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Rams’ Gurley explodes with 146 rushing yards in second NFL game

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EARTH CITY, Mo. — It was the coming out party that St. Louis Rams running back Todd Gurley had envisioned through a long, arduous rehab from a torn ACL suffered almost a year ago while he was at Georgia.

He knew he had to be patient after the Rams selected him with the 10th overall choice in the draft, and continually said he would play when he was ready to play.

The clock began the previous week with a non-descript six carries for nine yards in a 12-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Gurley knew he wasn’t that far away from breaking some runs, which was his signature while in college.

Sunday, it took until the second half, but Gurley turned on the jets and the result was a 24-22 win for the Rams in a game where he rushed 19 times for 146 yards and featured runs of 20, 23, 30 and 52 yards. Plus, there was his final run of the day that sealed the win and put an exclamation point on a prime example of playing smart football without being a me-first player.

There was no way of knowing what was about to be witnessed after Gurley totaled a mere two yards on four first-half carries, and the Rams gained just 98 yards in the first two quarters in 21 plays.

They led 10-9 at the intermission thanks to an Arizona fumble on the opening kickoff, which led to a touchdown, and three Cardinals field goals after drives were stopped in the red zone.

In the third quarter, his first attempt was for minus-four yards. The Gurley show began on the next possession after the Rams took over on their own 42-yard line following a fumble by wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and recovery by cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

On first down, Gurley blasted up the middle for 23 yards. His next carry was for 12, and suddenly the Rams were at the Arizona 23-yard line. Two Gurley runs totaled five yards, bringing up third-and-5. To that point in the game, the Rams were 2-for-8 on third down to go with 4-for-22 in the previous two games.

But, quarterback Nick Foles threw a pinpoint pass to wide receiver Stedman Bailey in the right corner of the end zone, giving the Rams a 17-9 lead.

In the final quarter, Gurley took over. After the Rams limited Arizona to another red-zone field goal, protecting their lead at 17-15, Gurley went off left guard for 52 yards to the Arizona 16-yard line. Three plays later, Foles held firm in the face of a blitz and connected with a diving wide receiver Tavon Austin for a 12-yard touchdown on another third-down play. The Rams converted five third downs in the game and three were touchdowns.

Gurley wasn’t done. After the Cardinals cut the lead to 24-22, and after the Rams punted and Arizona was stopped on fourth-and-2 at the Rams’ 43, there was 1:44 left in the game. Arizona had all three timeouts remaining, but on first down, Gurley went for 20 yards. He was then dropped for a four-yard loss and gained two yards on a play in which he made sure to stay in bounds, forcing Arizona to use its final timeout.

On third-and-12 from the Arizona 38-yard line, Gurley burst around left end and headed down the sideline. Ahead of him was the goal line and what might have been his first NFL touchdown. Instead, he gave himself up at the 8-yard line, Foles took one knee and the game was over.

“It’s totally unselfish,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “Beyond that, it’s just that for a rookie to have the presence of mind to do that, it says it a lot for his understanding of this game and putting games away. Three times he had three carries where he stayed in bounds and on two of them, he went down.”

Said Foles, “With Todd it doesn’t surprise me. You could tell how he was running and in that situation he knew that as soon as he goes down the game is over. You don’t give them an opportunity to have the ball back. Crazy things can happen. That was a veteran move right there, especially it being possibly his first NFL touchdown on a run like that in a situation like that. It shows you that he is a team guy first and that is what you want. You want a guy that is a team guy first and he shows that each and every day.”

Gurley said simply, “I was just being a smart player and make the right decision. I didn’t want to go out of bounds and hold onto the ball. I could have easily scored, but I was just trying to get the win.”

–Gurley was the 10th pick in this year’s draft, while receiver Tavon Austin was selected eighth overall in 2012 after the Rams traded up. Both were instrumental in the win over Arizona.

Gurley rushed for 146 yards and caught two passes for 15 yards. Austin had six receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns, plus two runs for 20 yards. The duo combined for 277 of the team’s 328 yards in the game.

Said quarterback Nick Foles, “They are both very talented individuals and we have talented guys all around. The important thing is to spread it around and give the playmakers the ball and let them do their thing. It starts up front with our o-line. O-Line really got some seams going today and gave me some protection where I was able to deliver some throws.”

On Austin, Foles said, “Tavon is a playmaker. He made some plays that not many people can make. Especially on some end-arounds, catching the deep ball and his last touchdown getting across that guy’s face. Being able to come down with that throw, he just has to keep going. He is one of those guys where the sky is the limit.”

Austin said he was glad to see Gurley have a big day. “I’m really happy about it, especially for Gurley,” he said. “It is his rookie year and I know how I was as a rookie. You have a lot of weight on your shoulders. Last week was tough on him and all of us. He came out this week and he exploded.”

