Stafford, Rams hold off Falcons for 31-27 victory
By JOE REEDY
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) Jalen Ramsey was calm and collected, even in the maelstrom of the fourth quarter that saw the Atlanta Falcons putting together a late rally against the Los Angeles Rams.
While most of the 71,802 inside of SoFi Stadium were dreading the worst Sunday, the All-Pro cornerback knew he was going to be a deciding factor in the final minutes.
With the Falcons driving for a potential go-ahead touchdown, Ramsey picked off Marcus Mariota's pass intended for Bryan Edwards in the end zone, allowing the Rams to hold on for a 31-27 victory.
"I told my teammates it was gonna come back to me and it did," Ramsey said. "I just continued to focus and do my job. That was going through my mind because in the past we pressed to make those plays. And when you do that, it doesn't end up well for you."
The defending Super Bowl champions led the entire game. But they nearly blew a 28-3 third-quarter lead that would have given the young Falcons an unlikely comeback of their own from that infamous score - Atlanta's lead in the 2017 Super Bowl before New England rallied to win - to celebrate.
Mariota had second-half touchdown passes to Drake London and Olamide Zaccheaus to bring the Falcons within 31-17. Special teams and defense then came through to give the veteran quarterback a final chance.
Troy Anderson blocked a punt that Lorenzo Carter returned 26 yards for a touchdown, and a 2-point conversion pass from Mariota to London brought the Falcons within 31-25 with 5:06 remaining. It is the first time since 1990 that the Falcons have blocked a punt in a regular-season game and returned it for a TD. The most recent came in a 2003 playoff game against Green Bay.
Los Angeles turned it over on their ensuing drive when Darren Hall forced Kupp to fumble and recovered it at the Rams 37. Mariota got the Falcons to the Rams 24 before throwing the fateful interception.
"That's on me, I've got to do a better job of communicating that across the board," said Mariota, who was 17 of 26 for 196 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. "I think, kind of throughout the game I could have done a better job operationally and just communicating with the guys so that everybody's on the same page."
Los Angeles took a safety when returner Brandon Powell ran out of the end zone on punt formation after a three-and-out. After the free kick, Atlanta took over at the Falcons 40, but Mariota was sacked before he could get a Hail Mary attempt off on the final play to ensure Atlanta's fourth straight 0-2 start.
"There's a lot of different, very uncharacteristic things, but they happened. And we still found a way," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "We're not going to run away from some of the things that we didn't do well today. But we're also going to allow ourselves to appreciate being able to come away with a win."
Matthew Stafford threw for 272 yards and three touchdowns and Cooper Kupp had two TD catches for the Rams, who bounced back from a disappointing defeat against the Buffalo Bills in their season opener.
Stafford completed his first 12 passes en route to going 27 of 36. Kupp had 11 catches for 108 yards and touchdowns on consecutive drives in the second and third quarters.
Kupp made an over-the-shoulder catch on a fade pattern on second-and-3 from Atlanta's 3 late in the first half to give the Rams a 21-3 lead. The Super Bowl MVP's first score came three plays after Rams rookie cornerback Cobie Durant picked off a pass bobbled by Cordarrelle Patterson and returned it 51 yards up the right sideline to the Falcons 9.
The Rams then took the second half kickoff and extended their lead by another touchdown when Kupp caught a quick pass and juked safety Jaylinn Hawkins for a 10-yard TD.
The Falcons were able to move the ball in the first half, but were done in by mistakes. The Rams scored their 21 points after a missed field goal by Younghoe Koo, turnover on downs near midfield and Mariota's first interception.
"Obviously it wasn't perfect and we need to break through, but one thing about our guys, no matter what has happened, we have a chance until the last play to win it," Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. "Obviously we didn't make enough plays, but the game playing gave us enough and the guys kept grinding out."
GETTING MORE INVOLVED
Allen Robinson had four catches for 53 yards after being held to one reception in the opener. Robinson hauled in a 1-yard pass from Stafford on the Rams' first drive. Tyler Higbee also had a big game with seven catches for 71 yards.
Kupp didn't have his first reception until the second quarter.
"Those guys were some primaries early on in the game and they did a great job, and then Cooper got his opportunities and made great plays as he always does," Stafford said.
London, the No. 8 overall pick who went to college at Southern California, had eight catches for 86 yards, including his first touchdown during the third quarter - a 4-yard catch from Mariota to bring Atlanta within 28-10.
Falcons: CB A.J. Terrell was evaluated for a head injury in the first half and was cleared to return.
Rams: RG Tremayne Anchrum suffered an ankle injury on the opening series and did not return. ... CB Troy Hill (questionable) was also injured in the first half.
Falcons: Travel to face the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday.
Rams: Travel to take on the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday.
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Updated September 18, 2022