NFL rush­ing ti­tle would be ‘pretty cool’

Lethbridge Herald - - SCOREBOARD - Greg Beacham

Todd Gur­ley prob­a­bly would have won his first NFL rush­ing ti­tle last year if the Los An­ge­les Rams hadn’t rested ev­ery key starter in their sea­son fi­nale.

Gur­ley was san­guine about the de­ci­sion at the time, say­ing all the right things about the big­ger pic­ture and the Rams’ play­off goals.

With Gur­ley in the NFL rush­ing lead again as the reg­u­lar sea­son heads into its fi­nal weeks, the su­per­star run­ning back is telling the real story about the end of 2017.

“Yeah, I was ly­ing,” Gur­ley said with a laugh. “I re­ally did care about the ti­tle. I couldn’t say noth­ing. No one re­ally plays for reg­u­lar (sea­son) goals, but that would be a pretty cool thing to get. I tell peo­ple that all the time: ‘You play for team goals, but who wouldn’t want to be the NFL sack leader? Who wouldn’t want to be the NFL pass­ing or rush­ing leader? It’s hard to get it.’”

This time around, Gur­ley is openly hop­ing he can get the first rush­ing ti­tle since 1987 for the Rams (11-1) — and their race for the NFL’s best over­all record might ac­tu­ally work in his favour. With Los An­ge­les in a tight race with New Or­leans (10-2) for the NFC’s top seed, the Rams might not be able to keep Gur­ley off the field in De­cem­ber.

Gur­ley heads into Sun­day’s game at Chicago (8-4) with an NFL-best 1,175 yards, but just 26 more than Dal­las’ Ezekiel El­liott, the 2016 rush­ing champ. Gur­ley also leads the NFL with 1,649 all-pur­pose yards and 19 touch­downs af­ter top­ping the league in both cat­e­gories last sea­son.

Gur­ley is thriv­ing again in his role as the cen­ter­piece of coach Sean McVay’s dom­i­nant of­fence, putting him in the run­ning for a sec­ond straight AP Of­fen­sive Player of the Year award. But this life­long NFL fan also un­der­stands the his­toric im­por­tance of a rush­ing ti­tle, and he wants his name in the books be­side the best run­ning backs.

Gur­ley went into Week 17 last sea­son with the league rush­ing lead at 1,305 yards, but McVay de­cided a week of rest for the play­offs was more im­por­tant than their last reg­u­lar-sea­son game against San Fran­cisco. Kansas City rookie Ka­reem Hunt sub­se­quently passed him with a 35yard TD run on his only carry of the Chiefs’ fi­nale.

“Def­i­nitely wanted to get it last year, but what­ever,” Gur­ley said. “We didn’t play in the last game. I’m just go­ing to fo­cus on these next cou­ple of games, and what­ever hap­pens, hap­pens. I’m just happy that we were able to clinch a play­off spot and just go from there.”

The Rams are al­ready play­off-bound af­ter beat­ing Detroit last week, and they could clinch a first-round bye with a win over Chicago this Sun­day. But even if they beat the Bears in chilly Chicago, the Rams are likely to be pushed down the stretch by New Or­leans for home-field ad­van­tage in a po­ten­tial NFC cham­pi­onship game matchup.

That race means McVay is un­likely to rest his starters un­less the Rams are guar­an­teed two home play­off games at the Coli­seum. New Or­leans al­ready beat Los An­ge­les this sea­son, so the Rams need to fin­ish one game ahead of the Saints.

McVay has an­other rea­son to rely heav­ily on Gur­ley: Mal­colm Brown, Gur­ley’s backup for all four sea­sons of both run­ning backs’ ca­reers, is out for the year af­ter in­jur­ing his col­lar­bone last week. Gur­ley and Brown are close friends who lift weights and hang out to­gether away from the Rams’ train­ing com­plex.

Brown’s re­place­ments are Justin Davis and rookie John Kelly, two solid backs with lit­tle NFL ex­pe­ri­ence. Gur­ley gen­er­ally con­trols his own play­ing time on the field, only leav­ing when he de­cides he needs a rest, but the Rams are even more likely now to lean on him in any key sit­u­a­tion.

Gur­ley re­al­izes it isn’t easy to be his backup, let alone a third-stringer. His 279 touches are sec­ond in the league to El­liott’s 293 this sea­son.

“It’s pretty tough, be­cause you’re do­ing ev­ery­thing dur­ing OTAs and you’re do­ing stuff in camp, and then it’s like, if you’re not a guy on the ac­tive roster, you’re not re­ally get­ting many reps at all,” Gur­ley said. “I feel like those guys will be fine when they get in the game.”

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