There came a point Sunday when this showdown of NFC contenders was no longer Rams versus Seahawks.
It was Rams vs. Record Books.
“They beat us pretty good today,” quarterback Russell Wilson said after the 42-7 Rams victory. “They scored in every fashion you can imagine.”
Todd Gurley turned in a season’s worth of work in a single Sunday. Johnny Hekker punted twice, and not until the second half. The Rams led 40-0 before the home team finally put points on the board.
The defense sacked Wilson seven times, and that’s not counting an intentional-grounding call in the end zone for a safety.
“He tried to roll one way and a guy was in his face,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “He tried to go another way, somebody was in his face. So any time you bottle him up and not give him a lot of space to do things, it’s good.”
The Rams sauntered away with more than a signature win. They delivered an indelible tattooing.
With games remaining at Tennessee and at home against San Francisco, the Rams are perfectly capable of doing a mind-boggling reversal, from 4-12 to 12-4.
The NFC is looking increasingly like a mosh pit of good-but-not-great teams, and the Rams are squarely in the mix. They are on track to win the NFC West, meaning they would play host to a first-round playoff game, a suggestion that before the season would have gotten you laughed out of any respectable establishment.
In the first three quarters of this season, the Rams went 3-1, 3-1 and 3-1. They are 1-1 in the fourth quarter, with two highly winnable games in their path.
After each loss, the Rams have rebounded with a win. They fell to Washington, then came back on a Thursday night to win at San Francisco. They lost to Seattle, then won at Jacksonville. Lost to Minnesota, then beat New Orleans. The trend continued Sunday, a week after a wrenching home loss to Philadelphia.
“I think it just shows how much we believe in each other,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “How we don’t let any team beat us twice. That we don’t let something that happened the previous week carry into the following week. That we’re able to flush stuff pretty quickly and move on. It’s the sign of a good team.”
Sunday’s thrashing was so complete, the temptation is to say the balance of power has shifted in the NFC West, from Seattle to Los Angeles. That talk could be premature, though, because these Seahawks are severely compromised on defense. They’re without two stars of their secondary, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner was a shell of his usual self Sunday, hobbling around on a bum hamstring. In the hours before kickoff, defensive end Frank Clark was hooked up to an IV to get hydrated. These were not the Seahawks we have come to know.
Are we seeing a seismic shift in the tectonic plates of the division? Seattle does have its hurdles ahead. The once mighty Seahawks are hamstrung by age, injuries and burdensome contracts. They’re going to have a hard time keeping Earl Thomas, Sherman and Chancellor, three big-money members of their secondary, and it will be a delicate balancing act to get this core group of players to stay together as long as it can.
The Rams, meanwhile, have a star quarterback and running back who are both 23, and a trio of receivers — Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods, and Cooper Kupp — who are 25 or younger. They are the NFL’s second-youngest team, yet play with uncommon maturity.
Gurley put on a clinic, punctuating his 152-yard rushing game by scoring on three runs and one reception. He joins Marshall Faulk as the only players in Rams history with at least 150 yards rushing, three rushing touchdowns and a receiving touchdown in the same game.
Sunday’s was their most complete performance of the season, with five touchdowns by the offense, 149 yards given up by the defense, and 180 yards of returns by Pharoh Cooper. He even fielded a punt with a Willie Mays-style, over-the-shoulder catch, an indication he was feeling especially confident.
Hekker, conversely, barely broke a sweat with his two punts.
“I feel fresh,” he said. “Any time I can go an entire half without a punt, I know that our offense and defense are doing a great job of getting us the ball back in plus territory. This doesn’t happen here.”
The Rams did what the Chargers failed to do Saturday night in Kansas City. With the playoff picture coming into focus, the Rams slammed the door on the fingers of a divisional bully.
By comparison, the fingers of the Rams are just fine. Well, most of them. Hekker did have his right hand packed in ice after the game, an injury he shrugged off.