Whit­worth’s line dom­i­nates as Rams power past Cow­boys

The Bradenton Herald - - Sports & Classif Ied - BY GREG BEACHAM

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 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.

Whit­worth, 37, and the Rams both ended lengthy play­off droughts with their 30-22 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 far­ther.

“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 (14-3) took this step while fol­low­ing right be­hind Whit­worth. The en­tire of­fen­sive line couldn’t have drawn up a sweeter sce­nario for this break­through win af­ter they punc­tured the Cow­boys’ de­fense for a franchise play­off-record 273 yards rush­ing.

That’s the most ever al­lowed in the post­sea­son by the five-time Su­per Bowl cham­pion Cow­boys, who were play­ing in their NFL-record 63rd post­sea­son game. Dal­las was even com­ing off a wild­card round vic­tory in which it largely shut down Seat­tle’s NFL-best rush­ing at­tack.

“I feel like we think we can run the foot­ball on any­body,” Whit­worth said.

Af­ter a decade of play­off dis­ap­point­ment with the Cincinnati Ben­gals, Whit­worth agreed to join the Rams and a head coach four years younger than him last sea­son be­cause he be­lieved some­thing re­mark­able could hap­pen in Los An­ge­les. The way Whit­worth and his line­men man­han­dled Dal­las (11-7) 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 TD 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 TD to send the sec­ond-seeded Rams to the NFC cham­pi­onship game for the first time in 17 years.

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

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

“It means a lot for this team,” said McVay, 32, 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. To see him play at the level that he played at tonight, and then to be able to get his first play­off win with these guys, I know he cares so much about and loves these guys.”

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