Everyone knew the points would come. And they did. In a Monday night matchup for the ages, the Los Angeles Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs locked horns in what was predicted to be an all-offense slugfest.
Someone forgot to tell the defenses they were supposed to stay out of the way. In a game that featured wild momentum swings and had five touchdowns in the fourth quarter alone, the teams combined for seven forced turnovers and three defensive touchdowns, providing an unlikely source of scoring in the Rams’ eventual 54-51 victory.
The rare late-season matchup between one-loss teams had been called a Super Bowl preview by many (though the New Orleans Saints might object to that characterization), and the oddsmakers took a look at these thrilling offenses and set a record for over-under in an N.F.L. game, 63.5 points.
The teams surpassed that mark with 2 minutes 14 seconds left in the third quarter. They did not slow down from there, producing not only the highest-scoring “Monday Night Football” game ever, but the third-highest combined score ever, as well as the first game in N.F.L. history in which both teams topped 50 points.
“It was a whirlwind,” Rams Coach Sean McVay said at his postgame news conference. “I feel like I might need a couple beverages to relax tonight.”
Even with the defensive touchdowns, the quarterback duel between Jared Goff of the Rams and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs did not disappoint. Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, completed 31 of 49 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns, and Mahomes, the No. 10 pick in the 2017 draft, completed 33 of 46 for 478 yards and six touchdowns.
“It felt like a college game,” Goff said. “It was a lot of fun.”
There were numerous offensive stars. Seven different receivers caught touchdown passes in the game — three players had two — and the offenses combined for 1,001 yards.
But a huge factor for the Rams — who played at home after the game was moved from Mexico City last week because of poor field conditions there — was the stellar performance from Aaron Donald, the 2017 defensive player of the year, who has often had to watch as his team’s defense crumbled around him this season. On Monday night, though, Donald not only played above his usual standards but also got some serious help from the young linebacker Samson Ebukam as well as the team’s injury-depleted secondary.
Donald first struck late in the second quarter, with the Chiefs leading by 17-16. He charged through the line, swung his right hand high in the air and swatted the ball away from Mahomes. The ball caromed far from the line of scrimmage before Ebukam scooped it up and ran untouched into the end zone — the first turnover of Mahomes’s career to result in a touchdown.
On the Chiefs’ first drive of the second half, Donald again produced a strip-sack fumble, with the Rams scoring eight plays later on a 7-yard run by Goff.
Ebukam, a fourth-round pick in 2017, scored again late in the third quarter when Mahomes tried to sneak a pass by him, and the linebacker tipped the ball to himself. Mahomes and Tyreek Hill, Kansas City’s undersized wide receiver, both tried to drag the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ebukam to the ground, but he went through them with ease for a 25-yard touchdown, becoming the first player to have a sack, an interception, and multiple touchdowns in a game since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.
But with an offense as potent as Kansas City’s, the game was still very much undecided even with the Rams ahead by 40-30 early in the fourth quarter.
Sure enough, Mahomes connected on a 73-yard touchdown pass to Hill, and three plays later, the Chiefs’ much-maligned defense got its own big play. As Goff dropped back to pass near his own goal line, Justin Houston hit him and knocked the ball into the arms of Allen Bailey, who simply walked the ball into the end zone to give the Chiefs the lead.
Goff, naturally, responded with a six-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by a 7-yard pass to Gerald Everett. Then Mahomes put the Chiefs back in front with an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive that made it 51-47 with 2:50 remaining in the game.
But in a game where it seemed like the scoring would never end, Goff had the final say, finding Everett for a 40-yard touchdown pass that gave Los Angeles a 3-point lead. The Rams’ defense took care of the rest: Marcus Peters, a former Chief, ended one Kansas City drive with an interception, and in the final minute, Lamarcus Joyner provided another, letting Goff come out to kneel and end the game.
“Until the final few seconds, you weren’t really able to breathe,” McVay said.
The Rams improved to 10-1 and are on the verge of clinching the N.F.C. West (they would have clinched this week had Green Bay won on Thursday night.) The Chiefs, in Mahomes’s first year as a starter, fell to 9-2, and after a bye-week will try to get back to their winning ways in a road game against the Oakland Raiders.