The Rams are not playing in the Super Bowl, but a postseason awards haul Saturday once again illuminated that they have the leadership and talent to contend for a spot in coming years.
Sean McVay was announced as the Associated Press coach of the year, running back Todd Gurley offensive player of the year and defensive tackle Aaron Donald defensive player of the year during the NFL Honors show at the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium.
It was the first time that one team has swept all three awards.
“It’s a great night for the Rams organization,” McVay said after the show.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who will lead his team against the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, won the most-valuable-player award. Brady, at 40 the oldest player in history to win MVP, also won the award in 2007 and 2010.
The Chargers’ Keenan Allen was the comeback player the year after catching 102 passes.
McVay, at 31 the youngest coach in modern NFL history, took over a team that had not posted a winning record since 2003, and led the Rams to an 11-5 record, the NFC West title and their first playoff appearance since 2004. The Rams lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the wild-card round.
McVay, also the play-caller, transformed an offense that ranked as the NFL’s worst in 2015 and 2016, and turned it into the league’s highest-scoring unit, averaging 29.9 points a game.
McVay also was instrumental in quarterback Jared Goff’s ascent from struggling No. 1 overall pick in 2016 to a top-10 passer.
“This is the ultimate team award,” McVay said. “It’s very humbling and flattering to receive this, but this is a reflection of our team and our organization.
“Great coaches, great players and I’m just happy to be a part of it… Great players like that make you a better coach.”
McVay won the award over the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, the Eagles’ Doug Pederson and the Minnesota Vikings’ Mike Zimmer. As he concluded his acceptance speech during the telecast, McVay looked at Donald, Gurley and Goff in the audience.
“The future looks bright with these guys leading the way,” he said. “This is a credit to you guys.”
Gurley, 23, was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 2015 in St. Louis, but he struggled in the Rams’ return to Los Angeles in 2016.
McVay deployed him this season as a runner and receiver, and the 6-foot-1, 226-pound Gurley responded with a performance that put him in MVP consideration.
Gurley rushed for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns in 279 carries and also caught a team-best 64 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns. His 19 touchdowns led the league.
“In life you go through highs and lows,” Gurley said. “It’s just all about how you maintain and handle the situation and, you know, bounce back from it or however you want to call it.
“For me to go through what I did — not just me, the whole team; this is a team award. For us to get this award is crazy for sure.”
Donald, 26, had another outstanding season despite sitting out offseason workouts and training camp because of a contract dispute.
The 6-1, 285-pound Donald played in only 14 games but still recorded 11 sacks, increasing his career total to 39.
“I’m trying to hold back tears,” he said of winning the award. “I’m trying to man up but it’s just crazy. I can’t really put it in words.
“This is what you work for. So to be here holding this trophy is crazy. It’s a blessing.”
Donald was the NFL’s defensive rookie of the year in 2014. He has been voted to the Pro Bowl four times in four seasons. He is the first defensive tackle since Hall of Famer Warren Sapp in 1999 to win the defensive player of year award.
“That’s one of the best ever to do it,” Donald said of Sapp. “For my name to be next to that guy’s name is beyond a blessing.
“My dad be telling me since I was 12 years old, working out in my basement, trying to work to get to this point. Hard work paid off. So you put the body of work in, it’s going to pay off.”
Donald is scheduled to make about $6.9 million in 2018, in the final year of his rookie contract. The Rams have said they are working to come to a new agreement.
“I got a good team of great agents that I know they’re going to handle the business side — and I trust them,” Donald said. “All I can do is play football, put it on film [and] when it happens it happens. But like I said I have a great team with me, so I’m going to let them guys handle it.”
McVay said he was aware that after the Rams’ performance this season— and Saturday night’s sweep — that the bar has been raised.
“I know that there will be some raised expectations,” he said. “But we love that. We won’t shy away from it.”
Among other award winners:
Offensive rookie of year: Running back Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Defensive rookie of year: Cornerback Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints
Comeback player of year: Receiver Keenan Allen, Chargers
Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award: Linebacker Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers
Assistant coach of year: Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Minnesota Vikings
Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year: Defensive end J.J. Watt, Houston Texans
Don Shula national high school coach of year: Robert Garrett, Los Angeles Crenshaw