Jarrett Bell and Mike Jones from New Orleans and Kansas City on how the Rams and Patriots pulled off their impressive wins to head to the Super Bowl.
USA TODAY Sports
NEW ORLEANS — For just a fleeting moment, the revival of the Rams could be capsulized by one man Sunday afternoon.
General manager Les Snead sweated through his blue dress shirt as he greeted his players following Los Angeles’ victory over the Saints in the NFC Championship Game.
Snead’s feelings were running the gamut — laughing one minute, sharing a poignant moment the next and, ultimately, expressing relief.
“We’ll take it,” he managed after L.A.’s 26-23 comeback was capped by Greg Zuerlein’s playoff-record 57-yard field goal in overtime.
Snead’s emotions felt like an apt microcosm of a hard-fought victory. The game itself appropriately summed up the Rams over the last few years — bleak at the start, thoroughly tested, yet ultimately triumphant.
Snead has been one of the few constants.
“Every journey, every season, every game — it’s a metaphor of life,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “You never know how many bad days you’re gonna have. But the key is you’ve got to weather those, keep getting up, keep doing what you’re called to do, and usually — at the end of the day — you’ll be on the positive side of life.”
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What an odyssey’s it’s been.
Snead’s been at his post since 2012. He endured the years of losing in St. Louis. Helped orchestrate a challenging relocation to Los Angeles. Survived the firing of former coach Jeff Fisher. Enjoyed the franchise’s resurrection under wunderkind coach Sean McVay. Now, the club’s first Super Bowl as the Los Angeles Rams since 1979.
And, in the interim, some pretty nice — dare we say unheralded — work by Snead.
► He quietly brought in Zuerlein and undrafted punter Johnny Hekker in 2012, and the Rams have typically boasted the league’s top special teams units since.
► Snead landed the NFL’s best defensive player, undersized Aaron Donald, in the 2014 draft and rolled the dice on injured Todd Gurley in 2015. Both gambles have paid off in spades.
► In 2016, the Rams made an even bolder gambit, acquiring the No. 1 pick in the draft from Tennessee in order to take Cal quarterback Jared Goff. It looked dicey for a while given Goff’s struggles under Fisher, but he’s bloomed into a two-time Pro Bowler under McVay.
“When you trade up to get a QB — I think it’s obvious you need a solidified QB to have a chance,” Snead said. “But you need a lot of other people.”
And there have been a lot of other people.
Snead’s deal for receiver Sammy Watkins in 2017 ultimately didn’t pan out. The subsequent move for Brandin Cooks did. He found studs like left tackle Andrew Whitworth and wideout Robert Woods in free agency. Corners Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and hulking lineman Ndamukong Suh were added to a new-look defense in 2018. Then, key mid-season pick-ups of edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. and plowing running back C.J. Anderson.
“We kind of have that philosophy to be aggressive. I think we were,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke told USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell.
“You try to calculate the decisions, but we try to be aggressive and get great players. You don’t beat a great team like (the Saints) without great players.”
Talib, who’s in the playoffs with his third different organization, also heaped praise on Snead.
“Credit the GM — Les just don’t grab anybody, he grabs guys he feels like will come into the locker room and hang out after work,” said the brash corner.
“That’s what we do — it’s definitely a special group.”
And, after a rough re-opening in Hollywood — the Rams went 4-12 in 2016, courtesy of the NFL’s worst offense (one not all that many Angelenos paid to watch) — this team certainly became special under McVay and his stellar staff.
“We knew we hired a really good head football coach,” Snead said. “And we knew if we took it one step, one moment, one decision at a time, you can climb up a steep hill.”
Yet it takes the proper equipment, mindset and conditions to summit the Super Bowl peak, and the Rams think they have everything they need to reach it.
“We believed in our culture, we believed in the people who are our leaders — that we could blend everyone together and have the same passion and purpose,” Whitworth gushed after beating the Saints.
“We’ve done it. I can’t say enough about the guys we added and the guy that were here, really just the resiliency since we started.”
One other thing — a little modesty never hurts, either. Snead took his share of slings and arrows while working with Fisher but probably hasn’t received requisite credit for the turnaround as the genius label becomes many have affixed to McVay.
Doesn’t seem to bother Snead, who turned 48 Saturday and was more than satisfied while soaking in a Super birthday present.
“I never in these moments think about myself,” he said as he surveyed his jubilant players in the confined bowels of the Superdome.
“First thing I thought about in this locker room, there’s a lot of moms, dads, grandmas, granddads, high school teachers, high school coaches who made an impact on all these individuals.
“That’s who did the work.”
Maybe. But, as we saw Sunday, Snead has contributed his fair share of sweat and tears along the way.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
Source: “Los Angeles” – Google News