The Rams started the final game of the regular season with some serious defense.
Los Angeles slammed the door shut on the 49ers' first three offensive drives at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum with three-straight takeaways to start the game and four total first-half takeaways, en route to a 48-32 victory.
Third-year linebacker Cory Littleton had two interceptions in the Rams' first half of dictating on defense. Littleton picked off a tipped pass from quarterback Nick Mullens for the Rams' second takeaway of the first quarter before carrying the ball 22 yards to the San Francisco 13-yard line — setting up ideal field position for the Rams' second touchdown of the afternoon.
Then, after an interception by safety Blake Countess, Littleton was at it again early in the second quarter — jumping wide receiver Richie James Jr.'s route and handing Mullens his third interception of the game. Littleton took his second pick 19 yards to the end zone for his first-career defensive touchdown.
Littleton's pick six capped off a dismantling first half of takeaways against Mullens and the Niners. The young quarterback trotted into the locker room 11-of-19 with a touchdown and three interceptions.
The Rams' four takeaways on Sunday is the most generated since Week 11, when the defense took it away from quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs five times on Monday Night Football.
"One of the most exciting moments of my life," Littleton said of his second interception of the first half. "It's something that I've never done, I've been playing football for like 16 years and I finally got a touchdown, so it's amazing."
Littleton had two career interceptions entering Week 17, but never a touchdown. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers said his defensive signal-caller making plays like he did on Sunday is par of the course.
"For me, it's a play that we look for him to make," Brockers said before providing a bit of a look into defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' game plan.
"We knew they had a younger quarterback — it think he's their third string, fourth string or something like that. If we can get some pressure in his face, there's no way he will be able to complete passes and see who he was throwing to."
"Certain guys just have a knack for being in the right place at the right time," head coach Sean McVay said after the game. "He's got such great athleticism, whether it's as a blitzer — obviously, you see him make some picks today. And then he can cover, he can run. He's a guy that you win with — players like Cory Littleton."
Littleton played a big part in ensuring McVay's Rams clinched the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a first-round playoff bye. Littleton leads the Rams with 125 tackles in 2018 — a season that the former Washington Husky admitted has been a learning experience, after taking over as the defensive signal-caller when linebacker Alec Ogletree was traded in March.
"It shows me football always stays the same," Littleton said. "This mic'd backer position is something new, something I've been picking up steadily — I'm not perfect at it — but at the end of the day, I've been doing the best job I can and everyone on this team is doing the same."
"He knows everything that he's supposed to do — especially when it comes to coverage — I think we put more emphasis on coverage this year just to make everybody on the same page," Brockers said. "For a guy to play special teams and play defense, be all over the place, it's just a good testament to him. He puts in a lot of hard work."
Littleton and the L.A. defense had quarterback Jared Goff's offense in ideal field position early in the afternoon and running back C.J. Anderson noticed. Anderson punched in his second touchdown as a Ram following Littleton's first interception and finished his second start with L.A. with 132 yards on the ground.
"We don't get going early, but we got short fields, but we converted on those short fields — so that's a good thing," the veteran back said. "That's something you got to do in the playoffs. We talk about short field, defense getting turnovers — we got to find a way to put the ball in the box and we did that."
"They did a great job getting us up early, in short fields," quarterback Jared Goff said. "We were able to get up early, 14-0, and then Cory had the pick-six, obviously, and kept that momentum going defensively. I thought they played really well. They did a good job and started the game off for us."
With the playoffs on the horizon, the Rams have forced 15 takeaways since Week 11 — two of which belong to Littleton. But Sunday afternoon's defensive star can't say the same about his brand-new game ball.
"I'm pretty sure my mama is going to ask for it first," Littleton said before leaving the Coliseum. "It's hard to fight that one."