Rams’ smash and flash

Peter: NFC’s LA team looks like le­git con­tender

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Josh Peter Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

LOS AN­GE­LES — The Rams weren’t fit­ting them­selves for Su­per Bowl rings after a 30-22 vic­tory over the Cow­boys.

But after Satur­day’s NFC di­vi­sional play­off game, there’s rea­son to be­lieve the Rams could be headed for the big game — and that blue, white and gold con­fetti might be rain­ing down in Mercedes-Benz Sta­dium in At­lanta on Feb. 3 at the con­clu­sion of Su­per Bowl LIII.

First things first: In the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game, the Rams will be fac­ing the Saints, su­pe­rior to the Dal­las team that went down at Los An­ge­les Me­mo­rial Coli­seum. The Saints ousted the de­fend­ing cham­pion Ea­gles 20-14 Sun­day. What bodes well for the Rams, how­ever, is how they beat the Cow­boys.

It was with brute force.

Todd Gur­ley and C.J. An­der­son be­came the first Rams’ tan­dem (and only the fourth in NFL his­tory) to rush for more than 100 yards apiece in a play­off game, and they did so against a team that had given up rush­ing yards spar­ingly. The Cow­boys ranked fifth in rush­ing de­fense dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, al­low­ing an av­er­age of 94.6 yards per game. On Satur­day night, the Rams rushed for 273 yards.

“It’s a big-time deal,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.

Al­most as big: The Rams held Ezekiel El­liott and the Cow­boys to a measly 50 yards on the ground as a team.

Make no mis­take, the Rams’ of­fense is among the most po­tent and so­phis­ti­cated in the NFL. But against the Cow­boys, the en­tire team showed more smash than flash.

Look­ing fresh after miss­ing the Rams’ last two games with in­flam­ma­tion in his left knee, Gur­ley ran for 115 yards and a touch­down on 16 car­ries, and al­most as im­por­tant was An­der­son’s per­for­mance.

When the Rams lost to the Saints 45

35 on Nov. 14, An­der­son was still stuck on the Pan­thers’ bench. Since then, he was re­leased by Carolina, signed by the Raiders and re­leased again. On Dec. 18, the Rams added An­der­son in a trans­for­ma­tive move.

With Gur­ley side­lined for the Rams’ last two games of the sea­son, An­der­son rushed for 167 yards in a vic­tory over the Car­di­nals and 132 yards in a vic­tory over the 49ers. It was no fluke.

On Satur­day night, An­der­son rushed for a game-high 123 yards and two touch­downs on 23 car­ries.

“I’m just try­ing to bring a phys­i­cal game, a phys­i­cal pres­ence,” he said.

He was the Mon­ster Truck to Gur­ley’s Maserati, with Gur­ley look­ing es­pe­cially fast on a 35-yard touch­down in the sec­ond quar­ter.

“The Red Sea parted and I just ran,” Gur­ley said, prais­ing the Rams’ of­fen­sive line for open­ing holes which he was able to dart through.

The Rams’ de­fen­sive line was al­most as im­pres­sive, with Cow­boys star run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott manag­ing just

47 yards on 20 car­ries.

Crit­ics can find rea­son for com­plaints:

❚ On the Rams’ first two pos­ses­sions, they drove to the Cow­boys’ 7- and 5yard line but had to set­tle for field goals.

❚ At times the Rams’ sec­ondary looked shaky against Dak Prescott, who is far less dan­ger­ous than Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees.

❚ Rams quar­ter­back Jared Goff com­pleted only 15 of 28 passes for a pedes­trian 186 yards.

De­spite the Rams’ flaws, there’s no rea­son to be­lieve any of them can keep this Los An­ge­les team from At­lanta.

GARY A. VASQUEZ/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Run­ning backs Todd Gur­ley (30) and C.J. An­der­son (35) cel­e­brates after Gur­ley’s TD against the Cow­boys. An­der­son had two of his own TD runs as both com­bined for 238 rush­ing yards.

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