MINNEAPOLIS – Losing a starter to injury on the second defensive series of a game is never ideal for any NFL team, especially when it's someone helping man the middle of the defense.
That's the scenario the Rams faced when rookie linebacker Ernest Jones exited Sunday's game against the Vikings with an ankle injury.
Jones tested his ankle out on the sideline after getting it taped up, but wasn't able to return, which meant the Rams had to turn to Travin Howard for the remainder of the game. In turn, Howard made sure the defense didn't miss a beat, rewarding Los Angeles with four total tackles, two pass breakups and his first career interception in its 30-23 victory at Minnesota.
"I just came in with the mindset of I was a starter so I prepared like a starter even though I was playing mostly special teams," Howard said postgame. "Ernest went down and I went in and I made plays."
That interception was the biggest of all of them.
Five plays after replacing Jones, Howard corralled Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins' deflected pass in the endzone and returned it to the Rams' 17, a redzone stop that prevented the Vikings from answering the Rams' touchdown-scoring drive on the previous series. Prior to the pick, the Vikings had reached the Rams' 8-yard line and in position to come away with at least a field goal.
"We was in a quarters coverage over there and my guy, I knew he was trying to come in and maybe (run) like a slant behind me, and I was just reading the quarterback's eyes, and when you run to the ball, good things happen," Howard said.
While Los Angeles did not come away with points off of that turnover, it was a timely and needed play. Minnesota punted on each of its next two offensive possessions and didn't score its first points until kicker Greg Joseph's successful 23-yard field goal attempt with 2:23 left until halftime.
"You felt his presence, his athleticism, run and hit ability. Made a bunch of plays," Rams head coach Sean McVay said postgame. "I think, as much as you can say about him, he was active. Made a big impact on the game. Another guy that it's not too big for him. I think Chris Shula did a great job having the depth of that unit being ready to go. Any time you lose Ernest, that's a big loss for us. I thought Travin did a great job stepping in for us today."