MINNEAPOLIS -- Todd Gurley was finding holes, Sammy Watkins was getting involved and the play-action game was working beautifully. The Los Angeles Rams' resurgent offense began its biggest game of the season by humming along amid the noise at a raucous U.S. Bank Stadium. The Rams had outscored their past three opponents by a combined 93 points, and their opening drive seemed to signal the start of another scoring onslaught.
It wound up being an outlier.
A Minnesota Vikings defense that ranked within the top five in yards and points allowed stifled the Rams' offense for the 56 minutes that remained in Sunday's highly anticipated matchup. The Rams gained 179 yards, picked up 10 first downs and scored zero points after their opening drive, the backdrop in a deflating 24-7 loss that dropped their record to 7-3.
"A lot of teams kind of do well in that first drive," Gurley said. "It kind of messes with you because you think you're going to do good the rest of the game. Obviously, we didn't."
And because they didn't, the Rams played with a razor-thin margin for error; slim enough that two injuries to their cornerbacks and two mistakes by their rookie receiver did them in.
At the four-minute mark of the second quarter, Cooper Kupp caught a short pass from Jared Goff on a slant route but fumbled at the Vikings' 1-yard line, giving the Rams their first turnover in a span of four weeks. On third-and-10 at the Vikings' 49 early in the third quarter, Goff made an accurate deep throw down the middle of the field to Kupp, his favorite third-down target, but Kupp dropped it.
"There are plays that I want back," Kupp said. "There are plays I wish I would've made."
The dagger came five plays after Kupp's fourth drop of the season.
A Case Keenum-led Vikings offense that had spent an entire afternoon chewing up clock and beating the Rams underneath finally got an explosive play. Adam Thielen, third in the NFL in receiving yards, ran a short route. Dominique Hatfield, pressed into action after Kayvon Webster (concussion) and Nickell Robey-Coleman (thigh) left early, was all alone with him in space. Thielen made a quick move to the inside, got free, sprinted up the sideline and basically went untouched for a 65-yard score, giving the Vikings (8-2) a two-touchdown lead they would not relinquish.
Keenum went 27-of-38 for 280 yards and a 100.8 passer rating, avoiding turnovers and countless sacks by continually navigating out of the pocket to evade pressure against his former team.
Aaron Donald in particular felt he left "a lot" of sacks on the field.
"Their offensive line couldn’t block us one-on-one," Donald said. "Case just did a good job of moving around in the pocket.”
"He played his tail off today," Goff said of Keenum. "I was sitting on the sideline like, 'Come on, throw it to us. Throw it to us.' And he wouldn't do it."
Coming off back-to-back games of 300-plus yards, three or more touchdowns and zero interceptions, Goff went 23-of-37 for 225 yards, but he was hit five times and was hurried constantly. Gurley, the NFC's leader in scrimmage yards heading in, picked up only 25 yards after the opening drive.
"I feel like they're based off the bootleg and the run," Vikings defensive tackle Linval Joseph said. "If you stop the run, then you stop the bootleg."
The Rams entered the game averaging an NFL-best 118 yards in the third quarter, but managed only 27 on Sunday. They went 3-for-11 on third down, held the ball for a season-low 22:38 and were limited to a mere 45 rushing yards.
Fast start aside, the NFL's highest-scoring team was suffocated in its biggest game of the season.
"We didn't do enough things to win the football game, and it starts with me," Rams first-year coach Sean McVay said, blaming himself for not putting his offense in better situations. "We talk about it every single week, how you've got to be ready to go because it is a very humbling league. We definitely got humbled today by a very good team."