Rams cap turnaround, clinch NFC West crown
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At this time two years ago, linebacker Alec Ogletree and his Rams teammates were as good as gone, the team’s long-rumored move from St. Louis to Los Angeles finally consummated about two weeks after the season.
Last year, Ogletree and the Rams lost 11 of their last 12 games. Coach Jeff Fisher was fired before Week 15, and the team finished an ugly 4-12.
On Sunday, Ogletree and his teammates celebrated in the visitors’ locker room at Nissan Stadium. Their hats advertised Los Angeles’ surprise NFC West title.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Ogletree said after the Rams’ 27-23 win over the Tennessee Titans. “It’s a happy feeling for sure. We haven’t been that good in past years, and last year was one of our worst years. To turn this around and flip the script, you couldn’t write a better story.”
The clinching chapter for the Rams (11-4) was authored largely by running back Todd Gurley, with help from quarterback Jared Goff and a defense that repelled Tennessee’s final drive.
Gurley rushed 22 times for 118 yards while catching 10 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first player since Herschel Walker of the 1986 Dallas Cowboys to run for 100 yards and rack up 150 receiving yards in the same game.
“He’s good, man,” Tennessee linebacker Avery Williamson said. “He’s a good player, man, one of the best in the league. They use him in a lot of ways.”
Goff connected on 22 of 38 passes for 301 yards and four touchdowns, including a 14-yarder to a diving Cooper Kupp with 11:51 left in the game that erased a 23-20 deficit.
The defense came up with the clinching stop. On a fourth-and-4 at the Los Angeles 43, Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota dropped back to throw, looking for tight end Delanie Walker. Mariota saw no one open, and he was flushed to his right by outside linebacker Connor Barwin.
Mariota heaved the ball toward the first-down marker as Barwin threw him to the turf, but the pass was knocked down with 1:35 remaining.
Walker said he was open but wasn’t sure if Mariota saw him while going through his progressions.
“I’ve got to throw it up there and give my guys a chance in that situation,” Mariota said.
Mariota completed 22 of 39 passes for 275 yards, but he tossed an interception on his first pass as backup linebacker Cory Littleton stepped in front of Rishard Matthews at the Los Angeles 45-yard line.
Four plays later, the Rams were in the end zone. Goff found a wide-open Gurley out of the slot for a 3-yard touchdown, the game’s first score, at the 8:54 mark of the first quarter.
Tennessee (8-7) answered with a 25-yard field goal from Ryan Succop with 1:13 left in the period, then took its first lead at the 5:20 mark of the second quarter with a defensive touchdown. Jurrell Casey hit Goff before he could hand off to Gurley and forced a fumble. Wesley Woodyard picked it up at the 4-yard line and rumbled in for the score.
That lead lasted two plays. Goff flipped a simple screen pass to Gurley, who turned it into an 80-yard touchdown with 4:24 left in the half, making it 13-10 Rams. Succop tied the game at the half with a 37-yard field goal 19 seconds before intermission.
Los Angeles regained the advantage when Goff flipped a 3-yard scoring strike to Sammy Watkins with 6:40 left in the third quarter, a play after Gurley ran 10 yards on fourth-and-1. The Rams appeared to get away with a false start before Gurley’s run as tight end Tyler Higbee flinched.
The Titans responded with a 6-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray with 4:23 in the third, then grabbed the lead on the fourth quarter’s second play when Succop converted a 25-yard field goal.
However, they weren’t able to hang on, enabling Jacksonville to clinch the AFC South title during the first quarter of its game in San Francisco. However, Tennessee can still earn a wild-card spot if it beats the Jaguars next week.
As for Los Angeles, it no longer has to worry about clinching scenarios.
“You can’t say enough about our football team’s mental toughness, coming away with a big road win in a tough environment,” first-year coach Sean McVay said. “It certainly wasn’t perfect, but all three phases found a way to contribute.”
NOTES: Tennessee CB Logan Ryan (ankle), who left the San Francisco game last week in the second quarter, was inactive. Brice McCain started in his place. ... Other Titans inactives were QB Brandon Weeden, OLB Josh Carraway, DE David King, OL Corey Levin, CB Demontre Hurst and WR Harry Douglas. ... Los Angeles deactivated RB Lance Dunbar, LB Mark Barron, DB Isaiah Johnson, RB Justin Davis, OT Cornelius Lucas, OLB Matt Longacre and OLB Kasim Edebali.