Whit­worth clears path, Rams run by Cow­boys

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - PAGE 2 BITS - BY GREG BEACHAM

LOS AN­GE­LES — Late in his 13th NFL sea­son, An­drew Whit­worth fi­nally got to sa­vor his first play­off vic­tory, al­beit only for a minute or two.

After the burly left tackle briefly cel­e­brated on the Los An­ge­les Me­mo­rial Coli­seum turf with his wife and chil­dren Satur­day night, he rushed back to the Los An­ge­les Rams’ locker room and re­minded his team­mates they’ve only com­pleted a third of their post­sea­son work.

The 37-year-old Whit­worth and the Rams both ended lengthy play­off droughts with their 30-22 di­vi­sional-round win over the Dal­las Cow­boys, and they re­al­ized the im­por­tance of their achieve­ment with­out be­ing sat­is­fied by it.

After ex­tend­ing their sec­ond straight out­stand­ing sea­son to the NFC cham­pi­onship game, the Rams are de­ter­mined to seize this chance to go even fur­ther.

“It’s great, but you know what? I feel like this team has po­ten­tial for more than that,” Whit­worth said. “It’s a great feel­ing, and I’m happy to have it, but I didn’t try to get to the play­offs to just win a play­off game. I’m try­ing to win a Su­per Bowl. That’s the only fo­cus, and now we’re one step closer.”

The Rams took that step while fol­low­ing right be­hind Whit­worth. The en­tire of­fen­sive line couldn’t have drawn up a sweeter sce­nario for this break­through win than punc­tur­ing the Dal­las de­fense for a fran­chise play­off-record 273 rush­ing yards.

That’s the most ever al­lowed in the post­sea­son by the Cow­boys, five­time Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons who were play­ing in their NFL-record 63rd post­sea­son game. Dal­las was even com­ing off a wild-card round vic­tory in which it largely shut down the Seat­tle Sea­hawks’ rush­ing at­tack that led the league this sea­son.

“I feel like we think we can run the foot­ball on any­body,” Whit­worth said. “We were con­fi­dent com­ing into this game that we could do it.”

After a decade of play­off dis­ap­point­ment with the Cincin­nati Ben­gals, last sea­son Whit­worth agreed to join the Rams and a head coach four years younger than him be­cause the vet­eran line­man be­lieved some­thing re­mark­able could hap­pen in Los An­ge­les. The way Whit­worth and his trench­mates man­han­dled Dal­las at the line of scrim­mage was re­mark­able in­deed: The Rams dom­i­nated on the ground from the open­ing drive to C.J. An­der­son’s 1-yard touch­down plunge on fourth-and-goal with 7:16 to play.

An­der­son rushed for 123 yards and two touch­downs, and Todd Gur­ley ran for 115 more yards and an­other touch­down to send the sec­ond-seeded Rams to the NFC cham­pi­onship game for the first time in 17 years. They will visit the New Or­leans Saints for next Sun­day’s 3:05 p.m. show­down.

“Big boys played re­ally great up front,” An­der­son said. “Me and Todd just tried to pick the right spots.”

The long-strug­gling Rams had won only one post­sea­son game since their most re­cent trip to the Su­per Bowl in Fe­bru­ary 2002, but coach Sean McVay added his first play­off vic­tory to a spec­tac­u­lar two-sea­son turn­around of the fran­chise. Los An­ge­les is one win away from an­other Su­per Bowl trip after McVay largely stuck to old-time foot­ball ba­sics with his un­likely run­ning back tan­dem and an of­fen­sive line de­ter­mined to as­sert its su­pe­ri­or­ity.

“It means a lot for this team,” said the 32-year-old McVay, the youngest coach in NFL his­tory to win a play­off game. “That’s what’s spe­cial about it, is to be able to see guys that have suc­cess, talk­ing about a guy like An­drew Whit­worth that’s been play­ing as long as he has.”

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