In the immediate aftermath, the Rams did not struggle to find accurately descriptive words.
They knew their 20-12 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at State Farm Stadium lacked panache. Highlight-reel plays were far from aplenty.
It amounted to a dull — though victorious — display in the desert.
Not that the Rams were complaining. Not after winning the NFC West opener and improving their record to 2-1.
“A strange game,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford concurred.
“Definitely a weird flow to it,” he said.
No argument from safety Nick Scott.
“A little weird per se,” Scott said.
For the first time since 2020, the last of his 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford did not pass for a touchdown.
Star receiver Cooper Kupp scored a 20-yard touchdown — on a jet sweep.
The Rams forced only one turnover — a blocked punt by Michael Hoecht.
But thanks mainly to a defense that stifled quarterback Kyler Murray and kept the Cardinals out of the end zone, the Rams remained a winning work in progress with designs on returning to the same stadium in February for Super Bowl LVII.
After getting routed by the Buffalo Bills in their opener, and nearly blowing a 21-point lead in a victory over the Atlanta Falcons, the Rams neutralized the Cardinals and did enough on offense to have confidence heading into their Oct. 3 game against the San Francisco 49ers on “Monday Night Football.”
“A Super Bowl’s not won through the first three weeks,” said receiver Ben Skowronek, who caught four passes for a team-best 66 yards. “There’s a lot of room for growth.”
The Rams went into the game after making a flurry of moves during the week to bolster the offensive line, and the tight end, running back, cornerback and edge-rushing positions.
Despite the absence of three injured defensive backs — safety Jordan Fuller and cornerbacks David Long and Cobie Durant — the Rams kept Murray in check and limited the Cardinals to four field goals.
Rookie Derion Kendrick started at cornerback and made a team-best nine tackles — many on receiver Marquise Brown, who caught 14 passes for 140 yards. Kendrick was being evaluated for a concussion after the game, a Rams official said.
Second-year cornerback Robert Rochell and recently signed cornerback Grant Haley also played extended snaps.
Murray completed 37 of 58 passes for 314 yards. He rushed for only eight yards as the Cardinals fell to 1-2.
“It wasn’t perfect at times,” said defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who recorded his 100th career sack, “but overall I think we were stout.”
Said linebacker Bobby Wagner: “To hold a team like that to field goals is big-time.”
The Rams started fast and scored on Kupp’s touchdown run for a 10-0 lead. But two other first-half drives stalled, and they settled for field goals and a 13-6 halftime lead.
The Rams went three and out on their first possession of the second half, and the Cardinals capitalized with a field goal to pull to within four points.
The Rams’ offense appeared permanently mired until Stafford made the play of game on a third down. He spun to avoid a sack and then fired a sidearm pass to Kupp for a first down. On the next play, tight end Tyler Higbee turned a short pass into a 26-yard gain.
Running back Cam Akers then carried the ball on four consecutive plays, finishing the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run for a 20-9 lead.
Akers, who rushed for 61 yards in 12 carries, had a chance to seal the victory but fumbled at the one-yard line.
“Just got greedy,” he said. “Tried to stick the ball out. It’s something that can’t happen.”
The Rams hung on to give McVay his 11th victory in 12 games against the Cardinals.
Stafford completed 18 of 25 passes for 249 yards.
“I’m sure everybody on this team sits there and goes, ‘Man, there’s a couple plays,’ ” they wish they had back, Stafford said. “It’s nice to be able to do that while winning the football game and clean those errors up.”
McVay was pleased with how the offense started the game. The finish could use work.
“There are ways of playing more complete games,” he said, “and that’s what we’re hunting up.”
Now, it’s on to play the 49ers, who have defeated the Rams three times in a row at Levi’s Stadium.
“San Fran is a whole ‘nother beast — they’ve got their whole different way of playing,” Scott said. “We’re excited for that matchup.
“We’re always excited for it.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.