The Coliseum was a rollicking sea of green and gold Sunday, a Left Coast Lambeau, and Aaron Rodgers was getting the ball back with two minutes to play and the Green Bay Packers trailing by two points.
We’ve all seen this movie before.
In a blink, under-the-radar Rams linebacker Ramik Wilson swiped the script and stuffed it in the shredder. Green Bay’s Hall of Fame-bound quarterback didn’t get a chance to get the ball back. Moments after the home team took a 29-27 lead with a field goal, Wilson stripped returner Ty Montgomery on the ensuing kickoff and recovered the fumble.
“It was one of the biggest collisions I’ve been in, so we both felt it and he fumbled,” Wilson said.
Offense has won games for the undefeated Rams this season. Defense has won games. And this time, special teams answered the call.
“When everything like that is going your way, it’s destiny,” said Mark Barron, who tackled running back Aaron Jones in the end zone for a safety in the second quarter. “I’m feeling like it’s destined for us.”
No question, the Rams are focused on the present. But after an 8-0 start and playing the kind of complementary football they played Sunday — one group dips, another picks up the slack — there’s an undeniable feeling in that locker room that this is shaping into a special season.
“We’re not overly focused on trying to make plays,” defensive end Michael Brockers said. “Everything just happens. That’s why everybody can play free. Nobody’s stressed. As long as you do your job, execute the defense, offense, whatever, it will come together.”
There were lots of pins-and-needles moments in this one, with the offense sputtering for 2½ quarters before Todd Gurley shocked it back to life by turning a short reception into a 30-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.
Gurley finished with 195 yards from scrimmage with a receiving touchdown that pushed his NFL-leading total to 15. He’s the fourth player with at least 15 touchdowns in his team’s first eight games, joining Jim Brown (17 touchdowns in 1958) and Priest Holmes (15 in 2002 and 2004).
With 1:05 left and the Packers desperate to get the ball back, Gurley tore off a 17-yard run before making the heady decision to stop short of the end zone — Green Bay was going to let him score — and fall at the four-yard line. Had he scored, the Rams would have been up by eight points (without the extra point), and the Packers might have had the tiniest flicker of a hope. But his decision to take the dive, in a year when he could set the NFL’s rushing touchdown record, reflected the unselfish ethos of this team.
“It sums up where we are as a team,” tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “It’s about mastering situations, not about individual accomplishments. We go over that situation all the time. You don’t want to score, you want to eat the clock. So he made a humble, loyal decision to the team.”
It was special teams that won this for the Rams, and not just Wilson’s big play on the return. Johnny Hekker punted five times in the first half — as many times as he punted in the first three games combined — and helped put the Rams on the scoreboard in the second quarter with a punt to the one, which was downed by a tightrope-walking Sam Shields. A Green Bay run was stuffed for a safety on the next play.
Greg Zuerlein, in his second game back from a groin injury that sidelined him for several weeks, made field goals of 43 and 34 yards.
So the Rams came away with not just a victory but also a grind-it-out slog they can store in their memory banks, one in which they fell behind by 10 points, got up by 10, and throughout felt like visitors in their stadium. There was a healthy contingent of Rams fans at the game, but the place was at least half Packers backers.
“It sounded like a home game at times for us, the crowd was fantastic,” Rodgers said. “I don’t really expect that, maybe in L.A., but I know they had five L.A. teams playing today, so I was glad the Packer fans showed up. … Just disappointed we couldn’t get one last drive.”
The Rams had only 38 yards in the first quarter, yet finished with 416.
With the box checked on Rodgers, the Rams face three more outstanding quarterbacks in a row. There is Drew Brees in New Orleans on Sunday, at home against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks and then against Kansas City and scorching second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Mexico City.
The challenges are substantial. Rodgers picked apart cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Troy Hill, and clearly the team misses the injured Aqib Talib, who cannot return from injured reserve until after the Week 12 bye.
The offense could use injured receiver Cooper Kupp back, as he helps in the passing and running games. That could happen this week. Several players stepped up Sunday, among them receiver Josh Reynolds and tight end Gerald Everett, but Kupp is a vital cog. Robert Woods was typically reliable, and Brandin Cooks is re-emerging as a threat after a concussion interrupted his season.
And of course keeping quarterback Jared Goff healthy is paramount. He has been sacked five times in two of the last three games — by Denver and Green Bay — which is more evidence he needs Kupp back.