Wentz to start for Rams in regular-season finale as Stafford rests for playoffs

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, Kyren Williams, Cooper Kupp and linebacker Ernest Jones will not play in the playoff-bound Los Angeles Rams‘ regular-season finale at San Francisco.

Carson Wentz will make his first start for the Rams (9-7) on Sunday, coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. Los Angeles also will be without Williams, the NFL‘s second-leading rusher; Kupp, the Super Bowl 56 MVP; Donald, the seven-time All-Pro defensive lineman; and Jones, the Rams‘ leading tackler.

Tight end Tyler Higbee (dislocated shoulder) and swing tackle Joe Noteboom (plantar fascia) also will sit out Week 18 due to injury.

The Rams have clinched their fifth playoff spot in McVay’s seven seasons, and earning a slightly higher seed clearly means little to the coach with most of the NFC playoff picture still in flux behind the top-seeded 49ers. Even beyond his resting stars, McVay made it clear he wants his key players to do as little as possible in a game with minimal meaning.

“There’s not a perfect solution, especially when you’re talking about 53 guys (on the roster), 48 (who must be) active (on game day). We do have a couple of injuries,” McVay said. “This was just what we felt like was the best thing, but I do think it offers an opportunity for Carson to go play, and we’re excited to see him do his thing.”

The 49ers are sitting quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Christian McCaffrey. Sam Darnold will start in Purdy’s place.

Los Angeles will finish sixth in the NFC if it beats the 49ers or if Green Bay loses to Chicago on Sunday. If the 49ers and Packers both win, Los Angeles will be the seventh seed.

The Rams could play Detroit, Dallas or Philadelphia in the opening round.

“When you look at the projections, I think they’re excellent teams regardless,” McVay said. “We felt like this approach was the best one for our team. You want to see guys go compete and do well, but that was what we felt like.”

McVay stressed that he paid attention to contract incentives for any resting players to make sure he didn’t prevent anybody from earning a bonus.

And rookie receiver Puka Nacua will suit up for the Rams in Santa Clara, McVay said. Nacua is four receptions and 29 yards away from setting the NFL rookie-season records in both categories.

“I think you’d like to see him get an opportunity for him to do something special, and then be smart with him,” McVay said.

Wentz signed with the Rams on Nov. 8, shortly after backup Brett Rypien struggled through a loss to Green Bay. Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft and the longtime Philadelphia quarterback, had been out of the NFL since playing for Washington last year.

He has taken only three snaps so far for the Rams, but has nearly two months of practice time in McVay‘s offense.

“It’s been fun being here,” said Wentz, who will make his 93rd NFL start. “Obviously it’s a different role for me, and it’s been new in that regard, but it’s been a lot of fun working with Matthew and seeing how he goes about his business. It’s a very young coaching staff, and that’s been really fun to be a part of. It’s a very different scheme than what I’m used to, so for me it’s just been all about learning and accumulating knowledge within the system. I’ve enjoyed it.”

Undrafted rookie Dresser Winn will be Wentz‘s backup after getting re-signed to the practice squad Tuesday.

The decision puts an early end to an impressive regular season for Stafford, a 15-year veteran who has rebounded from serious injuries that sidelined him for half of 2022.

Stafford is sixth in the NFL with 3,965 yards passing, but he won’t be able to secure his 10th career 4,000-yard season if he doesn’t play in San Francisco. Only six quarterbacks in NFL history have more than Stafford‘s nine 4,000-yard seasons.

“He understands the big picture,” McVay said. “You always talk through those things … but he understood. These guys all want to play (but) when you explain to them what our thought process was as coaches, they’re totally supportive.”

Stafford has thrown 24 touchdown passes with 11 interceptions this season, but he has been very sharp since returning from a thumb injury that forced him to miss the Rams‘ final 1 1/2 games before their bye week.

Since the bye, Stafford has passed for 1,895 yards with 16 touchdowns and just four interceptions – two in the Rams‘ narrow win over the New York Giants last week.

Stafford also appears to be relatively healthy this season, particularly compared to the stretch runs of his first two seasons with the Rams. He has been sacked 30 times in 15 games this season after getting sacked 29 times in nine games last season.

NOTES: The Rams have lost nine consecutive regular-season games to the 49ers since 2018. Los Angeles narrowly beat San Francisco in the NFC title game in January 2022 on the way to its Super Bowl championship. … S Jordan Fuller (ankle) and DL Desjuan Johnson (toe) were limited in Wednesday’s walkthrough. McVay seems optimistic Fuller can play.

Copyright © 2024 The Washington Times, LLC.

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