LANDOVER (AP) — The ball slipped out of Jared Goff’s right hand trying to spike it after a touchdown. That was about the only time he wasn’t in control.
“It wasn’t great,” he said. “I have the excuse that it was wet.”
Goff threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another, and the Los Angeles Rams improved to 4-1 by beating Washington 30-10 on Sunday in Alex Smith’s return almost two years since a gruesome injury put his career in jeopardy.
“It’s incredible what he has overcome,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “You almost wish it were in better conditions. Weird to say when it’s also our defense making things difficult for him. I’m just so impressed with him.”
Smith played his first NFL game 693 days since breaking his right tibia and fibula, entering when new Washington starting quarterback Kyle Allen injured his left arm. Smith was 9 of 17 for 37 yards on the same field he was carted away from on Nov. 18, 2018 before undergoing 17 surgeries to repair the injury.
“Very surreal at first,” Smith said of completing his comeback. “To have it happen as fast as it did was probably almost a blessing. ... It was kind of nice in that situation not having to think about it. You just go out and do it.”
Former Washington QB Joe Theismann, who broke his right leg in similar fashion 33 years to the day before Smith was injured, said it was spectacular to see his return, adding, “I’m so thrilled and excited for him.”
The Rams are thrilled with such a strong start in a tough NFC West after missing the playoffs last season. They’ve swept the NFC East and are only a three-point loss on a questionable pass interference call away from being undefeated.
“It’s a great thing for our momentum,” said Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, who had five catches for 66 yards. “Feel great about being 4-1 but by no means does it mean we can be complacent. Making sure we continue to improve and trend upwards.”
Led by Aaron Donald’s four sacks and blanket coverage, the Rams clamped down on defense and ran it up in the rain on offense. Against the team he spent seven seasons with as an assistant, McVay dialed up a lot of play-action early, and unleashed Goff’s long-range passing game that had been largely absent through four games.
“I think we’re just waiting for opportunities,” Goff said. “This one was there, made a throw, made a catch. We’ve always known what our offense is capable down the field, and today we were able to show it.”
Goff led the Rams on a methodical, 10-play, 76-yard opening scoring drive that finished with a 1-yard TD run by Darrell Henderson. He connected with Robert Woods on a 56-yard touchdown, his longest completion of the season, and started the game a perfect 10 of 10 against a porous Washington defense.
When weather conditions deteriorated, the Rams kept it on the ground and continued to march down the field. Goff rushed for a 2-yard score on a play-action rollout midway through the second period to stake LA to a 20-7 lead that was never challenged.
Smith’s remarkable comeback aside, it wasn’t the performance coach Ron Rivera envisioned for Washington (1-4) when he benched starter Dwayne Haskins in favor of Allen, who knew offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s system better. Allen was 9 of 13 for 74 yards passing and scored on a 7-yard rushing TD when he was injured on a hit by Jalen Ramsey and replaced by Smith.
Rivera said he kept Allen on the sideline after being cleared “out of an abundance of caution” and expects him to continue as the starter if healthy.
“I thought Kyle handled himself pretty well,” Rivera said. “He took us down, we scored a touchdown, we moved the ball. He made some good decisions and it’s unfortunate he took the shot that he did. I would’ve loved to have seen him finish the game.”
Steelers 38, Eagles 29
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool scored four touchdowns, including the clincher with 2:59 remaining, and Pittsburgh remained unbeaten.
Claypool, a second-round pick from Notre Dame, raced down the slot, hauled in a dart from Ben Roethlisberger and went the rest of the 35 yards to the end zone as the Steelers improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1979.
A native of Abbottsford, British Columbia, Canada, Claypool finished with seven receptions for 110 yards and three scores and added a 2-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep. Claypool became the first Canadian-born NFL player with three receiving TDs in a game since Joe Rooney did it for the Duluth Eskimos on Oct. 23, 1927.
Roethlisberger completed 27 of 34 passes for 239 yards and the three scores to Claypool. James Conner ran for 44 yards and a touchdown as the Steelers showed little rust despite having an unexpected bye week last Sunday after the NFL scheduled their trip to Tennessee while the Titans dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak.
Carson Wentz threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns but was also picked off twice, both times by Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson. Miles Sanders ran for 80 yards and two scores in his return to his hometown. Travis Fulgham caught 10 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown to give Philadelphia’s injury-ravaged receiving group a needed boost, but the Eagles (1-3-1) couldn’t pull off a second straight road win.
The Steelers scored on five straight possessions to take a 31-14 lead in the third quarter, but the Eagles stormed back behind Wentz, who connected with Greg Ward for an 8-yard touchdown pass and found Fulgham for a 4-yard score with 11:27 left.
Philadelphia, which at one point converted 10 straight third downs, had a chance to take the lead following a fumble by Steelers tight end Eric Ebron but Jake Elliott’s 57-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right with 3:18 to go.
Pittsburgh took over and a personal foul facemask by the Eagles pushed the Steelers into Philadelphia territory. Facing third-and-8 from the Philadelphia 35, Claypool lined up in the slot, zipped past Eagles linebacker Alex Singleton and sprinted into the end zone while the 4,708 fans allowed into Heinz Field erupted.
Cardinals 30, Jets 10
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals came to MetLife Stadium and like every other team this season found a cure-all for their woes with a game against a winless team from New York’s rotten football apple.
Kyler Murray ran for a touchdown and threw another to DeAndre Hopkins as the Cardinals snapped a two-game losing streak with a 30-10 victory over the Jets, further putting coach Adam Gase’s future in jeopardy after an 0-5 start.
Murray had a 2-yard TD run and hit Hopkins on a 37-yard strike on a day the Cardinals (3-2) had 496 yards in total offense. Chase Edmonds scored on 29-yard run, Kenyan Drake tallied from a yard out and Zane Gonzalez kicked a 47-yard field goal. Arizona scored touchdowns on drives of 96, 89, 75 and 70 yards.
The 0-5 start is the third in Jets history. The other years were 1980 and ‘96. The ‘96 team went 1-15 and had the worst start in franchise history at 0-8.
Playing with Joe Flacco in place of injured quarterback Sam Darnold and with running back Le’Veon Bell in the lineup for the first time since opening day, the Jets stayed close into the second half. They drew within 17-10 on an 11-yard pass from Flacco to Jamison Crowder, who had eight catches for 116 yards.
The Cardinals quickly put the game out of reach, scoring touchdowns on their next two possessions. Drake powered his way into the end zone with :15 left in the third quarter. Murray (27 of 37 for 380 yards) capped a six-play, 96-yard drive with his perfect toss to Hopkins, who had six catches for 136 yards.
Flacco finished 27 of 37 for 380 yards with an interception that set up a Jets field goal.