Opinion: Rams' resilience, cohesion makes them formidable Super Bowl contender

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BALTIMORE – Another week, another resilience test passed for the Los Angeles Rams.

A week after a grueling stretch that featured four games in 21 days – all of them victories despite numerous injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak that threatened their ability to even field a team – the Rams extended their winning streak on Sunday after rallying to defeat the Baltimore Ravens 20-19 at M&T Bank Stadium.

With five straight victories and a 12-4 record, the Rams certainly rank among the hottest teams in the NFL.

However, they’re far from flawless, which is evident by quarterback Matthew Stafford having his second straight three-turnover game, their roster still not being back to full strength and the fact that they needed all 60 minutes to overcome a Ravens team that is duct-taped together and still missing former MVP Lamar Jackson.

But the Rams’ ability to repeatedly overcome hurdles at the most pressure-packed moments of games shows just how cohesive a group this is, and why they might be one of the toughest outs once the playoffs begin.

“Wow. What a great, gutsy win,” coach Sean McVay said after the game. “I’m really proud of this team. The resilience continues to shine through. It certainly wasn’t perfect, but you talk about playing as a team, picking each other up when we need it. That’s what we did today.”

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Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams gets a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Odell Beckham Jr. #3 of the Los Angeles Rams gets a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on January 02, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland.

The entire Rams team embodies the unflinching mindset and consistent approach that McVay and his staff have preached on a daily basis, even in that three-game losing streak in November.

The rebound from that stretch and each of the series of unfortunate events that plagued this team in December reflects the players’ acceptance of McVay’s challenge to maintain trust in one another and the process.

But to figure out the key to the Rams’ success on Sunday, one need look no further than the contributions from three stars acquired this past year with hopes that they could propel this team to a Super Bowl.

On Sunday, the star-studded trio of Stafford, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and pass rusher Von Miller embraced moments of fever-pitch intensity and gave their team their best, just as they’ll have to this postseason to make their team’s goal of playing a home Super Bowl a reality.

Stafford delivered after rebounding from three trying quarters of action.

A first-quarter interception returned for a touchdown while deep in his own territory.

Another interception while gambling and going deep in the second quarter.

A fumble off of a third-quarter sack in Ravens territory.

It marked the third straight game with an interception for Stafford - the quarterback Los Angeles acquired this offseason with the belief he could deliver a Super Bowl victory.

But Stafford seized the opportunity to redeem himself after a defensive stand that denied Baltimore from 2 yards out and forced the Ravens to settle for a field goal, extending their lead to 19-14 with 4:30 left.

Stafford entered Sunday tied for third in fourth-quarter comebacks among active quarterbacks with 33 in his career. So when he took the field following that 34-yard Justin Tucker field goal, he felt right at home.

Four consecutive completions marched the Rams to the Baltimore 17. After four consecutive run plays, Stafford found Beckham on fourth-and-5 and one play later went back to the receiver for a 7-yard touchdown.

“For me, I think it’s just experience and leaning on guys that have been there,” Stafford said. “I’m just proud of our guys to stick together. … For me, 12 years of a lot of games coming down to the fourth quarter. … You know, it's on your shoulders if we have a nice drive and score a touchdown. We have a good chance to win the game, and if we don’t, we don’t. I love that situation, to be honest with you.”

Stafford’s heroics were exactly the type of plays the Rams sought when they shipped former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff to Detroit in the trade.

The 13-year veteran just offers a difference-making trait – particularly under pressure – that represented an upgrade over Goff. Stafford’s recognition and ability to rebound from adversity would produce the game-changing attributes McVay craved in a starting quarterback.

“I think there are some things that we need to get better at, and he would be the first person to tell you that," McVay said. I thought he was at his best when his best was required. … I love this guy so much. I feel I can certainly help him in putting him in some better spots, but when we had to have it, and the defense made a stop, he made big throw after big throw in clutch situations. That’s what the great players do.”

McVay would also enter Beckham in that great player category, and the wide receiver would certainly agree.

There’s a tattoo on Beckham’s left hand that reads, “Pressure I live for.”

He got it this past summer as a testament and reminder to himself that the three-time Pro Bowl selection is built for high-stakes moments as he entered a season that represented his comeback from a torn ACL last season as a member of the Cleveland Browns.

Beckham's game-changing nature had scarcely been seen since his early days with the New York Giants, and ultimately that made him expendable as Cleveland shipped him to Los Angeles midway through this season.

But Beckham never doubted himself. He believed he just needed coaches and teammates who could best position him for success and trust him to deliver.

Beckham said on Sunday that McVay displayed that trust from the moment the coach drew up plays for him in a game just days after he arrived in Los Angeles. And Stafford’s in-game confidence has helped ensure a smooth transition, which rarely happens for wide receivers who join teams midseason.

The prolific performances haven't exactly come for Beckham with the Rams. He has yet to catch more than six passes in a contest or record a 90-yard game while operating in Cooper Kupp’s shadow.

But Beckham hasn’t minded because he understands his role and how he fits into the equation, and Sunday's touchdown catch gave him five in his last six outings.

“It’s the role that I knew coming here I would be in and that I’m OK with,” Beckham explained. “I love winning, and I know if I’m doing my job and taking two defenders and doing all this, someone else is going to be open. So, it’s different watching highlights from the game than watching game film and knowing how I’m actually affecting the game. Regardless of what anybody can ever say or any stat line, I know that I'm affecting the game. And when you know you’re affecting the game and someone else is getting open and eating, it’s just a wonderful feeling.”

Beckham’s mindset reflects the buy-in he has exhibited since his baptism into the Rams culture, which is built on McVay’s frequent “we, not me” sermons. And the receiver certainly felt wonderful with the game on the line as his sure-handed grab on the fourth-and-5 catch and subsequent stretch for the first down, and his tough catch-and-run the very next play for the game-winning touchdown.

“How many people in the world can make that catch?” McVay said. “You talk about aggressive hands, being able to catch it away from his body, making a play when we absolutely had to have it. And then leading to the touchdown, that was such a huge play.”

Despite Beckham’s clutch catches and touchdown, the Ravens still had a chance with 57 seconds left, trailing by just one point. Tyler Huntley and the offense had displayed an ability to move the ball on the ground or through the air.

But that’s when the Rams’ other big-time acquisition of the year stepped up, as Miller recorded only his second sack as a Ram, dropping Huntley for an 8-yard loss as the quarterback sought to move his team into game-winning field goal range.

Miller has endured a lengthy acclimation process since coming to LA from Denver. But his comfort has improved in recent weeks, and Sunday he delivered the type of play that both he and the Rams expect him to make.

“Man, it feels good to do my job for my teammates,” Miller said with a look of relief.

Miller may feel like earning the respect of his teammates is a work in progress. But no one within the organization would agree.

McVay and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris have understood that chemistry and comfort take time. They have only hoped that the pass rusher and defense as a whole could continue progressing down the stretch and gain top form entering the playoffs, which is starting to look like the case as Miller’s impact – just like Beckham’s on offense – is now being felt, just as the Rams will need during the postseason.

“I love both of those guys,” McVay said. “They’ve come in. They’ve really bought into the culture. I think their teammates love them. They’ve done everything we’ve asked, and I couldn’t be more pleased with what they’ve done and what they did today in a win we absolutely had to have.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Los Angeles Rams could be overlooked Super Bowl 56 contenders