ARIZONA CARDINALS

Rams beat Vikings to take over top spot in NFC West

Dec 26, 2021, 3:05 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — 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.

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.

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