Rams at Cardinals score: Matthew Stafford outduels Kyler Murray as Los Angeles gets revenge on rivals

Kyler Murray was a walking highlight reel as per usual on Monday night, but his Cardinals lost their stranglehold on the NFC's No. 1 seed in a home rematch with the Rams. Matthew Stafford made his own case to remain in the 2021 MVP conversation thanks to a nearly flawless three-touchdown performance, and Aaron Donald feasted up front to the tune of three sacks, helping lift Sean McVay's squad to a 30-23 victory on ''Monday Night Football'' that puts them right back in the mix for an NFC West title.

Here are some immediate takeaways from Monday night's thriller:

Why the Rams won

Their high-flying offense did its thing basically from start to finish. After an opening-series punt, Stafford started dealing with some of the most confident, comfortable throwing he's showcased all year. A shifty Sony Michel helped take pressure off his arm, but that did plenty of work on Arizona's secondary, hitting Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr. for big scores and timely precision passes. Kupp stayed open throughout the evening to bolster his case for Offensive Player of the Year. Defensively, Donald was a wrecking ball in the trenches even when he didn't get to Murray, and the secondary kept enough plays in front of them sans Jalen Ramsey, who was missing due to COVID. This was a true team win.

Why the Cardinals lost

Defense was hard to come by for Arizona, which let the Rams turn in one of their most efficient outings of the year. But the bigger issue honestly might've been lack of execution from an offensive lineup and staff that's proven to be one of the NFL's most talented. Murray made plenty of splash plays, rocketing some pretty deep balls and exploding for chunk runs while threatening to send the game to overtime, but he was also erratic through the air, forcing throws on two bad picks and taking a pair of ill-advised sacks on the final two series. Kliff Kingsbury had an equally large hand in the late-game slip-ups, failing to keep Arizona up to speed in crunch time. Aside from Murray, their running game was also a virtual no-show.

Turning point

With 1:13 left in the game, the Cardinals trailed by 10 with the ball at the Rams' 27-yard line. Then Murray took a sack on third-and-long, allowing the clock to run and forcing Arizona to make a split decision on whether to send the field goal unit out or keep aiming for six. Kingsbury and Co. used up a good 30 seconds before finally getting three from a 49-yard Matt Prater kick. That pulled them within seven, and a successful ensuing onside kick legitimized comeback hopes. But the lost time doomed their final drive and helped seal the victory for L.A.

Play of the game

Almost every other throw or scramble from Murray was fun to watch, but Stafford deserves props for the beautiful rainbow bomb he delivered into the waiting and moving arms of Jefferson on their long touchdown:

What's next

The Rams (9-4), back in the conversation for a division title and even the NFC's No. 1 seed, will return home to host their division rival Seahawks (5-8) on Sunday, a week after Seattle routed the Texans. The Cardinals (10-3), meanwhile, who are now fighting multiple teams for the top spot in the NFC, will visit the Lions (1-11-1), who fell to the Broncos in Week 14.

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December 14, 2021, 4:48 AM
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December 14, 2021, 4:25 AM
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The Cardinals drop to 10-3 and surrender the No. 1 seed in the conference to the Packers due to the head-to-head tiebreaker. They're now the No. 3 seed, one game ahead of the Rams in the division as well as the No. 4 seed Cowboys (also 9-4). They play Dallas in two weeks in what should be a huge game in the NFC playoff race.

December 14, 2021, 4:18 AM
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The Rams improve to 9-4 and tie the season series with the Arizona, which is important for tiebreaker purposes. For now, they remain the No. 5 seed in the NFC.

December 14, 2021, 4:17 AM
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Well that did not end the way the Cardinals wanted it to.

December 14, 2021, 4:16 AM
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And then a false start comes right after the hold. Killing their own momentum, the Cardinals.

December 14, 2021, 4:15 AM
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Let's not overlook the fact the Cardinals still pulled within one score and successfully recovered an onside kick! Clock management would've helped, but they're still in position to knot this thing up potentially.

December 14, 2021, 4:15 AM
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What a move by Kyler down the field to shake the linebacker before he got out of bounds. It's coming back due to a hold but sheeesh.

December 14, 2021, 4:14 AM
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Oh boy. Now that sack of Kyler on third down looms large. The Cardinals would have at least like 20 more seconds for this drive where they need a touchdown.

December 14, 2021, 4:13 AM
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Oh that's really bad. Cards gonna run the field goal team on and have much less time for a post-onside kick drive now.

December 14, 2021, 4:11 AM
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I have zero idea how that pass got through to Hopkins. He almost came down with it. But now he's on the sideline for third down.

December 14, 2021, 4:11 AM
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Oh boy that was one of the easiest interceptions of David Long's life and he just dropped it.

December 14, 2021, 4:08 AM
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Kyler is taking some SHOTS down the field, man. Laying it out there.

December 14, 2021, 4:07 AM
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