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Rams outlast Chiefs in high-scoring instant classic

The "Game of the Year" lived up to the billing, and then some. In the highest-scoring game in *Monday Night Football history and the third highest-scoring game in league history, the Los Angeles Rams (10-1) needed two late Patrick Mahomes interceptions to hold on to top the Kansas City Chiefs (9-2), 54-51, to close out Week 11. Here's what we learned:*

  1. Where to begin with this juggernaut of a game? Moved from Mexico City to Los Angeles on a week's notice, this unforgettable meeting between two brilliant offensive minds, two rising quarterbacks and two transcendent teams might as well have been played on the red-hot surface of the sun. This instant classic saw 1,001 total yards, 105 combined points, 56 first downs, 10 passing touchdowns and four lead changes in a 35-point fourth quarter. Oh, the thrill of it all.

After a back-and-forth slugfest in the first three quarters, the Rams and Chiefs continued to trade blows in the dramatic final frame. Kansas City took a four-point lead after following a record-setting Tyreek Hill touchdown reception with a strip-sack fumble return. L.A. responded with a 90-second touchdown drive. Kansas City bounced back three minutes later with a lead-changing touchdown drive of its own. Within 58 seconds, the Rams were back up by three points, thanks to a game-winning 40-yard sideline strike from Jared Goff to Gerald Everett of all people, who tiptoed down the sideline to put L.A. up for good.

  1. Samson Ebukam was in the right place at the right time on Monday night. The second-year linebacker found the end zone twice, first after recovering the first of Aaron Donald's two strip sacks and then after picking off a lazy dump-down from Mahomes in K.C. territory. Ebukam is just the second player over the last 10 seasons to record a pick-six and a fumble-recovery touchdown in the same game (Bears safety Eddie Jackson, Week 7, 2017). But he saved his most important pass rushes for last. With the Chiefs driving to tie or win the game deep in the fourth quarter, Ebukam beat Travis Kelce, who was blocking on an island, to hit Mahomes and force Marcus Peters' game-sealing downfield pick. Ebukam added another pivotal rush on K.C.'s final play, flushing Mahomes out of the pocket and forcing the young QB to throw his third and final interception. L.A. had been looking for a pass rush all season and traded for Dante Fowler to fill that need. Perhaps Ebukam was the solution all along.
  1. Kansas City took advantage of Los Angeles' deficiencies in the secondary with immense pleasure, and the main beneficiary, to no one's surprise, was Tyreek Hill. Hill burned the Rams defensive backs for a career-high 215 yards, two touchdowns and five plays of at least 20 yards, including a fourth-quarter 73-yard TD bomb. In hauling in that critical score, Hill became the third player in NFL history with 15 touchdowns of 50-plus yards before turning 25 years old. The speed demon made 30-year-old Sam Shields look like 50-year-old Sam Shields on multiple occasions. On this night, as with most other afternoons, Hill was unguardable and continued to establish himself as an upper-echelon receiver in the realm of Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Adam Thielen and Michael Thomas.
  1. Twenty-four hours after we all went gaga over Khalil Mack sashaying through the Vikings' offensive line, Donald one-upped his fellow Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Donald forced two fumbles by bullying Browns castoff Cameron Erving at left guard and strip-sacking Patrick Mahomes, including a first-half forced fumble that went for six. The $135 million man upped his league-leading season sack total to 14.5 and is on pace for a career-high 21 QB takedowns. It's a two-man race for DPOY between Donald and Mack. Lucky for us, they'll be on the same field when the Rams visit Chicago in Week 14.
  1. When Kansas City did muster stops on defense (six by my amateur count), it was thanks to the front seven and prominently defensive tackle Chris Jones. The bulging and burgeoning defensive tackle wreaked havoc in the backfield, sacking Goff twice and hitting him four times. Eventually, the outside pass rush from Dee Ford and Justin Houston got home, with the latter forcing the lead-changing strip sack of Goff that landed in the hands of Allen Bailey. The Chiefs secondary is the most unreliable unit on Kansas City's roster, particularly at cornerback. Not to pick on any defensive back in particular, but Orlando Scandrick was victimized by penalties during the Rams' early romps and dropped what could have been a game-winning interception on Los Angeles' game-winning drive. A consistent pass rush from Houston, Ford and Jones will prove pivotal to K.C. avoiding an early exit in January.
  1. What does the Rams' aerial attack look like without Cooper Kupp? Just fine, just fine and dandy. Goff (413 yards, 4 TDs) made some unbelievable throws in the face of mounting pressure and stayed poised during L.A.'s winning drive after nearly throwing a game-sealing pick. In his first game as a starter, Josh Reynolds was a more than dutiful replacement for the departed Kupp. Reynolds was one of Goff's favorite and most reliable targets, recording six catches for 80 yards; he fits in nicely. L.A.'s depth at receiver was necessary, too, as Brandin Cooks left early in the third quarter with cramping, only to return and lead L.A. in receiving (107 yards). Todd Gurley (94 yards) had a quiet evening by his standards, failing to find the end zone for the first time all season. The most clutch pieces in Sean McVay's offense might have been the tight ends, Tyler Higbee and Everett, the former of whom was an instrumental chain-mover and the latter of whom caught two TDs, including the final score. Fine and dandy.
  1. What to make of Mahomes' evening? The dude threw for 478 yards and six touchdowns, upping his season total to an unfathomable 37 TD passes through 11 games, and made throws no other quarterback west of Aaron Rodgers could make. And yet, it feels as if the second-year QB is the reason K.C. lost. This is because Mahomes committed five turnovers, three of which translated into 21 points for the Rams, either immediately or soon after. His most egregious giveaway came after L.A. had just kicked a field goal to go up by three, a "lost drive" by this game's standards. On the first play off the kickoff, Mahomes eschewed professional footwork on a dumpoff and lazily tossed a pick off of his lineman and into the arms of Ebukam, who strolled in for six. It was one of many rookie (sophomore?) mistakes from Mahomes, and a reminder that the young MVP contender is as vulnerable to fatal mistakes as the next guy.
  1. The league made the unusual decision to overhaul referee Clete Blakeman's crew before this game of games so as to compile a purported "All-Star" officiating team. The result was a blitz of penalties called against K.C. early on and a number of questionable calls. The two clubs combined for 21 penalties and 195 penalty yards, crucial stats in a point-fest.
  1. If you like big plays, this was the game for you. There were 19 offensive plays of at least 20 yards on Monday night, including four touchdowns.
  1. The win keeps the Rams atop the NFC, a half-game ahead of the New Orleans Saints to whom L.A. lost just two weeks ago. Despite the loss, Kansas City is also still atop the AFC at 9-2, 1.5 games ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams are on their bye next week before heading on the road against sub-.500 opponents.
  1. Football's grand, ain't it?
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