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.
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:
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.