Elliott: To take next step, Rams need young guys such as Derion Kendrick to step up

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Quarterback Matthew Stafford absorbed a gut punch Sunday and somehow came out the better for it, leading the Rams to a comeback win over Seattle.

Cornerback Derion Kendrick, who had committed a blatant unnecessary roughness penalty that allowed Seattle to sustain a long possession and score a touchdown on its opening drive of the game, delivered a gut punch to the Seahawks with a fourth-quarter interception of a pass by backup quarterback Drew Lock, ensuring that Seattle wouldn’t extend what was then a two-point lead.

The Rams’ ability to roll with the punches and give them back in kind was crucial to their 17-16 victory at SoFi Stadium. Not every jab and uppercut was a bruiser, but the cumulative impact of their pushback against the Seahawks (6-4) did enough damage for the Rams to end their three-game losing streak and led them to turn up the volume of their postgame music to deafening levels in their locker room.

“I think it’s so big,” coach Sean McVay said of the victory that left the Rams 4-6. “To be able to just see, especially the way the game unfolded. There was a lot of things that didn’t go our way, but they kept staying the course and they kept learning from it.

“And really, like I said, and I’ve said it over and over again and I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, the defense was so key and critical. They allowed the offense to then be able to hit their stride at the right moment, and then how can we really bottle that up?”

The Rams know they can count on solid efforts from defensive tackle Aaron Donald, nose tackle Bobby Brown III — newly returned from a knee injury he suffered in Week 5 — and linebacker Ernest Jones, who sat out the previous game at Green Bay.

What they need, if they’re going to keep their tenuous playoff hopes alive, is more big-moment efforts from players such as Kendrick, who had lost his starting job after a weak performance against Dallas but inched back into the coaches’ good graces because of his solid work ethic.

“I thought he stood up really tall all day,” McVay said. “I thought he had the early penalty, hey, how do we respond? What does that really look like? And he did that in a big way.

“It seemed like the guys in the secondary were tight, they were sticky. It seemed like we were pushing the pocket all day. It made it difficult for them to convert on the third downs. But Derion Kendrick was outstanding. It’s a cool thing to be able to see guys respond the right way and then be able to see the work, the responses pay off in a performance like he had today.”

Kendrick, a sixth-round draft pick and 212nd overall in 2022, has had a rocky season.

He appeared in 15 games as a rookie last season, starting six, with 43 tackles and four passes deflected. He started the first six games this season but didn’t start against Pittsburgh on Oct. 22, following his arrest in Hollywood on two misdemeanor gun charges. His arraignment was continued to Dec. 5.

Kendrick, who played only three snaps at Green Bay before the Rams had last Sunday off, had apologized to his teammates for being a distraction and was allowed to work his way back into the lineup. He said their encouragement on Sunday was important to him.

“We just needed a play. Had a couple conversations with players and coaches, ‘We need you right now. You’re one of those guys that can make a play,’” he said. “Just staying disciplined and just using my coaching to go make a play that I can make.

The Rams had cut Seattle’s lead to 16-14 about halfway through the fourth quarter. With Lock replacing the injured Geno Smith, Kendrick deflected Lock’s first attempted pass.

The Seahawks had a third-and-11 at their 24 when Kendrick snatched a pass Lock had intended for Tyler Lockett, recording the first interception of his career.

“You never know when your time will come,” Kendrick said. “A couple weeks I was sat down. Being a competitor, it’s just like damn, but you can’t show that at all. You’ve got to keep working and show it the next time you’re on the field.”

The defense showed up in the second half, especially on Seattle’s last possession. Jason Myers, who had made field goals of 54, 43 and 52 yards, missed a potential game-winner from 55 yards, to McVay’s relief.

“What a great job by the defense, forcing Myers right in that fringe range right there where you’re saying once he gets right to the 40, he’s pretty high percentage,” McVay said after his team’s second victory over the Seahawks this season. “Fortunately it worked out in our favor and here we are, feeling a lot better than I would if that went in.”

They’re getting valuable experience in taking and giving punches.

“We talked about being able to finish games. There’s a lot of examples of us starting fast, but we weren’t finishing strong. Now, let’s see if we can maybe do both,” McVay said. “I think it’s really big. Learning how to win and learning how to identify those moments when the game pivots and you get a chance to be able to come away with these types of results, you’ve got to learn how to do that.

“Well, what’s the way that you learn? You learn what these feelings feel like. You capitalize on those moments when they’re presented. And that’s what I was most proud of.”

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