For Rams head coach Sean McVay, sustaining what has led to an 8-4 record over their first 12 games during the final quarter of the regular season starts with a connected effort between offense, defense and special teams.
"I want to see us play complementary football," McVay said during a video conference Monday morning. "I was pleased with the offense and the defense (against the Cardinals). Clearly there's some things in the kicking game that we have to get better at. That's not a secret to anybody from yesterday. But the beauty of it is, is you get a chance on a short week to be able to respond."
Los Angeles has come close to such performances this season.
Perhaps the closest was against the Bears on Monday Night Football in Week 7, when all five of L.A. punter Johnny Hekker's punts landed at or inside Chicago's 10-yard line. That created advantageous situations for the Rams defense, and its stops via that short field consequently helped set up four of the five scoring drives by the Rams offense. The only things that got in the way of Los Angeles playing a clean, complementary game was fumbling twice and losing one of them, as well as getting a field goal blocked.
Against Washington in Week 5, it was a similar story: Four of Hekker's five punts landed inside the 20, L.A.'s defense pitched a second-half shutout, but a fumble (which it recovered) and a missed extra point attempt prevented them from a flawless complementary effort.
Currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoff picture and in first place in the NFC West, the Rams have plenty of motivation to put together a complete performance in all three phases over these next four games.
"Just keep playing good ball together, playing consistent, but it's all about going one week at a time," Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said during a video conference Tuesday. "This week, Thursday night, we got the Patriots. We got to try to find a way to come out, play as a team, dominate, play physical and start by winning this game this week."
For as well as Donald and the Rams defense has played through the first 12 games, even they still recognize there's areas where they can improve and better hold up their end of playing complementary football.
Given the magnitude of December games as the weeks progress, defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said it's critical for any defense to execute in "gotta-have-it" situations – or key moments where the defense needs to make a stand – such as the red zone, two-minute scenarios, toward the end of game and near the end of the first half. While Staley has been pleased with his unit's execution in two-minute situations, he would like to see improvement in the red zone after last week's performance in Arizona.
"When there's more at stake, especially against all the quarterbacks that we're going to be defending down the stretch, we have to be at our best when our best is required in those gotta-have-it situations," Staley said during a video conference Tuesday.
The Rams' first test comes Thursday night (5:20 p.m. PT, FOX/NFL Network/Amazon Prime Video) against a Patriots team coming off an example-setting 45-0 shutout victory over the Chargers, sparked by a synergetic performance between their offense, defense and special teams for their fourth win in their last five games.
McVay knows a similar effort will be required for the Rams to maintain momentum over the final final four weeks of the regular season.
"The teams that I think are going have the most success are the ones that are playing the best in December," McVay said. "It's all you can ask for is being involved in games that matter. Our guys have done a good enough job to put themselves in a position to be relevant right now, but it's only about what we can do this Thursday and see if we can go give ourselves a chance to get our ninth win and then have a couple of days of rest and come back for the last three (games)."