things so much easier,” receiver Cooper Kupp said. “I thought Sean did an unbelievable job matching up the run, the pass, the play-actions, the screens. … The flow of that was really well done.”

Now, the Cardinals (2-10) hardly qualify as a tough opponent. Since he was hired in 2017, McVay has never lost to the Cardinals on the road.

And there is still a long way to go.

But the Rams finally put together an outstanding performance on offense and defense, an indication they are perhaps more than a team treading water until they start spending money again next season.

On Sunday, the Rams capitalized on the opportunity to gain ground on the Seahawks (6-5) in the NFC West.

The Rams’ 17-16 victory over the Seahawks in Week 11 ended a three-game losing streak and completed a sweep of the Seahawks. And the division-leading San Francisco 49ers’ victory over the Seahawks on Thursday opened the door for the Rams.

The Rams have games remaining against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, Washington Commanders, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.

There is reason for optimism, but it must be tempered by the Rams’ recent history. After defeating the Cardinals in October, that evened their record at 3-3 and sparked optimism that a playoff berth was in reach.

But the Rams lost three games in a row against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers before ending the skid against the Seahawks.

Can the Rams avoid a repeat?

“Coming out of the bye, coach McVay told us each streak starts at one,” said Turner, who recorded two sacks. “So, we’re taking it small. It’s one week at a time.

“Next week, it’s the Browns, and hopefully we can look back at the end of all this and hopefully we’ll be really proud of how we took the week-to-week approach and hopefully we’ll be where we want to be at the end.”

On Sunday, the Rams led 21-8 at halftime on Stafford’s first three touchdown passes.

Midway through the third quarter, Williams broke off a 56-yard run to start a drive that ended with Lucas Havrisik’s 24-yard field goal.

Williams increased the lead with a three-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter, and Royce Freeman scored on a 23-yard run for a 37-8 lead.

Stafford continued to play through a right thumb injury but looked completely comfortable. He completed a 42-yard pass to Tutu Atwell and finished 25 of 33 for 229 yards, with an interception.

Fuller, who broke up four passes, said the team effort portends well for the Rams’ playoff aspirations.

“That’s what everybody on the team is working for,” he said. “We have a whole lot of growth to still do, but happy for this one.”

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