It looked like a knockout hit, a play that would send Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford to the sideline and out of the game.
Instead, it ignited a comeback.
Stafford rallied the Rams from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter en route to a 17-16 victory over Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in front of 72,704 at SoFi Stadium.
Lucas Havrisik kicked a 22-yard field goal with 1 minute 31 seconds left and the Rams survived Jason Myers’ failed 55-yard field-goal attempt to end a three-game losing streak and improve their record to 4-6.
Puka Nacua and Darrell Henderson scored touchdowns and cornerback Derion Kendrick intercepted a pass for the Rams, who saw star receiver Cooper Kupp leave the game in the first half because of an ankle injury.
“You play one great quarter, you got a chance to win that thing,” said Stafford, who is playing through a thumb injury. “I obviously wasn’t at my best at certain points in that game and I wanted to make sure I did everything in my power to help lead this team and see where it ended up.”
The victory lacked the polish of the Rams’ 30-13 season-opening comeback victory over the Seahawks in Seattle.
But as with that win, it fostered optimism the Rams could be a playoff team, especially in the wide-open NFC.
Stafford, 35, started for the first time since suffering a right thumb injury that sidelined him for most of a rout at Dallas Cowboys and all of a defeat at Green Bay.
For much of the game it looked as if it would be anything but a triumphant return for the 15th-year pro, who wore a soft brace on his throwing hand.
The Rams longest pass play came on a pass-interference penalty that netted 45 yards in the first quarter but later Stafford’s pass on fourth and goal from the five-yard line fell incomplete.
Late in the third quarter Stafford overthrew a wide-open Henderson, who had acres of open field ahead of him to the end zone.
Stafford appeared to have the wind knocked out of him in the fourth quarter when he was hit after throwing a flea-flicker pass that was intercepted by cornerback Riq Woolen.
“It wasn’t great,” Stafford said of the aftermath of the hit. “Just needed a second, really, more than anything.”
Stafford returned the next series, however, and seemed to come alive, leading the Rams on the two scoring drives.
“Maybe we should punch him the gut right before the game,” Rams coach Sean Mcvay joked.
The hit on Stafford galvanized the Rams, teammates said.
“I saw Stafford go down, I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ ” defensive lineman Bobby Brown III said. “I was like, ‘No!’
“You never want your quarterback to get hit like that and get hurt. [But] I’m kind of glad he got hit like that, if they were going to come out there and do that.”
Said Henderson: “It might have made him mad — you don’t want to make [No.] 9 mad. But he’s tough. … To see him get back in there after taking a hit, that fired us up, like we wanted to play harder for him. Because we got to protect our brother. They take him, they got to take us all.
First, he engineered a 68-yard drive that Henderson capped with a short touchdown run to pull the Rams to within 16-14.
On the ensuing possession, Kendrick intercepted a long pass by Seahawks backup quarterback Drew Lock, giving Stafford another opportunity.
Stafford completed a 32-yard pass to Nacua to start the drive and then Freeman did the bulk of the work as the Rams moved into field-goal range for Havrisik.
“It pissed me off,” Stafford said, chuckling, of the hit that sparked the rally. “I don’t know if I need to take that level of shot every week to get going.”
Stafford completed 17 of 31 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown, with an interception. Nacua caught five passes for 70 yards.
It was a huge win for a team that just used an off week for self-evaluation. McVay had claimed they felt refreshed, recharged and rejuvenated.
That’s not how they played for much of the game, but it certainly applied the way they finished — with Stafford leading the way.
“To be able to be that way in those crunch time moments, especially with all the adversity that we faced and some of the things that were self-inflicted is a great thing,” McVay said.
It was not all good news for the Rams.
Kupp continued to struggle before he was injured.
His first reception in the first quarter was nullified — because of pass interference against Kupp.
On the next snap, the Seahawks jumped offside, essentially giving the Rams a free shot at the end zone. Kupp got behind defenders, but he fell down and Stafford’s pass bounced off his hands. Kupp caught an 11-yard pass on the next play, but the Rams could not convert the first-and-goal situation into points.
Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith completed 22 of 34 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown.
DK Metcalf caught five passes for 94 yards.