The first time that running back Todd Gurley was voted into the Pro Bowl, the Rams were suffering through a losing season, leaving the then-rookie with no other postseason engagements.
Gurley happily participated in the late January exhibition.
Now, for the second time in three years, Gurley is among the leaders in Pro Bowl voting, ranking sixth among players at all positions.
Gurley welcomes the recognition from fans but aims to have a full calendar when the Pro Bowl is staged the week before the Super Bowl.
“I want to be able to still be playing and competing for a Super Bowl,” Gurley said Thursday, “and that’s everybody’s goal.”
Gurley and the NFC West-leading Rams will continue their playoff push Sunday when they play the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles at the Coliseum.
Gurley has rushed for 939 yards and eight touchdowns. He has caught 48 passes for 563 yards and three touchdowns.
Gurley and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson are the only players in franchise history to amass 1,500 yards from scrimmage and score 10 touchdowns in the first 12 games of a season.
Gurley’s outstanding play has helped the Rams rank among the league leaders in scoring for most of the season. They are tied with the Eagles, averaging 30.1 points a game.
First-year Rams coach Sean McVay has taken advantage of Gurley’s pass-catching ability, adding a dimension to Gurley’s skill set and the Rams offense, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said.
“The biggest addition to the offense is his ability to catch the ball in a lot of different spots,” Pederson said. “You’ve seen him catch balls down the seam, out of the backfield, screen passes, moving him around.”
It won’t be surprising if McVay turns to Gurley as a receiver against an Eagles defense that ranks third overall and first against the run, giving up only 68.1 yards a game on the ground.
Tackles Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan and linebacker Mychal Kendricks are among Eagles players who will try to shut down Gurley.
“I love being in a game like this,” Gurley said, adding, “You have to beat the best in order to be the best. That’s why I play the game — to be one of the best.”
Gurley would welcome the honor of being voted to another Pro Bowl — the fan vote ends Dec. 14, with players and coaches voting Dec. 15 — but is focused on the Rams’ larger goals.
“If I get in, I get in,” he said. “If I don’t, it won’t be the end of the world.”
The Eagles also have a formidable rushing attack featuring running backs LeGarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and rookie Corey Clement, and 6-foot-5, 237-pound quarterback Carson Wentz.
Wentz has rushed for 283 yards — and 26 first downs — for an offense that averages 143.3 yards a game rushing, second in the NFL.
“Any time you have a quarterback that adds the yardage, it makes you one of the top rushing teams too,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “So, they’ve got all that.”
The Rams have given up long runs in the first half of several games but have made adjustments and shut down opponents’ rushing attacks in the second half.
They’ve given up 122.8 yards rushing per game, which ranks 27th, but have given up only 18.5 points, which ranks seventh.
“We’ve got to stop the run well enough to win the game,” Phillips said. “We hadn’t been dominating against the run, but we’ve also not given up many points and that’s the No. 1 thing.”