With 6:51 left in regulation, the Cleveland Browns offense marched onto the field at SoFi Stadium only down by one point. On their previous drive, quarterback Joe Flacco sent an eight-yard touchdown pass to tight end Harrison Bryant.
With a hope to keep that momentum going, Flacco sent a dart deep into Rams territory to wide receiver Elijah Moore. However, Rams safety John Johnson III intercepted the pass and made a 42-yard return. The play allowed the Rams offense to start on Cleveland’s 24-yard line. Wideout Cooper Kupp would make a three-yard touchdown catch four plays later.
Rams coach Sean McVay noted how the pick was “the turning point of the game.”
“[Johnson III has] been such a big, bright spot for us, he’s got such great command, such great communication,” McVay said. “For him to make that play against his old team, to make a great return … I thought that was the play of the game.”
Johnson III ultimately had six total tackles and two pass deflections. He noted how the interception could have been a pick-six if he did not have a cramp in his calf.
“We had been practicing that concept a lot, it was like two outbreaking routes,” Johnson III said. “I was just trying to get some yards back, put all of us in a good situation to score. I tried to get a little saucy, but my wheels, I had some flat tires.”
The turnover led to Stafford’s third touchdown pass of the contest. He noted how he was proud of Johnson.
“That’s a huge point swing for us,” Stafford said. “That’s how you kind of run away with stuff at the end, otherwise it can be a little closer than you want.”
Johnson III returned to the Rams in August after competing with the Browns for two seasons. In 2017, he was drafted by the Rams in the third round and competed for them for four seasons. He mentioned how the current Rams squad is different than the one he first came to know.
“Younger team but energetic,” Johnson III said. “We’re enjoying it … coach McVay said we got to string something together, that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Making pivotal interceptions is nothing new for Johnson III. During his first stint with the Rams, he picked off former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in overtime during the NFC Championship game in January 2019. The pick help the Rams earn a trip to Super Bowl LIII.
The Rams 36-19 victory over the Cleveland Browns allowed both the offense and defense to shine. Wideout Puka Nacua broke the Rams’ rookie record for most receiving yards.
“I love being a part of this team and all the guys around me,” Nacua said. “I know how much we all sacrifice and what we put in throughout the week so I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Stafford targeted Nacua for a 70-yard touchdown passing play. Super Bowl LIV champion wide receiver Demarcus Robinson also made a seven-yard touchdown catch.
“Coach [McVay] got trust in me to make those types of plays,” Robinson said. “Knowing [McVay] gave me an opportunity to make a play being able to execute, it felt great.”
The Rams now have a 6-6 overall record. They will head to the East Coast to battle the Baltimore Ravens on December 10 at 10:00A.M.