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Rams handily turn back the slumping Arizona Cardinals

By Arnie Leshin 
After winning 10 of their first dozen games, the Arizona Cardinals National Football League season came to an abrupt halt when they exited upon being dominated by the Los Angeles Rams, 34-11, at sparkling-new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., in a first time Monday night NFL playoff game and the first-ever postseason game at the site.
Thus, the 5th-seeded Cards concluded at 11-7 and brought only one win in their final six starts. This left the 4th-seeded Rams with an easy chore with a 7-0 lead after one quarter increased to 21-0 at halftime. It put the NFC West champions at 13-5overall and into Sunday’s tilt at the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 2nd-seed.
It was never a contest. From the lead at the intermission, it became 28-0 shortly into the third quarter as Los Angeles now has a chance to host the 56th Super Bowl contest at the sparkling-new SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13.
It was also the 10th time the Rams defeated the Cardinals over 11 games, and it was also the first post-season triumph for veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, who had gone 0-3 while with the Detroit Lions. He was good on 13-of-17 passes for 235 yards and threw a trio of touchdown passes.
“I thought he did a real good job running the offense,” said head Los Angeles coach Sean McVay, “He didn’t have to throw a lot of passes, but he ran the offense via his experience gained though the years in the Motor City. He’s been our leader out there and we wouldn’t be here without him.”
His initial TD came in the opening quarter to wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and his second was reeled in by Cooper Kupp to bring a 14-0 second quarter lead. It was 21-0 when David Long also reached the end zone on a 3-yard interception off Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray, while the Rams’ defense harassed the former Heisman Award winner out of Oklahoma in what was a calamitous playoff debut.
In all, Murray was 19 for 34 for 137 yards and was twice intercepted. He was tackled six times and sacked once by Los Angeles linebacker Von Miller in his initial postseason appearance since winning the 50th Super Bowl MVP award with the Denver Broncos.
Meanwhile, Beckham had four receptions for 54 yards that included his first
playoff touchdown, and he also completed a 40-yard pass.
“We didn’t do anything for the first two quarters,” said Cardinals’ head coach Kliff Kingsbury, “and the Rams handled the game and the atmosphere well. As an offense, we were just out of sync on a couple of things early that could have changed the game. We never got in a rhythm and they made some big plays.”
James Conner rushed for a touchdown for Arizona, which has one playoff victory win since the 2009 campaign, and didn’t make a first down until late in the second quarter. At the time, the Cardinals managed only 40 yards of offense.
“I thought we were dominant out there,” said LA’s All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald, “and I feel like their quarterback wasn’t comfortable at all.”
Stafford had a ball, a good time, and even scored his first playoff rushing touchdown since January 2012 to cap one of his team’s drives.
Now it’s the Rams hitting the road to play at the defending champion Buccaneers and ageless quarterback Tom Brady, and this could be a tough go as the 44-year-old Brady has much more experience than Murray, and is in quest of yet another Super Bowl championship, a second straight while with Tampa Bay.
In the other playoff games, on Saturday it’s the surprising 4th-seeded Cincinnati Bengals, the AFC North champion, at the top-seeded Tennessee Titans in a scheduled 2:30 p.m. kickoff on CBS, and in game two slated for 6:15 on FOX, the 6th-seeded San Francisco 49ers are at the No. 1-seeded Green Bay Packers.
On Sunday in the 1 p.m. opener on NBC, the Rams head for Tampa Bay and must contain Brady to have a chance. In the second game pairing the 3rd-seeded Buffalo Bills at the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, it’s slated to kick off at 4:30 on CBS.
The following Sunday is the respective conference championships, with the lowest remaining seed teams facing the highest remaining seeds.

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