'He's a freak': Inside Odell Beckham Jr.'s trick pass, other big plays from Rams' win

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Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. pulls in touchdown catch in front of Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson
Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. catches a touchdown pass in front of Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Monday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The Rams manhandled the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wild-card game Monday night, their 34-11 victory before 70,625 in SoFi Stadium earning them a berth in the divisional round against the defending Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a $500,000 bonus for star receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Beckham’s contract contains $3 million in postseason incentives tied to victories, and he earned the first of what he hopes is several sizable installments with a stellar performance in which he caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown and set up another score with a 40-yard pass.

Here's a look at Beckham’s big game and four other takeaways from the win:

Catch and throw

Beckham, who signed with the Rams in November after being waived by the Cleveland Browns, did what he is paid to do and what earned him three Pro-Bowl selections in eight years, when he caught a four-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford for a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter.

On a third-and-goal play, Stafford rifled a pass that could only be caught by Beckham, who outjumped cornerback Marco Wilson in the back left corner of the end zone for his sixth touchdown catch in nine games with the Rams.

Beckham helped set up the Rams’ second touchdown when he broke free down the left side and caught a 31-yard pass from Stafford that gave the Rams a first down at the Arizona two-yard line. Stafford scored on a one-yard sneak for a 14-0 lead with 11:58 left in the second quarter.

Beckham provided an added bonus early in the third quarter when he caught a backward pass from Stafford on the left side and threw a cross-field bomb toward the right sideline that Cam Akers caught for a 40-yard gain, setting up Stafford’s seven-yard scoring pass to Cooper Kupp that made it 28-0.

“That’s a play we practiced this week,” Stafford said of the double-pass. “Odell is a super talented guy. He made that throw right-handed. He could probably do it left-handed, too. He’s a freak.”

Rams coach Sean McVay is well aware of Beckham’s versatility. Beckham threw two touchdown passes for the New York Giants in 2018.

“That thing hung up like a Russell Wilson moon ball,” McVay said, referring to the Seattle Seahawks quarterback. “He threw a touchdown pass off that same play a couple years ago when he was in New York. He’s a very talented guy. We got a couple guys that can throw.”

Role player

Rams safety Eric Weddle shares a laugh with Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle D.J. Humphries
Rams safety Eric Weddle shares a laugh with Cardinals offensive tackle D.J. Humphries (74) Monday night at SoFi Stadium. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“Hey, hey, hey!” Eric Weddle said with a booming voice as he approached the podium for a post-game press conference. “I know you guys missed me!”

The 37-year-old safety’s return to the NFL for his first game in two years was a little more subtle. Weddle, signed to shore up a secondary that lost safeties Jordan Fuller (ankle) and Taylor Rapp (concussion) to injuries, did not crack the score sheet against the Cardinals, registering no tackles or pass breakups.

But he saw considerable action in nickel and dime packages in the first half and was not beaten for any midrange or long gains. He was on the field for David Long Jr.’s three-yard interception return for a touchdown. With the Rams holding a commanding 28-0 lead early in the third quarter, Weddle did not play much in the second half.

“I thought I was going to get a couple of chances my way, but the job was to bring everyone together, to play together, and we sure played lights out as a defense, offense, special teams,” Weddle said. “That’s how you win in the playoffs, picking each other up, making big plays on one side or the other.”

Weddle played 19 snaps, most in the first half. The reps should prepare him for a bigger role next week.

“If it was a close game, I would have played in the second half,” Weddle said. “We had a good plan going in. I was getting the majority of reps, but it was a blowout, so there was no need to keep pressing it; they could ease me into it.

“Just getting another week, it will only make me stronger physically, and I’ll be able to play more if needed. Hopefully we get Rapp back. Whatever my role is, I’m good with. I’m not here to get in anyone’s way.”

Hekk of a game

Rams punter Johnny Hekker celebrates with teammates after pinning the Cardinals deep in their territory
Rams punter Johnny Hekker celebrates with teammates after pinning the Cardinals deep in their territory Monday night. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Johnny Hekker, a four-time All-Pro selection, had a so-so regular season by his lofty standards, averaging 44.2 yards on 51 punts, 23 of which he placed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, and a long of 59 yards.

But it was a perfectly placed pooch punt by the 10-year veteran midway through the second quarter that led directly to the Rams’ third touchdown.

From the Cardinals 44 yard-line Hekker lofted a high kick that bounced around the 15-yard line and took a second hop inside the five-yard line, giving Ben Skowroneck enough time to put himself in a position to down the ball at the one-yard line.

Three plays later, on a third-and-seven from the four-yard line, Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray was flushed out of the pocked and grabbed from behind by Rams linebacker Troy Reeder.

Murray heaved a desperation underhand pass that the Rams' Long easily intercepted and returned three yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead, the shortest pick-six in NFL postseason history.

“D-Lo’s pick-six was a huge momentum builder,” Weddle said. “The game was still in the balance at that point. That made it 21-0.”

Fashion statement

Edge rusher Von Miller made his presence felt early Monday night, dropping Murray for a one-yard loss on Arizona’s second possession and sacking Murray for an eight-yard loss on the Cardinals’ third possession.

Miller, who was named the most valuable player of Super Bowl 50 for the Denver Broncos, had six tackles, three for loss, to spearhead a stout defense that limited Arizona to 40 total yards and Murray to a 9.3 quarterback rating in the first half.

“It was everything,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said of Miller’s early sack. “Von’s been playing lights out, making a lot of big-splash plays for us. It’s playoff ball, so you expect that. Hopefully there’s a lot more plays coming.”

Miller made another splash at the podium afterward, donning a black cowboy hat, a multicolored denim jacket, thick gold chains, diamond earrings, sunglasses and a black Miles Davis T-shirt for his media session.

Von Miller stands on a podium wearing a flashy outfit that includes a cowboy hat, multicolored jacket and sunglasses
Von Miller makes a splash with his postgame outfit following the Rams' playoff win over the Cardinals Monday night at SoFi Stadium. (Mike DiGiovanna / Los Angeles Times)

“Well, you know I’m from Texas,” said Miller, who was born in DeSoto, Texas, and played collegiately at Texas A&M. “And I had to take advantage of this opportunity being back in the playoffs. It’s been five years. I’m definitely appreciative of being with this franchise and in the playoffs as well.”

Whose House?

Shelea performs the national anthem in a packed SoFi Stadium before the Rams play the Cardinals
Shelea performs the national anthem in a packed SoFi Stadium before the Rams play the Cardinals Monday night. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Rams House … for a change. Even in their palatial new stadium, crowds have been more of a 50-50 mix — or worse for the home team — because so many NFL teams have such huge national and local followings. The SoFi crowd for the regular-season finale on Jan. 9 was decidedly pro-San Francisco 49ers.

But that wasn’t the case Monday night, when a crowd of 70,625 was decidedly pro-Rams, waving yellow flags and regularly producing the kind of volume that “gets you amped up,” Donald said.

The Cardinals, who moved from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1988, don’t have the following of teams such as the Steelers, Packers, 49ers and Seahawks, and that was fine with the Rams, who basked in the home-field advantage.

“It was deafening when our defense was out there,” Stafford said. “It was pretty awesome the way they responded tonight and the way they cheered for us, and our defense did a bunch to keep them cheering, which was great.”

Injury report

The Rams lost veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth to an ankle injury early in the second half and Long, who had one pass breakup to go with his short interception return for a touchdown, to a left knee injury late in the first half. Skowronek, a backup receiver, suffered a back injury.

McVay did not have any updates on the three players after the game, but none of the injuries appeared serious.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.