Impressive evenings were had for Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers, quarterback Jared Goff and more on the offensive end. But L.A.'s story was told by the defense Thursday. Aaron Donald, Kenny Young and more dominated Cam Newton and the Patriots, maintaining their lead in the NFC West on the strength of a 24-3 victory on Thursday Night Football.
1) Though much ado will be made on this night and the morning after about the fall of the Patriots and their offensive struggles, the Rams defense was very much a wrecking ball. The second-ranked NFL defense dominated on Thursday, the face of the operation, Aaron Donald, wreaking havoc and the surrounding cast of destroyers doing just the same. In a Super Bowl rematch, the roles were reversed as the Rams prevailed on the strength of a suffocating defensive effort and the Patriots mustered just three points. Back then, Donald was a dominant force and he still is as much or more than any defensive player in the game. But he's hardly the only one now. Jalen Ramsey's addition has been pivotal and on Thursday, L.A.'s defense was in full force, hitting Cam Newton -- and eventually Jarrett Stidham -- from every direction. Michael Brockers had a pair of sacks and Kenny Young had a sack and a huge 79-yard pick-six that turned the game for good -- even though it came in the first quarter. The Rams had six sacks, allowed just three points and a meager 220 yards of New England offense. These are the 2020 Rams (9-4), leaders of the NFC West and led by their defense. For all that was made about this being a Super Bowl rematch from two seasons ago, that really doesn't matter much in reality, but it did reinforce how different the Rams are. They've rebounded from a subpar 2019 and their defense has led their ascent back to prominence and being a contender.
2) Just four days after a huge 45-0 win over the Chargers, a complete reversal of fortune was realized for the Patriots (6-7). While the defense has had better performances, New England's ugly defeat is on the shoulders of an inept offense. Newton and Co. just never got going. Newton was battered and when he did have time, he was throwing line drives into the turf. This game was over early as the Rams pulled away with a 17-0 lead that felt like double that. Newton's night was ended early, too, when Jarrett Stidham replaced him in the fourth quarter. Stidham was bashed by the Rams, as well, getting sacked twice to Newton's four. The Newton-led offense has had its moments this year, but the prevailing theme has been its sputtering play, interrupted with hope in one-game increments, but stumbling again a game or two later. While the blowout win over the Chargers was the Patriots' last game prior to this, Thursday's showing was more reminiscent of a Week 7 loss to another NFC West squad, when New England was stomped by the 49ers, 33-6. Newton struggled Thursday, completing 9-of-16 passes for 119 yards and a 53.9 rating. The stats actually look better than the performance did as it played out. Perhaps most stunning though was that the Patriots, the No. 3 rushing team in the NFL, were held to 107 yards on the ground. Newton's performance was ugly, but the offensive line was dominated and no semblance of rhythm was ever found. The Patriots offense was pulverized on Thursday by the Rams.
3) Cam Akers has taken on more and more of a lead-back role for the Rams lately. And it doesn't appear as if he wants to give it back. Akers was the tone setter on Thursday, the Rams rookie roaring for 84 yards on nine carries in the first quarter. And when the game was done, he had a season-high for NFL rookie rushers with 171 yards on 29 carries. With the departure of Todd Gurley, the Rams have found success this season by backfield committee, but it's difficult to make a rational argument for keeping Akers off the field now. On Thursday, he was exceptional. He ran hard and battered the Pats and he sped by them. Perhaps most impressive was his vision. Though the weather in L.A. is still rather warm and sunny, this is nonetheless the time of year when you want your defense and running game surging. Akers is making the latter happen and gaining steam. Prior to Week 12, Akers hadn't run for more than 61 yards in a game. Since Week 12, he's had three straight games with 72 yards or more. He more than doubled that on Thursday, breaking out in a big way in prime time, setting a tone for a win and perhaps setting a tone for what's to come for the L.A. offense.
4) This wasn't the air-it-out version of Jared Goff. He managed, he showed his athleticism when called on, he overcame an early interception and he led more than anything. A game remove from throwing for 351 yards in a win over the Cardinals, Goff's line of 16-of-25 for 137 yards was unappealing to put it mildly. But he did what was needed, he had a QB sneak for a score and tossed another to Cooper Kupp. He symbolized the Rams' ability to win in an assortment of ways. And maybe what was most impressive was a character trait Goff has shown throughout much of his career and that's his ability to bounce back, to leave the negative behind him. Goff's scrutinized with every shaky performance and the naysayers are still picking knits after every good one. But he moves on. Good starts can be erased by ugly throws. That's what looked to have happened at the tail end of the first quarter when Goff was intercepted by Myles Bryant and taken to the house. The return was reviewed and Bryant was ruled to have been down by contact and three plays later a Newton interception was the one returned for six by Young, which led to a 17-0 Rams start and, for all intents and purposes, the end for the Patriots. Goff's INT ended up only slowing the Rams' opening salvo as a tale of two first-half interceptions took the Rams and Patriots down two vastly different roads. Goff can throw it 50 times or 25, he can lead or manage.
5) For all the Super Bowls that have really garnered Bill Belichick acclaim as arguably the greatest coach in NFL lore, one of his most impressive feats is having led the Patriots to the playoffs an NFL-record 11 straight seasons. The Patriots are still mathematically alive for the postseason, but they're the No. 10 seed in the AFC and three behind the No. 7 Colts in the loss column. With the defeat, the Patriots' remarkable string of 17 consecutive seasons of double-digit wins officially ended while their postseason run probably has, too. Following a horrendous 24-3 loss with historic streaks coming to an end, perhaps scrutinizing Belichick is warranted. Then again, when dynasties fall, that's when you really begin to look back and ponder how exceptional they are. Belichick has done a rather impressive job coaching up a team that lost plenty of stellar free agents (yes, that guy, but not just that guy) and as many forget had more preseason opt-outs than any other team. These are not yesteryear's Patriots, but at the least, they have reinforced just how remarkable their run was.
6) Sean McVay has often been criticized for being too conservative. That wasn't the case at the onset Thursday when a promising opening Rams drive stalled. McVay went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Patriots 1 and Goff skied over the goal line on a sneak for an early lead. L.A. went for it on fourth twice and converted each time. McVay's been regarded as the mastermind behind a high-scoring, wide-open offense. He's been criticized for being too conservative at times. But he's 34-0 when his teams have a halftime lead, he turned around a losing franchise and led it to a Super Bowl and now he's taking the team from a playoff-less 2019 through an impressive 2020 in which it's winning in an assortment of ways, but led by its defense. He's a versatile coach and he's, plain and simple, a very good one. The Rams are winning for a lot of reasons this season, and McVay is one of them.
7) Boasting one of the best WR duos in the game with Kupp and Robert Woods, the Rams didn't mess around with an intriguing matchup between their receivers and Patriots cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Stephon Gilmore. Woods and Kupp combined for 10 catches for 65 yards and a TD on 13 targets. But Kupp and Woods were out their blocking and doing it well. It was just further evidence of the team's ability to be multi-dimensional. One of the elite receiving duos in the game giving way to catches to block for a burgeoning rookie runner speaks volumes for the team going forward. It's easy to fall in love with teams when they impress in prime time, but L.A. has won in various ways all season and turned in too many stellar showings to ignore any more.