How far the Rams have come isn’t measured in yards or air miles.
Finally, they’re good enough to be discerning about how they win.
They ground out a 23-20 victory at Denver on Sunday, a week after doing so at Seattle — two of the NFL’s most inhospitable venues for visitors. Yet the undefeated Rams boarded their buses knowing they have so much more to give. It was a dirty, gritty W.
Still, they picked up their sixth win, at least twice as many as any other NFC team except New Orleans (four).
Jared Goff was not happy with his accuracy Sunday — his 58.8 passer rating was a shadow of his “perfect” 158.3 against Minnesota, for instance — and the Broncos got to him a lot. He was sacked five times, after being sacked a total of six in his first five games.
It was 25 degrees at kickoff, the coldest game Goff has played in, and he wore gloves on both hands, although he said that didn’t affect his accuracy.
But the cold didn’t derail the team from sunny Southern California, and that was an important triumph for the Rams.
“I know in Cincinnati when I was there, it was a complete insult if a team from the West Coast could come and beat you in a cold game,” tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “That was like the biggest insult possible. Because it’s, ‘These guys are never in this kind of weather. They’re not used to clouds. They’re not used to snow, conditions when it’s not perfect to run around and throw the football.’ That was your big deal, your mantra all week: ‘This team can’t come in here and win.’
“The cold is a factor. It affects throwing the ball, catching the ball. It’s not an excuse, but it is a factor, and we weren’t as crisp as we usually are.”
For the first time all season, the Rams scored fewer than 33 points. They didn’t make a bunch of first-team All-DVR plays. Brandin Cooks had just two catches, and Cooper Kupp had to be carted off after a nasty horse-collar tackle caused his knee to buckle. (He briefly returned in the second half but wasn’t the same.)
But stopping these Rams is like trying to dam a flood. Like water, they just find another way around the obstacle. Sunday, that meant Todd Gurley running for 208 yards, and Robert Woods coming up with several big plays, including a 19-yard gain on third and 13 near the end when the Rams absolutely had to put points on the board.
Sure, there weren’t a lot of style points. But if rolling up 444 yards and winning at Denver is laying an egg, it’s a golden egg.
Make no mistake, the Rams have causes for concern. The injury to Kupp is troubling. He was somber and introspective after the game, giving the impression he might not bounce back from Sunday’s injury with the resiliency he did after last week’s concussion. Chances are the pressure will be on another receiver, most likely Josh Reynolds, to pick up the slack.
Gurley might be the leading NFL most valuable player candidate at this point, but every team is going to be loading up to stop him — no change there — and he can’t be expected to have a huge game every week.
Guard Rodger Saffold (knee) is banged up and so is defensive end Michael Brockers (shoulder), and those are pivotal players.
And maybe the biggest concern is something that surfaced in the Seattle game, too. The Rams are giving up far too many explosive plays down the field. The Broncos were repeatedly picking on cornerback Troy Hill, and future opponents will follow that lead.
Denver’s Case Keenum is hard to sack, and he throws an accurate deep-timing ball. He was doing that a lot Sunday, and the Rams paid the price. It kept the Broncos in the game. Sunday’s contest should not have come down to Denver failing to recover an onside kick. The Rams failed to slam the door and instead let the Broncos back in.
If the Rams fail to fix their defensive leaks, it will cost them. OK, so they face San Francisco’s C.J. Beathard next Sunday, and he doesn’t have a gaudy resume. But the quarterbacks the Rams face after that are, in order, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes — an impressive quartet.
Then again, after a wet game in Seattle and a cold one in Denver, the Rams are either playing in California or in a dome in the next four weeks.
After clearing the field Sunday, Denver’s grounds crew put up a realtor-type sign at the edge of the grass for anyone, such as reporters, with access to the playing surface.
“Enjoy the view,” it read, “but please keep off the grass.”