By Terrance Turner
Dec. 25, 2022
NFL viewers got a particularly great gift today with today’s matchup of the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos. The game was simulcast on both CBS and Nickelodeon in a revival of the broadcast for the Wild Card playoffs last year. Nickelodeon presented the game with a flurry of animated add-ons. But the Rams offense was the star, as the Rams put up 50 points and steamrolled the Broncos in a Christmas Day game to remember.
This game matched up two equally substandard squads. Both teams are 4-10. The Broncos came into the season with a newly traded quarterback (Russell Wilson) and sky-high expectations. But the offense has been a disaster. The Rams began this season as Super Bowl champions and went on to have one of the worst seasons for a Super Bowl team. So what could’ve been an otherwise boring contest was livened up by Nickelodeon’s animated touches, including an animated yeti and “slime cannons” that fired after every scoring play.)
The Broncos continued to struggle on offense; Wilson threw three interceptions and was sacked at least twice. But Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield was masterful, throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams scored on all eight of their possessions. Inside SoFi Stadium, the Rams wrecked the Broncos on Christmas Day.
Led by new QB Baker Mayfield, the Rams began promisingly. But their drive stalled after some miscues (a false start, a fumbled snap that Mayfield had to fall on.) Kicker Matt Gay drilled a 53-yard field goal.
The Broncos got the ball. But Wilson practically handed the first half to the Rams, who scored twice at his expense. The first pick came midway through the first quarter. Wilson was picked off by Rams cornerback Cobie Durant. That set up a Rams drive. Mayfield threw a touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Higbee.
Barely a minute later, Wilson threw another interception. This time, he got picked by his old Seahawks teammate, linebacker Bobby Wagner. (They played together on the Seahawks for a decade.)
Two plays after the interception, running back Cam Akers burst through a hole for a three-yard touchdown.
The Rams jumped out to a 17-0 lead. And the Broncos were reeling. They managed to get on the board by the end of the third quarter. Kicker Brandon McManus nailed a 54-yard field goal to make it 17-3.
Rams running back Cam Akers picked up first downs on two successive plays. Then fellow RB Kyren Williams carried the ball on three straight plays, adding two more first downs. On 2nd & 7 at Denver’s 23-yard line, Mayfield found Higbee for 14 yards. Three plays later, Higbee raced his way to a 7-yard touchdown.
The Broncos couldn’t respond. Wilson got sacked by defensive tackle Larrell Murchison before throwing two incompletions. Denver eventually punted.
The Rams regained possession and went 90 yards in 12 plays. Mayfield hit Higbee for 21 yards on one play. (A defensive penalty for encroachment added five yards more.) Then Mayfield and Higbee combined for 12 yards. A play later, Cam Akers found the end zone for his second touchdown.
The Broncos managed to score again before halftime. Wilson got sacked again, by Bobby Wagner. But on the next play, he scrambled for 15 yards. He later located wide receiver Jerry Jeudy for 22 yards. That was good enough to get Denver in field goal range. McManus kicked a 49-yard try through the uprights. Rams led 31-6 at halftime.
The Broncos got the ball to start the second half. But they wouldn’t have the ball for long.
Wilson tossed a pass short up the middle to tight end Greg Dulcich to the 34 for 9 yards. Los Angeles Rams challenged the ruling that runner was down by contact, and the play was upheld. The ruling on the field stands. (Timeout #1.) Los Angeles Rams retained their timeout.
Denver won the challenge. But it lost the ball. Two minutes after the challenge, the Broncos suffered yet another turnover. Wilson’s pass intended for Dulcich was intercepted by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
It was Wilson’s third interception of the game. It was a major turning point — a play from which Denver never really recovered. And Twitter lit Wilson up.
The Rams turned that turnover into points. Kicker Matt Gay was good from 30 yards to extend the Rams’ lead. They led Denver 34-6 with 3:49 left in the third quarter.
The Broncos regained possession. But the whole drive was over in barely 90 seconds. Wilson got sacked on back-to-back plays by Rams linebacker Michael Hoecht. Then he threw yet another incomplete pass. The Broncos punted.
Los Angeles receiver Brandon Powell returned the punt 12 yards. And Mayfield threw to Rams tight end Brycen Powell for 19. The Rams still had the ball at the end of the third quarter.
Los Angeles continued its dominance in the fourth quarter. Denver defensive end Randy Gregory got flagged for roughing the passer. The result? First and goal at the four-yard line. And then, incredibly, Akers rushed in for his third touchdown of the day.
Meanwhile, the broadcast team decided to have a little fun. Nickelodeon hosts Nate Burleson and Gabrielle Neveah Young introduced viewers to its Nickelodeon drone. In a memorable moment, they had the drone pick up Mayfield and carry him off the field.
It took until the fourth quarter for the Broncos offense to click. Denver trailed 41-6 before Wilson hit tight end Greg Dulcich for the Broncos’ only touchdown with 8:30 to play.
But the Rams struck again minutes later. Backup QB Brett Rypien came in at QB. But his drive fell apart when Cobie Durant caught his second interception. Skittering down the sideline’s edge, Durant ran all the way to the house. It was a pick-six!!!
Rams won, 51-14. Even with the NFL’s last-ranked offense coming in, Los Angeles became just the second team to score 50 points in the NFL this season. Akers rushed for a career-high 118 yards and three touchdowns; Higbee set a new record for TDs by a tight end. And Mayfield was 24-of-28 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He was named Nickelodeon as “NVP”.
“Its a true honor, and so I’m really proud,” Mayfield said upon receiving the award.
Broncos Fire Coach
UPDATE (Dec. 26): The Broncos have fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett. Broncos CEO Greg Penner confirmed Hackett’s firing in a statement.
“Following extensive conversations with [general manager] George [Paton] and our ownership group, we determined a new direction would ultimately be in the best interest of the Broncos. This change was made now out of respect for everyone involved and allows us to immediately begin the search for a new head coach.
“Moving forward, we will carefully evaluate every aspect of our football operations and make whatever changes are necessary to restore this franchise’s winning tradition,” Penner said, adding that Paton will assist in the coaching search.
This move abruptly ends one of the shortest coaching tenures in franchise history. Hackett lasted just 15 games.
This story will be updated.