Birds’ Long has whole lot of love for his old team
ANAHEIM, CALIF. » Eagles veterans Chris Long and Rodney McLeod weren’t around when the Rams moved to Los Angeles. But the reminders of what could have been for those products of the University of Virginia are everywhere this week as the Eagles gear up to take on the Rams, who gave those Long and McLeod their starts.
When the Rams were in St. Louis, they took Long off the board with the second pick in the 2008 draft.
Long, 32, got a taste of what it would be like early as Scott Linehan was fired after an 0-4 start and Jim Haslett, the defensive coordinator, won just twice the rest of the way, the Rams finishing 2-14.
Long played for four different head coaches in eight seasons with the Rams, Jeff Fisher cutting him after the 2015 campaign. Long started 95 of 114 games, recording 61½ sacks, 11 forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries.
“If I never got cut, I wouldn’t have a Super Bowl ring, so I’m not one of those guys that I’m upset,” Long said. “I love those dudes that I played with. A lot of people that I still talk to on a regular basis still are there. If I hadn’t played like crap, I wouldn’t have got cut. If I didn’t get hurt, I wouldn’t have got cut. I wasn’t 100 percent and that’s what happens in this league. So, I never hold any ill will towards a former team. I had eight great years there and I’ve got great respect for that organization.”
The Super Bowl ring came last year when Long played in every game for the New England Patriots, notching three sacks. Long opposed the Rams last year at Gillette Stadium. As for rookie Jared Goff, who threw two interceptions in a 26-10 loss then, Long says he respectfully applauds what Goff and this edition of the Rams are doing.
The Rams are 9-3. That’s two more victories than Long tasted in any season with the Rams, the team going 3-29 his first two years and a collective 39-88-1 (.448) in eight seasons.
“Yeah, I could see this coming,” Long said. “Certainly, it took a while for guys that were there. But Coach (Sean) McVay has got them doing a great job. There were always some pieces there. That defense is playing well. And to me, I’m not surprised they’re playing well. There’s a lot of good people in that locker room, and good football players.”
McLeod, 27, didn’t miss a game in four seasons with the Rams, who signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia in 2012. He left in free agency after the 2015 season, the Rams logging a 7-9 mark, the best then head coach Jeff Fisher achieved in his five-year tour.
When McLeod looks at this Rams team and its upside, he can only smile.
“I was there for four years,” McLeod said. “Obviously, I would have loved for that to happen when I was there. But I’m happy for where I am. And I’ve got a lot of guys over there that I know. So, happy for them. They’re playing well. And we’re going to have to bring our A game on Sunday.”
The Rams are favored by 2½ points over the Eagles, who are coming off just their second loss in 12 games. The game features quarterbacks Goff and Carson Wentz, who came off the board 1-2 in the 2016 draft, and are playing like it.
Both teams have solid running games, the Rams with certain AllPro performer Todd Gurley, one of the most complete three-down backs in the NFL, the Eagles with their committee of Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement.
The Rams have Sammy Watkins, a 6-1, 205-pound big body receiver with sprinter speed and a penchant for getting into the end zone. He has six touchdowns and averages 17.0 yards per reception. Robert Woods could miss the game with a shoulder injury.
The Eagles counter with Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, with seven TDs apiece. Both teams need a win.
“We are a pretty even-keeled group,” Long said. “And it doesn’t matter whether we’re in a hotel or sleeping at home, when we come out on the practice field we’ve got to get some good work done. And we’re playing a great team. Those guys deserve success.”
Chris Long, left, helps carry fellow Rams defensive end Robert Quinn off the field with William Hayes, right, after Quinn set a team singleseason sacks record in a game in 2013 against the Tampa Bay Bucs in St. Louis.