The margin was only 22 yards.
That’s how close Rams running back Todd Gurley came to winning the NFL rushing title last season after coach Sean McVay held out starters in the regular-season finale to rest for the playoffs.
Gurley said at the time that he was fine with the decision. “You’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” he said before Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs clinched the title with a 35-yard touchdown run in his only carry. Hunt finished with 1,327 yards, Gurley 1,305.
With four games remaining this season, Gurley again is in the race to finish first. He leads the league with 1,175 yards rushing heading into the Rams’ game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday night at Soldier Field.
On Wednesday, Gurley was asked about last season, and he acknowledged that finishing on top of the rushing list would be meaningful.
“Yeah, I was lying, I really did care about the title,” Gurley said, chuckling, before adding, “That would be a pretty cool thing to get.
“I tell people that all the time: It’s like you play for team goals but who wouldn’t want to be the NFL sack leader? Who wouldn’t want to be the NFL passing or rushing leader?”
The rushing title is only one achievement that Gurley is chasing for a Rams team that is 11-1, has clinched the NFC West and is competing for home-field advantage through the playoffs.
Gurley is on track to possibly repeat as the NFL offensive player of the year and is also among the favorites to win most valuable player honors.
In the Rams’ victory at Detroit last Sunday, Gurley rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns in 23 carries and caught three passes for 33 yards.
“That’s kind of par for the course for him,” McVay said. “You don’t ever take it for granted.”
Part of Gurley’s effectiveness stems from his ability to avoid turnovers. In 233 carries, he has fumbled only once — in Week 3 against the Chargers.
“I try not to even think about it,” Gurley said of his success, adding, “When you lose the ball, that’s like the worst feeling ever, because you know everybody is talking about you, even your teammates.
“So, that’s the last thing you want to do.”
Ball security will be paramount against the Bears. The forecast calls for temperatures in the 20s, and the Bears lead the NFL with 30 takeaways. The Rams have lost only four fumbles, tied for second fewest in the league.
Gurley will have to adjust his routine Sunday.
Gurley and backup Malcolm Brown had a sideline ritual that began in 2015 when they were rookies.
Preparing for the Rams’ first possession, one of them clutched a ball while the other repeatedly punched it with both fists. Then they switched.
Brown suffered a clavicle injury against the Lions and is expected to be placed on injured reserve, ending his season.
Second-year pro Justin Davis and rookie John Kelly will fill in for Brown, who also was a special teams standout.
“They’ll be fine when they get in the game,” Gurley said. “They’re definitely going to play because I’m pretty sure I’ll get tired a play or two.”
Gurley, however, is certain to be on the field for every important play of a potential run to the Super Bowl.
It remains to be seen how McVay will handle Gurley’s playing time as the playoffs near.
“I’m just going to focus on these next couple of games and whatever happens, happens,” Gurley said. “I’m just happy that we were able to clinch a playoff spot and just go from there.”
McVay welcomed wet and cold-for-Southern California conditions during practice. “If there was going to be a week that the weather isn’t exactly what we’re accustomed to out here in L.A.,” he said, “we’ll take it because it helps us get ready for the elements that we’re going to be playing in on Sunday. Kind of a blessing in disguise for us.” … The Rams will practice Friday and then depart for Chicago.
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein