Rams run over Dallas Cowboys to advance to NFC championship game
He was brought in late in the season to the fill the void left by an injured Rams star running back Todd Gurley.
Instead, C.J. Anderson is now part of an unexpectedly prolific 1-2 punch.
On Saturday, Anderson and Gurley combined to rush for 238 yards and three touchdowns, Greg Zuerlein kicked three field goals and the Rams controlled Ezekiel Elliott en route to a 30-22 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in an NFC divisional playoff game before more than 77,187 at the Coliseum.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Rams coach Sean McVay said in an understatement.
The Rams are one victory from playing in the Super Bowl.
They advanced to the NFC championship game and will play the winner of Sunday’s divisional-round game between the top-seeded New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles.
If the Saints beat the Eagles, the game will be played at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. If the Eagles win, the Rams will play again at the Coliseum.
“To be able to even play for a Super Bowl is crazy for me, just crazy,” Gurley said after his first game since Dec. 16. “I can’t even explain it right now. We’re just getting a glimpse of that feeling.”
The Rams lost to the Saints and the Eagles during the regular season and were struggling in early December.
With Anderson filling in for Gurley, the Rams and Jared Goff bounced back with consecutive victories over the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers, earning a bye through the wild-card round of the playoffs and setting the stage for Saturday’s game.
Now it could be the Saints or the Eagles standing in their way of advancing to the Super Bowl in Atlanta.
“We feel like we can, and we’re going to beat either team we have to play,” center John Sullivan said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in New Orleans. It doesn’t matter if it’s home against the Eagles.
“We’re confident we’re going to win that game.”
They have a good chance if they get similar production from Anderson and Gurley, who helped the Rams put behind last season’s wild-card loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys boasted the NFL’s fifth-best rushing defense during the season, and limited the Seattle Seahawks, the league’s top rushing team, to only 73 yards in a wild-card victory last week.
But that did not stop the Rams from running through their front seven.
Anderson rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns in 23 carries, and Gurley ran for 115 yards and a touchdown in 16 carries. The Rams outgained the Cowboys in total yards, 459-308.
“We have a lot of fun together,” said Anderson, who has rushed for 422 yards and four touchdowns in three games.
Joked Gurley: “I guess it was a good thing I got hurt.”
McVay and general manager Les Snead said the Rams are not surprised by the performance of Anderson, a sixth-year pro who began his career as an undrafted free agent.
He played on two Super Bowl teams with the Denver Broncos, was a Pro Bowl player in 2014 and rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. He joined the Carolina Panthers this season, but was released by that team and then the Oakland Raiders before the Rams signed him.
“The guy’s been in the Pro Bowl before, the guy’s won a Super Bowl and the guy’s pass-protected for Peyton Manning before,” Snead said. “And he actually ran the ball well at Carolina earlier this season.
“So to say, ‘Hey, he was on the couch, it’s out of left field,’ would probably be a little off base.”
The 5-foot-8, 225-pound Anderson said he just tries to bring a physical presence to a rushing attack.
“I’ve always found a way to hold my own, no matter what,” he said.
Now the Rams have a potent combination.
“Having both of them is special, and it gives you a real dual threat,” said Goff, who passed for 186 yards and scrambled for late first down that sealed the victory, the first postseason win in his young career.
Count defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh among those not surprised by the Anderson-Gurley combination.
“C.J’s done it before,” he said, “and Todd is Todd.”
Anderson scored on a short run in the second quarter to give the Rams a 13-7 lead. Gurley’s 35-yard scoring run increased the lead to 20-7.
The Cowboys pulled to within eight points after quarterback Dak Prescott ran for a touchdown and tossed a two-point conversion pass to Amari Cooper.
But Anderson’s second touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, on a fourth-and-goal from the one, put the Rams ahead, 30-15.
The Rams ranked 23rd in rushing defense this season, but they did not play like that against the Cowboys.
Elliott, the NFL’s leading rusher for the second time in three seasons, was limited to 47 yards and a touchdown in 21 carries. Prescott completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown.
But the defense helped stave off a possible Cowboys comeback when safeties John Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner stopped Elliott on a fourth-and-one play to start the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been standing up in crunch time, big moments all year,” Johnson said. “So, I mean, it was kind of routine, and hopefully we can carry on to these later games.”
Notice the plural.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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