INGLEWOOD, Calif. – With all the buildup to this moment, it was one of the potential worst-case scenarios for a quarterback making his NFL debut, or first start at any level, for that matter: An interception on his first pass attempt.
However, Rams quarterback John Wolford had been in this situation before. Facing another talented team in high school, he said he made the same miscue, "then came back and played great." He also thought back to a mantra starter Jared Goff regularly shared with him.
"Jared always says this thing to me, it's P.A.C.E. – performance after a critical error," Wolford said in his postgame video conference. "You just kind of reset yourself, move on to the next play because you can't change what just happened."
Wolford, who admitted he was "anxious" going into Sunday's game, responded in kind with the same poise he showed in high school and required by P.A.C.E. to help lead the Rams to a playoff-clinching 18-7 win over the Cardinals at SoFi Stadium.
The former Wake Forest standout settled in on the second offensive series, leading the Rams to a scoring drive ending with with a 28-yard Matt Gay field goal. Wolford later engineered two more drives ending in field goals by Gay in the second half and finished 22 of 38 for 231 yards.
Wolford also rushed six times for 56 yards, becoming the first player to pass for at least 200 yards and rushing for at least 50 in his NFL debut, according to NFL Research. The sixth and final attempt – a nine-yard gain – was perhaps the most impactful.
Deciding the keep the ball on a zone read instead of handing it off to running back Cam Akers, Wolford ran to his right and lowered his shoulder at the end of the run to pick up a first down with less than three and a half minutes remaining. The Rams proceeded to run the clock down to 19 seconds, not enough time for the Cardinals to make a comeback.
"That just shows his competitive nature," Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said. "He's willing to risk it all to get the first down. It just gives the defense the extra boost of confidence to go out and get him the ball back."
Rams head coach Sean McVay said after Sunday's game he was unsure if Goff (right thumb) would play against the Seahawks this weekend, and "we'll talk about that" when asked if Wolford will start. Wolford also has "no idea" where Goff is at health-wise when asked if he has any expectations for this week.
"I'm just trying to enjoy this win and then I'll put my head down and work on Seattle starting (Monday), but no info on that," Wolford said.
Regardless of the direction Los Angeles goes at quarterback for the Wild Card round, McVay was happy with Wolford's performance.
"I thought he did a great job today," McVay said postgame. "He made plays. I know there are guys around him that are capable of making some of those and I expect those guys to be able to do that, but I thought that he really gave us a chance offensively with the amount of plays that he made in the pass game with his legs, athleticism, being able to extend things. I thought he was outstanding against a really tough defense that came ready to go. I was really pleased with John."
Akers said it was "good" and "fun" working with Wolford on Sunday. When Wolford walked into the locker room after the game, Akers said he received a round of applause from his teammates.
"John came out and did exactly what everybody who's been watching him this year knew what he was going to do, and that's having a stellar performance," Akers said. "We've got a lot of confidence in him and he led us to a victory. John did a great job."