Whit­worth’s line dom­i­nates as Rams power past Cow­boys

The News & Observer - - Sports - 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

‘‘ I’M TRY­ING TO WIN A SU­PER BOWL. THAT’S THE ONLY FO­CUS, AND NOW WE’RE ONE STEP CLOSER.

Rams of­fen­sive tackle An­drew Whit­worth

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 wild-card 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. “We were con­fi­dent com­ing into this game that we could do it.”

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 sec­ond­seeded 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 long-strug­gling 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 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. 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.”

Next week­end, they will face the win­ner of the other di­vi­sional play­off game in New Or­leans be­tween the top-seeded Saints and the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pion Philadel­phia Ea­gles. COW­BOYS CRACKED: The Cow­boys hadn’t al­lowed two 100-yard rush­ers in a play­off game since the NFL-AFL merger. Los An­ge­les racked up more yards than the Cow­boys had al­lowed on the ground all sea­son, a par­tic­u­lar em­bar­rass­ment for a proud, ef­fec­tive de­fense. STOP­PING ZEKE: While An­der­son and Gur­ley ran wild, NFL rush­ing cham­pion Ezekiel El­liott man­aged just 47 yards and a touch­down on 20 car­ries. All-Pro de­fen­sive tackle Aaron Don­ald and Ndamukong Suh both had out­stand­ing games, but the Cow­boys blamed them­selves for their in­abil­ity to es­tab­lish a con­sis­tent rush­ing at­tack, par­tic­u­larly against the Rams’ run de­fense, which had been spotty.

“They dom­i­nated us up front,” El­liott said. “We didn’t get any move­ment.”

DY­NAMIC DUO: An­der­son joined the Rams last month as an emer­gency fill-in for Gur­ley, who in­jured his knee and missed the fi­nal two games. An­der­son has a Su­per Bowl ring from Den­ver, but he also was re­leased by the Bron­cos, Carolina and Oak­land over the past nine months.

An­der­son has played three games for Los An­ge­les, and he rushed for at least 100 yards in all three.

Gur­ley and An­der­son be­came the fourth set of team­mates in NFL his­tory to rush for 100 yards apiece in a post­sea­son game while Dal­las gave up 200 yards rush­ing in a play­off game for the first time since Eric Dick­er­son did it for the Rams in 1986.

DROUGHTS CON­TINUE: Dak Prescott passed for 266 yards and rushed for a TD with 2:11 to play, but the Cow­boys couldn’t climb out af­ter fall­ing into a 23-7 hole mid­way through the third quar­ter.

The Cow­boys still haven’t won a play­off game on the road in 26 years. Af­ter win­ning the NFC East and beat­ing Seat­tle last week, Dal­las lost in the di­vi­sional play­off round for the sixth con­sec­u­tive time and fell short of its first trip to the NFC cham­pi­onship game since Jan­uary 1996.

“It’s been a great sea­son, all the ups and downs at 3-5 and be­ing counted out,” Prescott said. “Just the way we were able to get back here was in­spir­ing. We had a good team, and when you feel con­fi­dent about that team and lose, it hurts. We’re a young team. We have a lot of guys with the right makeup to get back here and get to the next round.”

GINA FERAZZI Los An­ge­les Times

Los An­ge­les Rams run­ning back Todd Gur­ley, left, cel­e­brates with tackle An­drew Whit­worth af­ter scor­ing dur­ing Satur­day’s sec­ond quar­ter against the vis­it­ing Dal­las Cow­boys dur­ing the NFL Di­vi­sional Round. The Rams ad­vanced 30-22.

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