Rams look to clinch playoff spot with kicker Matt Gay ready to do his part

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Rams kicker Matt Gay (8) celebrates a field goal with teammates against the Tampa Bay on Sept. 26, 2021, at SoFi Stadium.
Rams kicker Matt Gay (8) celebrates a field goal with teammates against the Buccaneers on Sept. 26 at SoFi Stadium. (Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)

The Rams, on the verge of clinching a playoff spot, have not required a last-minute field goal to win a game.

But that situation — or another that requires a pressure-packed kick — could present itself before the end of a season the Rams aim to finish in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

Kicker Matt Gay is ready for the opportunity.

“You definitely want that moment,” he said. “That’s what, as a kid, you pretend about, counting down the clock and hitting that as time expires.”

Gay has made 28 of 29 field-goal attempts for a Rams team that can ensure a fourth postseason appearance in five seasons under coach Sean McVay by defeating the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Gay kicked two fields goals in a 20-10 victory Tuesday over the Seattle Seahawks, a win that moved the Rams into a first-place tie with the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West.

The next day, Gay received word from a team official that he had been voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time.

“I took a second and had to reread the text on my phone a little bit and just let it sink in,” he said.

The recognition was a milestone for a kicker who was released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after his rookie season in 2019 and then spent time on the Indianapolis Colts’ practice squad in 2020.

“All the while knowing deep down in your heart that you’re a starter in this league and that you deserve to be playing on Sundays,” he said, adding, “Just making sure that when I did get back on the field I was going to make the most of it.”

The Rams gave him that opportunity.

Last season, after deciding not to re-sign veteran Greg Zuerlein, the Rams were desperate for a capable kicker. McVay could not tolerate rookie Samuel Sloman’s misses and low-trajectory kicks. Veteran Kai Forbath lasted one game.

In November, just before playing the Buccaneers in Tampa, the Rams signed Gay.

He made his first field-goal attempt against his former team and then missed the second. He gained confidence after seeing and hearing McVay’s and his new teammates’ reaction after the miss from 44 yards.

“All the guys were, ‘Hey, we got you,’” Gay said. “I didn’t even know some of their names. To show that belief and support immediately was like, ‘Wow, this a good group, a special place.’”

Buoyed by the support, with 2 minutes 36 seconds left in that game, Gay kicked what turned out to be the game-winning 40-yard field goal in a 27-24 victory over the eventual Super Bowl champions.

By the end of the season, Gay had made 14 of 16 field-goal attempts. He kicked three field goals in an NFC wild-card victory over the Seattle Seahawks, and another in a divisional-round loss to the Green Bay Packers.

“Since the time that he got out here last year, kind of mid-season, he's just been clutch and he's gotten better and better,” McVay said.

This season, Gay made his first 15 attempts. Then he missed from 46 yards in a 37-20 loss to the Cardinals at SoFi Stadium.

“Things weren’t going our way — it was a frustrating game,” he said, adding, “I got caught up in everything and that was a big clicking moment for me to be like, ‘That can’t happen. You’ve got to be locked in. You’ve got to be focused on every single kick, extra point. It doesn’t matter.’… Sometimes you need those moments, those reality checks, to kind of click in.”

Since the miss, Gay has made 20 consecutive attempts.

“He's been absolutely great early in games, late in games, when you need him most,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said.

Gay, who also has made 40 of 41 extra-point attempts, credits snapper Matthew Orzech and holder Johnny Hekker for helping him continue to flourish. And he fought back tears describing how support from his wife, Millie, had helped him become a Pro Bowl player.

“She’s seen me through times that have been rough,” he said, adding, “She’s been there to support and love through those times. She’s also been the one to get me out of it and be a little hard on me when I need to be told to like get going.”

Gay has kicked 55-yard field goals in each of the Rams' last two games, victories over the Cardinals and the Seahawks.

Gay said he hoped the Rams would always be playing well enough to not require a last-second, game-winning field goal. But if needed, he will be prepared.

“If that comes along,” he said, “yeah, I would love to have one of those.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.