Crucial Special Teams Plays the Difference in Victory over Packers

When Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has the ball with a chance to tie or win late in the fourth quarter, it's almost expected that he's going to drive down the field and score.

So there's no better way to prevent that from happening than making sure he never touches the ball in the first place.

That's what linebacker Ramik Wilson made happen in Los Angeles' 29-27 victory over Green Bay, forcing a fumble on returner Ty Montgomery just after kicker Greg Zuerlein sailed a 34-yard field goal through the uprights to give the Rams their two-point lead.

"We kicked off, ran it down, read the return. They left me unblocked and I had to make him pay for it," Wilson said, plainly.

And it was just that simple. Zuerlein banged the kickoff a few yards deep into the end zone. Given the situation — there was 2:05 left on the clock, the Packers had only one timeout remaining, and Rodgers is their quarterback — it was somewhat surprising to this observer that Montgomery even brought the ball out of the box.

Even Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy told reporters following the game that "the plan was to stay in [the end zone] and give the ball to Aaron Rodgers."

But Wilson anticipated Montgomery trying to make a play. And that's exactly what the Packers returner did.

"Of course," Wilson said when asked if he expected Montgomery to return it. "We saw on film Ty Montgomery always taking the ball out, so we had to make him pay for it."

Wilson hit Montgomery hard at about the Green Bay 20-yard line, forcing the ball out in the process. And when the ball hit the ground, Wilson was in the right spot to scoop it up and keep hold of it as a pile ensued.

"It was a while — I was down there for a while," Wilson said. "Teammates were cheering. It was a big play and helped secure the win."

Wilson had to make his comments between interjections from linebacker — and fellow special teams ace — Cory Littleton, who said of the play, "My man was on kickoff, basically, someone tried to block him, he said, 'No — I'm gonna make a play. I'm gonna win this game for us.' Somebody's got to do it. Wilson did it today."

Even while receiving significant praise around him, Wilson was fairly even-keel, essentially describing the play as business as usual.

"It was one of the biggest collisions I've been into," Wilson said. "So, we both felt it. And he fumbled."

"Yeah, very disappointing," Rodgers told reporters postgame. "That play didn't lose the game, but it definitely took away an opportunity for us to go down and win it."

Wilson's forced fumble and recovery was especially significant because it effectively ended any chance Green Bay had to come back at the end of the game, but it wasn't the only big special teams play of the day.

Los Angeles' offense had struggled to get anything going offensively for its first few drives, with quarterback Jared Goff getting sacked and running back Todd Gurley getting stuffed on third downs. Even the Rams converting a fake punt on 4th-and-3 from their own 45 couldn't get the club unstuck from the proverbial mud.

But punter Johnny Hekker and cornerback Sam Shields combined for another significant play that seemed to swing the pendulum in Los Angeles' favor. On 4th-and-10 from the L.A. 47, Hekker's kick bounced inside the 10 and Shields fielded it at the Green Bay one-yard line, sort of dancing a tightrope to keep his feet from breaking the plane of the end zone.

Backing Green Bay up that far proved crucial, as on the next play Barron stuffed running back Aaron Jones on an run up the middle for a safety — Los Angeles' second in two games.

It was a situation where both special teams and defense worked in tandem to create points.

"I thought it was huge to have our special teams be able to pin them down deep, resulting in a safety to get us on the board from the start," head coach Sean McVay said.

And players both on offense and defense realized how significant the play from Hekker and Shields could be.

"With the internal push we get up front," quarterback Jared Goff said, "when Johnny puts it down, really, anywhere inside the five, we know we've got a chance for that."

"We already know Johnny's great," defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "We already know he's going to do something special. So he helps us a lot just doing what he's doing and just putting us in positions to make plays like getting a safety."

At 8-0 halfway through the season, the Rams have won plenty of games in different ways. And according to Donald, it's always good to see that L.A. can win by leaning on different phases.

"I think we're just playing great team football," Donald said. "We're finding ways to win, and different ways to win, when we need it. From special teams and defense, and the offense is making big plays. So when you've got a team like that, that's hitting on all three cylinders, good things are going to come out of that. It means you've got to keep it up."

On Sunday, that key phase was special teams. And with big plays from Wilson and Shields, the Rams are still undefeated for at least another week.

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