Vikings vs. Rams score: Sony Michel runs wild as Los Angeles puts a dent in Minnesota's playoff hopes

The Vikings needed an upset on their own turf Sunday to keep their place in the NFC playoff picture, and for at least one half of their matchup with the NFC West-leading Rams, they seemed primed to deliver. Mike Zimmer's defense intercepted former division rival Matthew Stafford three times, and Sean McVay's squad looked incapable of exploding at U.S. Bank Stadium. But the Vikings couldn't do much with the ball in their own hands, and they definitely couldn't slow Sony Michel, who logged 131 yards on the ground to lead the Rams' methodical attack en route to a 30-23 victory.

The close win marks Los Angeles' fourth straight to stay atop the NFC West amid the Cardinals' slide. It also puts a dent in Minnesota's own path to the postseason, with the Eagles (8-7) -- a fellow wild card contender -- logging a big win over the Giants on Sunday.

Here are some takeaways from Sunday's NFC showdown:

Why the Rams won

Believe it or not, Matthew Stafford had very little to do with this win over old foes. In fact, the ex-Lions QB was positively erratic -- and, at times, rattled -- against the Vikings, throwing three picks and nearly another two while forcing too many big shots. Fortunately, though, he had a top-notch Michel to lean on; McVay wisely leaned on the new No. 1 back early (and then again in the waning minutes), and Michel delivered on the ground. Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. also contributed when Stafford could accurately find them, each stepping up with key first downs or touchdowns down the stretch. Just as big as the Michel-fueled run game was their physical defense. Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald were predictably physical in key moments, Travin Howard came up with an early red-zone pick, and the front seven kept the Vikings' Dalvin Cook-less rushing attack in check.

Why the Vikings lost

All three phases took turns failing. That may sound overly simplistic, but it's the truth. On offense, Kirk Cousins was fine, notably charging down the field in the fourth quarter and feeding Justin Jefferson to keep Minnesota within reach, but he was too often undone by the coaching staff's commitment to early-down runs or conservative red-zone play-calling. On defense, Anthony Barr headlined a first-half surge that made it feel as if Minnesota was winning despite trailing on the scoreboard, picking off Stafford twice as Zimmer's front kept the Rams QB uneasy in the pocket; but down the stretch, Patrick Peterson and the secondary had no answer for Kupp or Beckham, let alone a busy Michel. Special teams also chipped in, with Minnesota's punt team allowing Brandon Powell to score on a 61-yard return that kept L.A. out in front.

Turning point

The Vikings seemed destined to finally come out on top of a close contest after picking off Stafford for a third time and then quickly cutting the Rams' lead to three with an Alexander Mattison touchdown run in the third. But then came Minnesota's fateful three-and-out right after L.A.'s own punt, with Powell outracing every single Viking on his punt-return touchdown. The score took a load of pressure off Stafford, who was clearly rattled at the time, and kept the Rams out in front for good.

Play of the game

That belongs to Powell, the undrafted journeyman who caught his game-changing punt amid a lot of traffic and then pointed his own way to the end zone, speeding down the sideline for the touchdown:

What's next

The Rams (11-4), with a playoff spot now locked up, will stay on the road in Week 17, when they're set to visit the Ravens (8-7), who just fell to the Bengals while missing their top two quarterbacks. The Vikings (7-8), meanwhile, will face another contender by visiting Lambeau Field for a "Sunday Night Football" rematch with the Packers (12-3), who edged the Browns on Christmas Day.

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This one's gonna go to the Rams, barring a last-minute miracle involving an onside kick. L.A. leaning on the run -- and its most reliable targets (i.e. Cooper Kupp) -- at the right spots. About to add some points to a seven-point lead as the two-minute warning awaits.

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Captain Kirk responds with authority. After going down 27-13, the Vikings march right down the field, with Cousins hitting Tyler Conklin on a couple of bullets over the middle and then zipping one in to K.J. Osborn for the drive-capping touchdown. Osborn makes up for an earlier bobble that led to a pick by reeling this one in. It's a one-score game once again.

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December 26, 2021, 8:37 PM
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December 26, 2021, 8:34 PM
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Stafford and Odell finally connect. Beckham has been open regularly against the Vikings, but several off-target throws have neutered his numbers. Not here. OBJ beats Cameron Dantzler easily in the end zone, and Stafford hits him for the wide-open score. That makes it 27-13 Rams. The Vikings have 11:37 to make up the difference.

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Odell Beckham Jr. and Patrick Peterson both a little slow to get up after colliding on third down. Stafford missed Beckham low on the previous play, then found Tyler Higbee to move the chains. L.A. in control now, with the clock ticking and another touchdown within reach. They lead 20-13 with under 12 minutes to play.

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Rams are wise to keep it on the ground. Darrell Henderson finds a huge hole off the left side and picks up a big first. He's not been busy today, but Sony Michel has found space almost every time he's touched the ball. Clock ticking below 14 minutes now, and the Rams have a chance to ice this one away with more patience on the ground.

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