–The Cardinals made five trips to the Rams’ red zone, but came away with one touchdown and four field goals.

Said head coach Jeff Fisher, “When you’re playing someone like (quarterback) Carson (Palmer) with the athletes that they have and as well coached as they are, you go into it saying, ‘They’re going to get down there, but field goals are going to be a win for your defense.’ When you can hold them to three rather than seven, you feel pretty good about it.”

Until a 23-yard pass for a touchdown to running back David Johnson after the Cardinals had reached the 19-yard line, Arizona ran 14 plays from inside the 20 for a total of seven yards. The Cardinals had five running plays for minus-three yards, while Palmer was 4-for-7 for 24 yards and was sacked twice for 14 lost yards.

On another possession that reached the Rams’ 25-yard line, the Cardinals gained one yard on three pass plays.

Said cornerback Janoris Jenkins, “Every time we are in the red zone we don’t let anyone cross our end zone. We strive for that in practice all during the week and it comes out and shows on game day.”

REPORT CARD VS. CARDINALS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B. QB Nick Foles was efficient, completing 16 of 24 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 126.9. The offensive line did a solid job in protection, as Foles was sacked only once. In addition to his 96 yards and two touchdowns, WR Tavon Austin also had a 47-yard play. WR Kenny Britt was targeted only once and the pass was incomplete, while WR Brian Quick was active for the first time this season, but played just six of 53 snaps and was not targeted.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A. Considering he played just 14 of 52 snaps in his debut the week before against Pittsburgh, RB Todd Gurley was a workhorse Sunday. He played 36 of 53 snaps, and had 21 total touches. Gurley rushed for 146 yards and had 125 on four runs. His other 15 attempts totaled just 21 yards. In the fourth quarter, he had nine rushes for 106 yards and 102 on three runs. RB Tre Mason played just two snaps and carried on both of them for minus-1 yard.

–PASS DEFENSE: B-plus. Cardinals QB Carson Palmer passed for a bunch of yards (352) on 29 completions, which was an average of just 7.7 per catch. The longest play was a 23-yard touchdown pass to RB David Johnson, but there weren’t many big plays. CB Janoris Jenkins had a spectacular end-zone interception, and the pass rush dropped Palmer four times.

–RUN DEFENSE: B. Arizona rushed for 113 yards (5.4-yard average) and RB Chris Johnson had 83 yards on 16 runs (5.2-yard average), but the ground game didn’t hurt them. Thirteen of the yards came on an end-around by WR John Brown.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus. Perhaps the biggest play of the game came on the opening kickoff when S Mark Barron stripped Arizona’s David Johnson and Daren Bates recovered at the 17-yard line. It took three plays for the Rams to score a touchdown, and it was the first time the Cardinals had trailed in a game this season. The Rams never relinquished that lead. P Johnny Hekker had six punts for a 49.7-yard average and 45.1 net. The coverage team did an outstanding job on PR Patrick Peterson, who was limited to 32 yards on five returns with a long of 12.

–COACHING: A. When he was asked all week about issues with facing the undefeated Cardinals, Fisher often said, “Hey, they have to play us.” Left unsaid was that Arizona hadn’t faced a team in their first three games with a defense as good as the Rams. Even without him saying it to his team, the players knew it, and the defense hung in despite being on the field for 33:13. Fisher also repeated the mantra that the offense was improving, and while there were struggles with six of 12 possessions failing to produce a first down, the emergence of Gurley in the second half accentuated Fisher’s positive approach.

Notes: Linebacker Alec Ogletree suffered a fractured ankle in Sunday’s game against Arizona and will undergo surgery Tuesday. Fisher declined to be specific about the injury, but said a decision on Ogletree’s status will be made after the surgery. At the minimum, he is expected to be placed on reserve/injured, designated for return, but could be out for the rest of the season depending on what else, if anything, is found during surgery. Ogletree was credited with 11 tackles by the coaches before being injured, and has 55 in four games, including 46 solo. Fisher said, “It’s unfortunate because I don’t know if you can find a linebacker that’s playing better than he was during the first four weeks of the year.” … Linebacker Akeem Ayers, who has been starting on the strong side, will slide to Ogletree’s spot on the weak side. Ayers played just 22 snaps Sunday because of the number of three-receiver sets the Rams faced. … Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who was released by the Rams in the cutdown to 53 players, might be brought back to replace Ogletree on the roster. Dunbar had been the starter on the weak side until Ogletree was selected in the first round of the 2013 draft. Dunbar is expected to undergo a physical Tuesday, at which point the Rams will decide whether to re-sign him. … Running back Trey Watts was reinstated from reserve/suspended Monday after missing the first four games of the season. Watts was at the team facility Monday, and does not immediately count against the 53-man roster. He received a roster exemption that expires Monday, Oct. 12.


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