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Rams do enough to beat Panthers, limp into bye week

INGLEWOOD — It wasn’t the week to make drastic changes to the offensive line because, no offense to the Carolina Panthers, the bye week was next on the schedule, the Rams said.

No offense is right. The Rams had another sluggish offensive outing, and their same-old clunky game plan was giving them fits in the first three quarters against the Panthers, who entered SoFi Stadium as 10-point betting underdogs Sunday.

Asking the Rams to beat any opponent, even ones without a head coach, by double digits isn’t ideal because of their many injuries on the offensive line, but the Rams just wanted to limp into the bye week with a .500 record.

They did that by defeating the Panthers, 24-10, to improve to 3-3 on the season and snap their two-game losing streak.

The Rams, who lost left tackle Joe Noteboom to an ankle injury in the second quarter, were stuck on 10 points again before they finally found the end zone on a scoring drive that took less than three minutes off the clock.

Wide receivers Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson had back-to-back plays of at least 20 yards to set up Ben Skowronek’s first career touchdown, a 17-yard run that gave the Rams a 17-10 lead with 11 seconds left in the third quarter.

The Rams got risky by running a similar scheme with an inexperienced starting interior offensive line of center Jeremiah Kolone, left guard Bobby Evans and right guard Alaric Jackson to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford, who has taken several hits this season. Rams coach Sean McVay and offensive coordinator Liam Coen said earlier in the week it wasn’t the time to make scheme and personnel changes because they wanted to find consistency on the offensive line and they were short on time.

It worked out for the Rams, but their sluggish first three quarters was another indicator that they need offensive improvements during the bye week. Or maybe the Rams turned a corner after ending the Week 6 matchup on a strong note.

Rams running back Darrell Henderson scored the team’s first fourth-quarter touchdown of the season by crossing the goal line on a 2-yard run to extend the lead 24-10 with 8:15 left in regulation. Robinson had his best game as a member of the Rams by recording five catches for 63 yards and one touchdown.

Stafford had another turnover that led to a defensive touchdown when Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson returned an interception for 30 yards to give Carolina a 10-7 advantage with 1:58 left before halftime. Stafford also had turnovers returned for touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers in the prior two games.

The Rams’ broken offense was on full display on second-and-1 in the second quarter with the team failing to get one yard on two carries from running backs Ronnie Rivers and Malcolm Brown. The Rams’ latest injury to an offensive lineman occurred on the second no-gain run.

Noteboom was carted off the field with an ankle injury in the second quarter, leaving the Rams with four backup offensive linemen to protect Stafford. Jackson, who started the game at right guard, moved to left tackle and Oday Aboushi filled in next to right tackle Rob Havenstein, the Rams’ lone Week 1 starter on the offensive line.

Evans got the start at left guard with David Edwards on injured reserve and Kolone got the nod at center with Brian Allen sidelined with a knee injury.

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On the first drive with the four backup linemen, Stafford and the Rams slowly marched 73 yards to a score, taking seven minutes, 58 seconds off the clock. Kupp did most of the work, which he has done most of this season, with catch-and-run plays before Robinson ended the drive with a five-yard touchdown on a fade pass from Stafford to give the Rams their first lead at 7-3 with 3:34 left in the first half.

The Rams still have issues with scoring quickly, but getting Robinson involved was a positive sign with Stafford’s struggles to establish a rhythm with the offseason acquisition, especially as a red-zone target.

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey quickly increased his trade value after recording 58 of the Panthers’ total 61 yards on the opening drive that ended with a 42-yard field goal from Eddy Pineiro to give Carolina 3-0 advantage with 8:38 in the first quarter. McCaffrey had 88 of the Panthers’ 105 total yards in the opening quarter. But those were the only points the Rams’ defense allowed on Sunday.

The Rams’ defense ended its three-game drought without a takeaway when safety Nick Scott recorded an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

More to come.

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