Rams show they be­long as ti­tle con­tender • Chiefs KO Colts

The Jerusalem Post - - SPORTS - • By JOSH PETER

The Los An­ge­les Rams weren’t fit­ting them­selves for Su­per Bowl rings Satur­day after a 30-22 vic­tory over the Dal­las Cow­boys. But after the NFC di­vi­sional play­off game, there’s rea­son to be­lieve the Rams could be headed for the big game – and that blue, white and gold con­fetti might be rain­ing down in­side Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium in At­lanta on Fe­bru­ary 3 at the con­clu­sion of Su­per Bowl LIII.

First things first: In the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game, the Rams will be fac­ing ei­ther the Philadel­phia Ea­gles or the New Or­leans Saints, both su­pe­rior to the Dal­las team that went down at Los An­ge­les Me­mo­rial Coli­seum on Satur­day night. What bodes well for the Rams, how­ever, is how they beat the Cow­boys.

It was with brute force. Todd Gur­ley and C.J. An­der­son be­came the first Rams tan­dem (and only the fourth in NFL his­tory) to rush for more than 100 yards apiece in a play­off game, and they did so against a team that has given up rush­ing yards spar­ingly. The Cow­boys ranked fifth in rush­ing de­fense dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, al­low­ing an av­er­age of 94.6 yards per game. On Satur­day night, the Rams rushed for 273 yards.

“It’s a big-time deal,’’ Rams coach Sean McVay said.

Al­most as big: the Rams held Ezekiel El­liott and the Cow­boys to a measly 50 yards on the ground as a team.

Make no mis­take, the Rams’ of­fense is among the most po­tent and so­phis­ti­cated in the NFL. But against the Cow­boys, the en­tire team showed but more smash than flash.

Look­ing fresh after miss­ing the Rams’ last two games with in­flam­ma­tion in his left knee, Gur­ley ran for 115 yards and a touch­down on 16 car­ries, and al­most as im­por­tant was An­der­son’s per­for­mance.

When the Rams lost to the New Or­leans Saints 45-35 on Novem­ber 14, An­der­son was still stuck on the Carolina Pan­thers’ bench. Since then, he was re­leased by the Pan­thers, signed by the Oak­land Raiders and re­leased again. On De­cem­ber 18, the Rams added An­der­son in a trans­for­ma­tive move.

With Gur­ley side­lined for the Rams’ last two games of the sea­son, An­der­son rushed for 167 yards in a vic­tory over the Ari­zona Car­di­nals and 132 yards in a vic­tory over the San Fran­cisco 49ers. It was no fluke.

On Satur­day night, An­der­son rushed for a game-high 123 yards and two touch­downs on 23 car­ries.

He was the Mon­ster Truck to Gur­ley’s Maserati, with Gur­ley look­ing es­pe­cially fast on a 35-yard touch­down in the sec­ond quar­ter.

“The Red Sea parted and I just ran,’’ Gur­ley said, prais­ing the Rams’ of­fen­sive line for open­ing holes through which him to dart.

The Rams’ de­fen­sive line was al­most as im­pres­sive, with Cow­boys star run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott manag­ing just 47 yards on 20 car­ries.

Crit­ics can find rea­son for com­plaints:

On their first two pos­ses­sions, the Rams drove to the Cow­boys’ 7- and 5-yard line but had to set­tle for field goals.

At times the Rams sec­ondary looked shaky against Dak Prescott, who is far as dan­ger­ous as Ea­gles quar­ter­back Nick Foles or Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees.

Quar­ter­back Jared Goff com­pleted only 15-of-28 passes for a pedes­trian 186 yards.

If the Rams’ sched­ule al­lows for it, Goff said, he planned to watch the Ea­gles and Saints play Sun­day. De­spite the Rams’ flaws, there’s now rea­son to be­lieve nei­ther can keep this Los An­ge­les team from At­lanta.

Chiefs 31, Colts 13

This wasn’t just a play­off win, it was an ex­or­cism.

Decades of frus­tra­tion, one loss seem­ingly more ag­o­niz­ing than the next. Nail-biters and blowouts alike, losses on the road and ones in front of their long-suf­fer­ing and loyal fans. For 25 years now, Kansas City has come up empty, its sea­son cut short be­fore the AFC Cham­pi­onship – a game that ends with the win­ner hoist­ing a tro­phy named for long­time Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt.

So, yes, this one was spe­cial, a vic­tory that was so much more than that. For only the sec­ond time in the last 12 tries, the Chiefs are win­ners in the post­sea­son. For the first time since Joe Mon­tana and Mar­cus Allen were rep­ping the red and gold, Kansas City will play for the AFC ti­tle. At home, no less. “Couldn’t be more ex­cited,” Clark Hunt, Lamar’s son and cur­rent CEO of the Chiefs, said after the com­fort­able vic­tory over In­di­anapo­lis on Satur­day af­ter­noon. “It’s been a long time com­ing.”

If you’re a Chiefs fan, it’s un­der­stand­able if you’ve felt bad karma be­fell your team along the way. Even Mon­tana couldn’t bring this team a Su­per Bowl. Couldn’t even get the Chiefs there.

And when Kansas City does seem to fi­nally have a break­through team, they run into the Colts. Al­ways the Colts. All week long, the talk has been about that de­ba­cle in the 2013 wild­card game, when Kansas City blew a 28-point sec­ond-half lead as An­drew Luck staged a come­back for the ages.

But the Chiefs have some­thing spe­cial in Patrick Ma­homes. And he rep­re­sents the NFL’s fu­ture, not Kansas City’s hor­rific past.

Ma­homes has been de­fy­ing ex­pec­ta­tions all sea­son, play­ing with a ma­tu­rity be­yond his years. This game was no dif­fer­ent. He fin­ished 27-of-41 for 278 yards. He also ran for a 4-yard score late in the sec­ond half – a huge play given Ma­homes had ap­peared to tweak his right knee two drives ear­lier.

Chants of “M-V-P” echoed through­out Ar­row­head as the game wore on and giddy fans re­al­ized their agony was about to end. When the fi­nal whis­tle sounded, fire­works ex­ploded above the sta­dium, and it was as if the en­tire city ex­haled.

“We wanted to light up the city. We didn’t want to take mem­ory lane,” de­fen­sive end Chris Jones said. “We want to keep it go­ing. I told the team, ‘Get used to this feel­ing.’”

The drought is over, the de­s­pair has lifted. After so many years, the Chiefs’ luck has fi­nally turned. (USA To­day/TNS)

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