By Nick Shook
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After a long wait, the Los Angeles Rams (11-4) are finally heading back to the playoffs. The Rams clinched the NFC West title Sunday with a 27-23 victory over the Tennessee Titans (8-7). Here’s what we learned:
1. The Rams‘ long playoff drought, which stretches back to St. Louis, Marc Bulger and Mike Martz, is finally over. Los Angeles clinched the NFC West in wunderkind coach Sean McVay’s first season with a win over Tennessee in a game that required all 60 minutes. A Titans team even more desperate for a win didn’t go down easy, scratching and clawing to multiple slim leads before a touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp gave the Rams a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. For the Rams, it’s a sweet T-shirt-and-hat week, Victory Monday on Christmas and the cap to an incredible one-year turnaround. For the Titans, it’s another frustrating loss in a season that’s suddenly slipping away.
2. We can officially get on the Todd Gurley for League MVP train. Find me at the front car. Gurley again powered the Rams‘ offense, toting 22 times for 118 yards and catching an eye-popping 10 passes for 158 yards and two scores, including an 80-yard screen pass that served as a great example of how Gurley seems to only be getting better as the season progresses. Every Gurley carry and reception is must-see TV, whether it’s for the game-breaking potential or the possibility of another defender hurdled. A back like Gurley changes a franchise and serves as the difference in close games such as the one we saw Sunday.
3. The Titans are, again, a maddening tease. Tennessee shows plenty of capability to move the football and produce points when it’s between the 20s, but once inside them, struggles mightily. It happened once early, and set the tone for an offense that finished the day 1 for 4 in the red zone. When equipped with a mobile quarterback like Marcus Mariota (22 of 39, 275 yards, one interception, 67.8 passer rating), that’s simply unacceptable. For a team hoping to squeeze its way into the playoffs despite recent struggles, that’s not encouraging, to put it lightly.
4. Bonus point for a couple of deserved nods: Jared Goff was excellent after rebounding from a fumble, which came as a result of right guard Jamon Brown stepping the wrong way on a zone stretch play and leaving Goff to get flattened by Jurrell Casey, who is a very large man. Goff posted a 22-of-38 passing line for 301 yards and four touchdowns, including a scoring connection to Kupp, who made a fantastic catch after a huge drop earlier in the second half.