Christmas Gift? Rams Win Their Division
Knock off Titans 27-23
December 21, 2017
Christmas 2017 came a day early for the City of Los Angeles. Completing one of the more memorable turn-arounds in NFL history the Los Angeles Rams won the NFC West division title for the first time since 2003. Also significant was the Rams finishing their season road record at 7-1, outlasting a stubborn but struggling Tennessee Titan squad, 27-23.
The game became the Todd Gurley Show. The Titan defense had very few answers for the third-year Ram running back including an explosive full-stride 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter. He punished Tennessee for 118 yards rushing, 158 yards receiving and two touchdowns to further advance his credentials for league MVP.
For the second-year returning L.A. franchise it marked the unofficial coronation of the Sean McVay Era. At age 31 McVay became the youngest NFL coach to ever make the playoffs. One year ago the team was drowning statistically (224 total points scored) and record-wise (4-12) with one of the worst performing and looking offenses since the Super Bowl era began.
McVay: "Our guys just continue to demonstrate that resolve we like to see. Can't say enough about their ability to finish off games this year. To be able to go out on the road and finish out the season 7-1... that says a lot about our football team."
In McVay's first year as a head coach the Rams are leading the league in scoring while the defense and special teams continue to thrive and improve under Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel. One year ago no one imagined the Rams would emerge as one of the league's elite teams heading into the 2017 playoff season.
For the eighth time this season the Rams defense came away with a turnover on the opponent's opening drive of the game. Linebacker Cory Littleton, replacing starter Mark Barron, intercepted Titan quarterback Marcus Mariota's pass near midfield. That set up L.A. quarterback Jared Goff's 3-yard touchdown toss to Gurley for a 6-0 lead.
Things immediately got interesting for the Rams' kicking game. Sam Ficken was brought in last week to replace Greg Zuerlein, the NFL's leading kicker and scorer who just had back surgery. Ficken, who had never kicked in the NFL before, missed the extra-point attempt wide right.
Ficken also missed a chip-shot 36-yard field goal on the Rams' next drive as the kick hit the right upright goal post and deflected short. "We're going to continue to give him an opportunity and we believe in Sam," said McVay.
"We loved the way that he responded and I think this week will provide a great chance for him to continue to do some things for our team and we're going to move forward with confidence with him." Ficken settled down against Tennessee and successfully converted the Rams' last three extra-point attempts.
The Titans took a 10-6 lead in the second quarter as defensive end Jurrell Casey swooped into the Rams backfield, stripped the ball from Goff. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard recovered it and ran into the end zone. The home-crowd celebration was short-lived as Gurley put his 80-yard touchdown stamp on the game three plays later.
"When you specifically look at the screen I thought that was such a big play, because that's after they take the lead on the defensive touchdown," said McVay. "We come back, we have a negative one-yard run on the first play of the drive and you're thinking, 'Man this is really important for us to respond.'
"And then Jared does a nice job kind of drifting away on the screen and Todd sets it up perfectly. John Sullivan (center) gets two people at the point of attack... It's a credit to Todd and the rest of his teammates for doing a great job and coming away with two tough road wins to be able to give us that division championship today."
Kicker Ryan Succop tied the game for the Tennesse at 13-13 just before the half with a 37-yard field goal. The Rams retook the lead on a 65-yard seven-play drive in the third quarter. Goff hit wide receiver Sammy Watkins with a short three-yard slant-in touchdown pass. The lead would change a few more times.
The Titans responded with a touchdown drive set up by rookie kick returner, USC's Adoree Jackson, who returned the kickoff for 57 yards. Mariota drove the Titans 44 yards in five plays ending with a Demarcus Murray six-yard touchdown run to tie the score, 20-20. Succop converted a 27-yard field goal two plays into the fourth quarter to give Tennessee the lead, 23-20.
As on cue, Goff directed the game-winning drive, 68 yards in six plays aided by a 31-yard interference call on a pass to wide receiver Cooper Kupp. Five plays later Kupp caught a 14-yard stretched-out touchdown keeping one knee in-bounds just inside the right end zone sideline. The Rams' defense was able to stop the final three Titan drives for the victory.
The Rams host the red-hot San Francisco 49ers this Sunday, suddenly rejuvenated with former New-England quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm. The Niners are 4-0 with Garoppolo and have their own up-and-coming talented head coach in Kyle Shanahan.
McVay: "There's a lot of different things schematically that I have a whole lot of respect for Kyle and the way that he puts his quarterbacks in good situations... But the talent that this guy (Garoppolo) has can't be denied. I think he's raising the level of play with his teammates around him, guys believe in him, they have a lot of confidence and I think that's displayed by their results."
With a home playoff game in hand McVay and his coaching staff are evaluating which Rams will play against the 49ers this Sunday. "Now, fortunately for us we are fairly healthy, but how we determine as far as getting to that 46 and then if you do go with a Whitworth and a Sullivan then how does that affect Jared or Todd? But the most important thing is for those guys that are banged up right now."
"You don't take anything away for what this game means to us this coming week, but when you say, knowing that you do have the opportunity to play that home playoff game the following week and is it a three (seed), is it a four (seed)?"
"How does that really alter and affect compared to some of things that could potentially occur, that's more than likely the approach that we're going to take."