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Wolford, defense lead Rams past Arizona 18-7, into playoffs

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods, left, catches a pass against Arizona Cardinals middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) during the first half of an NFL football game in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – John Wolford's NFL debut started with an interception on his first throw. It ended with the inexperienced quarterback fearlessly leading the Los Angeles Rams back to the playoffs.

And though Wolford capably did his part, everybody in the Rams' jubilant locker room realized they owed this achievement to a dominant defense that scored as many points as the Rams' offense — and a couple more than the Arizona Cardinals — in Los Angeles' 18-7 victory Sunday.

Troy Hill returned an interception 84 yards for a touchdown to lead yet another overwhelming defensive performance by the Rams (10-6), who earned their third postseason berth in four years under coach Sean McVay. They will play at Seattle on Saturday at 4:40 p.m. EST.

Wolford passed for 231 yards and rushed for 56 more, producing many moments of excitement in place of injured Jared Goff. While he got more comfortable with each series, Wolford realized he had the luxury of being backed by a defense that has remedied the flaws of LA's inconsistent offense all year long.

“The defense played unbelievable,” said Wolford, who went 22 for 38. “And we got a block on special teams. Guys were fired up. We had energy throughout the entire game. It was a team win all across the board. I just love this organization, and I’m happy they gave me a shot.”

The Rams would have reached the playoffs even with a loss because Green Bay beat Chicago while a few minutes were left at SoFi Stadium. Despite failing to score an offensive touchdown for the second straight game, Los Angeles still snapped its two-game skid heading to the postseason with its eighth consecutive win over Arizona (8-8).

Aaron Donald’s group scored nine points on Hill’s pick-6 and a safety while holding the Cardinals to 214 yards and shutting them out for the final 55 minutes. Coordinator Brandon Staley’s unit finished the regular season allowing the fewest points (296) and total yards (4,511) in the NFL.

“I was really impressed with (Wolford), but I was proud of this team,” McVay said. “I just can't say enough about the defense. ... They’ve been unbelievable all year. They’ve really been the strength of this team, and I thought they showed up in a big way.”