The Rams and Vikes played the best game of the 2018 season so far, with the two teams trading scores seemingly every few plays. They combined for 1,002 yards and 69 points, with Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins slicing holes through two of the NFL's best defenses and all of the various skill-position plays on each team doing their best to make fantastic plays all over the field.
It was also an exceedingly well-played game, with just six penalties and six punts combined between the two teams. (Both teams, by the way, also had six scoring possessions. Ridiculous.) Until the very end of the game, there were few sacks taken, either. Both coaches were willing to be aggressive and throw in "should-run" situations and go for it on fourth downs.
In the end, the Rams were just too overwhelming a force for the Vikings to handle. There was barely any resistance as Los Angeles marched up and down the field with ease, averaging 10.1 yards per play against Mike Zimmer's defense. Jared Goff finished the evening 26 of 33 for 465 yards and five touchdowns -- finding each of his top three receivers (Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp) for at least five catches, 101 yards, and a touchdown. He also connected with Todd Gurley on both a 57-yard screen pass and a touchdown.
Vikings have now allowed a 50+ yard catch to someone out of the backfield in three of the first four games.— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) September 28, 2018
The only hiccup the Rams experienced all night was a missed 28-yard field goal from kicker Sam Ficken. They did everything else damn near perfectly on offense. The vaunted Rams defense did not necessarily play its best, but that was to be expected without Aqib Talib and with Marcus Peters playing through an injury. And they came through when it mattered, anyway, as Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and company put the pressure on Kirk Cousins down the stretch, sacking him multiple times and coming away with a game-ending strip-sack that shut down the Vikings' last-ditch attempt to tie the game and force overtime.
With all due respect to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Rams look very much like the best team in football right now. Gurley is damn near unstoppable running the ball, and he's an elite receiver as well. Cooks, Woods, and Kupp form arguably the best pass-catching trio in the NFL. Goff is ascendant, and looks in total control of Sean McVay's offense. McVay is making a quick argument for the title of best coach in the league. And Wade Phillips is the league's best defensive coordinator. Add in all the ridiculous talent on defense -- Donald, Suh, Peters, Talib, Michael Brockers, Nickell Robey-Coleman, Lamarcus Joyner, John Johnson III, etc. -- and it's pretty easy to see the argument that there's nobody better than the Rams. They've got a long way to go between now and reaching their ultimate goal, but it's tough to imagine a team getting off to a better start.
Here are a few more things to know about the Rams' 38-31 victory over the Vikings.
Goff goes off
Remember when Jared Goff was an absolute disaster during his rookie season? Could that possibly seem further in the past? Goff just set the record for most passing yards ever on "Thursday Night Football," absolutely carving up one of the NFL's best defenses in a 465-yard, five-touchdown masterpiece. He's the first player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns on three days rest.
He finished the game with a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the 53rd such game since the AFL-NFL merger. Sean McVay put him in position to succeed by scheming advantageous matchups -- especially situations where linebacker Anthony Barr ended up on either Todd Gurley or one of the Rams' receivers in coverage -- but Goff also threw some absolute lasers and was completely in control of every aspect of the offense.
Goff's third touchdown pass of the evening was about as perfectly-thrown a ball as you will ever see in your life, dropped in a bucket over the top of double coverage to Cooper Kupp in the back of the end zone.
His fourth and fifth touchdown tosses were nearly as impressive, also beating the defense over the top with perfectly-placed throws to Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods.
Goff has an incredible infrastructure in place around him, but he is also very obviously coming into his own as a passer, and the Rams' offense should only get better as he matures into his role.
Cousins gets on track
It ended up being just short of enough and he turned the ball over with the game on the line, but Kirk Cousins finally got himself untracked this season as well, and like Goff he did it against one of the NFL's best defenses. Cousins completed 36 of 50 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 117.3 passer rating.
Cousins had been just OK through the first three weeks of the season, but he finally looked settled into the Minnesota system this week. (He became the second QB ever to complete 35-plus passes in three straight games.) Like Goff, he has a great infrastructure around him with fantastic weapons and a great play-caller, and as the Vikings gain comfort together this offense should be able to lift them to more victories throughout the rest of the season -- provided the defense finds its footing, of course.
New city, same connection
As you obviously know, Cousins plied his trade in Washington from 2012 through 2017 before he signed with Minnesota on a three-year, $84 million fully-guaranteed deal this offseason. One of his supplementary receivers during part of his time in Washington was Aldrick Robinson, with whom he connected on nine passes for 157 yards.
Their connection on Thursday night was perhaps even stronger, with Cousins finding Robinson for his first two touchdown tosses of the game -- each on utterly perfect throws. The first was an absolute dime over the leaping hands of Rams corner Marcus Peters.
And the second was a throw over the top of double-coverage that landed in the arms of a waiting Robinson in the back half of the end zone.
Robinson had 70 career catches and nine touchdowns coming into the game. Now he's got 72 catches and 11 scores. Pretty impressive stuff.
Cook returns, but makes minimal impact
Dalvin Cook missed the Vikings' surprising blowout loss to the Buffalo Bills last week, but returned for this game. He had been listed as questionable throughout the week with a hamstring injury, but the Vikes activated him for the contest.
Cook was unable to make his typical impact. His 10 carries totaled just 20 yards, and he did not have much of a presence in the passing game. Cook at his best brings another dimension to the Minnesota offense, but he has been unable to stay on the field for an extended period of time in his career. (He tore his ACL in the team's fourth game as a rookie, and lasted just two games before getting injured this year.)
The Vikings continue to have him split snaps with Latavius Murray, which is beneficial for his health but also limits the impact he can have on the game. (Cook was on a pitch count Thursday night and so was also rarely on the field in the second half as the Vikings attempted to come back from a double-digit deficit.) Unless and until he's able to both work as a true lead back and not get injured, Minnesota's offense will not be operating at peak capacity.
Over the years, the Rams have been known to pull a little trickeration with their punter, Johnny Hekker. He's thrown at least one pass on a fake punt or field goal during every single season of his career, and now 2018 is no different. This particularly gambit, however, was unsuccessful, thanks to heads up coverage from rookie Vikings corner Mike Hughes.
Here's an incredible string of Hekker statistics: since his debut back in 2012, he has now thrown 16 passes. The next closest punter -- Sam Koch of the Ravens -- has thrown just three. He has nine completions, and the next closest punter -- again, Koch -- has three. He has 137 passing yards and the next closest punters -- Ryan Quigley and Pat O'Donnell -- have just 38 apiece.
Does Le'Veon Bell have his next team in mind?
OK so this is kind of unrelated, but if you've been paying attention to the NFL this season, you know Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell has still not reported to the team's facility. He's unhappy about being franchise-tagged for the second consecutive season and is staying away in order to preserve his body and earn himself a long-term contract with another team next offseason.
It seems, perhaps, that he has a team in mind.
Kirks accuracy lookin so crazy right now...damn— Le'Veon Bell (@LeVeonBell) September 28, 2018
Hm ... Le'Veon in Minnesota? Admittedly, it would be awesome. The Vikings already have an absolute ton of firepower offensively and adding arguably the most versatile running back in the NFL would make them damn near unstoppable. But the Vikings also have a ton of long-term contracts on their books already, they have some more guys still to pay, and they also drafted Cook just last year. Let's just say the odds of Bell actually ending up in purple seem fairly low.
The 4-0 Rams look like the best team in the NFC and possibly the NFL. They square off with the division rival Seahawks next Sunday afternoon. The Vikings, meanwhile, are set up for a rematch of last year's NFC title game, as they will take on Carson Wentz and the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Check out of live blog of the festivities below.
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