Sunday’s NFL action included an absolute beatdown in Foxborough and saw Nick Foles’ Eagles run out of magic. Trysta Krick breaks it all down.
USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES – Bring on the gumbo.
Sean McVay is taking his team back to the Big (Not So) Easy for the NFC title game, which is just the way it should be for the Los Angeles Rams in trying to earn a ticket to Super Bowl LIII.
Handle the unfinished business or go on home.
All week, the Rams will be reminded of what happened in Week 9 – when their perfect record went up in flames in a 45-35 shootout loss at the raucous Superdome and they couldn’t guard Mike (Thomas).
And we can’t forget the fire that Rams cornerback Marcus Peters spoke with in defeat. His rough day in man-to-man coverage resulted in Thomas (whose Twitter handle is @Cantguardmike) burning L.A. for 12 catches, 211 yards, a back-breaking 72-yard TD and one in-your-face flip phone celebration.
When someone mentioned after that game how Saints coach Sean Payton crowed about liking the matchup that had Peters assigned to his all-pro receiver, the cornerback promised the Rams would see them again, and he looked forward to chatting with the coach over gumbo.
More columns: Read more commentary from columnist Jarrett Bell
There’s seafood gumbo, chicken gumbo, andouille sausage gumbo …
“It’s going to be a great challenge, especially just having to deal with that atmosphere and that environment with those fans going crazy,” McVay said during a media conference call.
At least they know what’s coming … and what it would take to silence the place.
McVay didn’t specifically address Peters’ state of mind. But he talked up the mental toughness his team demonstrated in battling back from a 21-point deficit against the Saints to tie the game at 35 in the fourth quarter, and the response in the ensuing weeks – if not Peters’ classic response in the immediate aftermath.
But that was then. Yes, accounting for Thomas will still be an issue, evident with his 12-catch, 171-yard, 1-TD statement against the Eagles in the divisional playoff. But two words may illustrate how different the Rams defense might be this time around: Aqib Talib.
Talib, the veteran cornerback with a Super Bowl ring on his decorated resume, wasn’t on the field in early November when Drew Brees blistered the Rams for 346 yards and 4 TDs (zero picks). Now he’s back in the flow of Wade Phillips’ defense.
“Yeah, it’s a big difference,” McVay said, alluding to Talib’s veteran presence and impact on the secondary’s communication.
“When you get your two guys out there on the edges, I think that will enable us to do some different things coverage-wise, be a little more flexible. What a great job Michael Thomas did affecting that (divisional playoff) game … and he’s going to be a big focal point for us to be aware of where he’s at.”
Last week, the Rams heard so much about a spotty run defense that allowed an NFL-worst 5.1 yards per carry in the regular season, with rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott coming to town. Well, they handled Elliott on Saturday night (47 yards, 2.4 per carry).
“Of course, it was a lot of talk in the media,” Talib reflected on Saturday night, “but we just said, ‘Man, it’s postseason. Nothing else matters but this game.’ ”
Same deal now. Another one-game season.
In finishing off Dallas, the Rams rolled with another dimension – a 1-2 backfield combination — that underscored how the ebb and flow of a grueling NFL season can impact a team. Todd Gurley is still arguably the NFL’s best running back, but as he missed the final two regular-season due to knee inflammation, the Rams’ discovery of veteran castoff C.J. Anderson turned into a boon.
With Gurley and Anderson both striking triple-digits, the Rams set a playoff record with 273 rushing yards against Dallas (even quarterback Jared Goff got into the act, with a game-sealing, 11-yard scramble) that demonstrated a completeness that is the essence of playoff football.
Of course, the Saints have this, too, with the Alvin Kamara-Mark Ingram tandem. But the Rams didn’t have this a month ago. Now Anderson has a streak of three 100-yard games to complement the electric Gurley, with an ultimate test looming against a Saints defense ranked No. 1 against the run.
“I guess it was a good thing I got hurt,” Gurley joked. “C.J. got me, was able to come in and do his thing. I mean, he’s been doing his thing his whole career. The last three weeks have been phenomenal, 100 yards each time, so we’ve just got to keep it going.”
Add it to the list of potential swing factors for yet another rematch in these NFL playoffs.
Or maybe the difference comes on fourth downs. On Sunday, the Saints found momentum when Payton called for a fake punt, then capped their first TD drive with Brees throwing on another fourth-down from the 2. On Saturday night, McVay dismissed a chip-shot field goal attempt, too, that would have made it a two-possession game in the fourth quarter. Instead, he gambled – and won — with Anderson ramming it in from the 1. That, after his defense stuffed Elliott on a fourth-and-1.
“We always talk about attacking success and never fearing failure,” McVay said of his fourth-down call. “I think that really just personifies our team mindset and mentality.”
When the Rams and Saints met in Week 9, Payton was 2-for-2 on fourth-down calls, while McVay was 0-for-2, including a faked field goal attempt when the holder, punter Johnny Hekker, was ruled short of the first down marker as he stretched before landing out of bounds.
Ah, Week 9. That was then. This is now, when in Gurley’s words, “Every team is Super Bowl or bust.”
And especially these two teams, with the gumbo on full blast.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.
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Source: “Los Angeles” – Google News