Improved Rams get second chance
Marcus Peters was in Amari Cooper’s face from the Cowboys’ opening drive until the postgame handshakes, where the Rams cornerback gave one last shove to the Dallas receiver.
Peters didn’t win all of his matchups with Cooper. In fact, his unnecessary roughness penalty from his first scrap with Cooper led directly to Dallas’ first touchdown in the clubs’ divisional playoff game Saturday night in Los Angeles.
But for better or worse, Peters also exemplified his team’s determination not to be pushed around by anyone — and sometimes, they’ll even start the fights.
With their 30-22 victory over the Cowboys, the Rams (14-3) are headed to the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday with an incendiary attitude and renewed proof of their toughness on both sides of the ball.
“Our sense of focus and the sense of urgency have gone up tremendously,” guard Rodger Saffold said.
The Rams have built a reputation for cerebral, clever play during two seasons of coach Sean McVay’s influential offensive schemes. But one big difference between last season’s team, which lost its first playoff game, and this season’s NFC championship-bound squad is the Rams’ provocative new defensive players, led by Peters and fellow cornerback Aqib Talib, along with a team-wide embrace of physical, disruptive play.
The Rams know they’ll have to be tough again when they visit New Orleans for the third time this season, counting a preseason trip to the Big Easy. Los Angeles took its first loss of the year at the Superdome on Nov. 4, falling 45-35.
“I think we match up really well (with the Saints),” Saffold said. “I think we’ll have a better plan against them the second go-round.”
The Rams also will have Talib, who was out with an injury when Los Angeles native Michael Thomas made 12 catches for 211 yards as the Saints ran wild in the Rams secondary.
“The Saints have a highly controlled game plan,” Rams edge rusher Dante Fowler said. “They’ve got every- thing down pat, and they’re going to execute it.”
Fowler could only smile when left tackle Andrew Whitworth led the blocking for Todd Gurley’s 35-yard TD run in the first half.
“They played very physical, lights out,” Fowler said. “The intensity that Whitworth brought, that set the tone. Especially with that touchdown that Gurley had, I think that was the real tone-setter. That was the difference in the game . ... That’s when I knew we were going to win the game.”