The rout already was in progress, the statement well on its way to being made.
So when Rams running back Todd Gurley took a handoff late in the first half against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, it was a chance to not only run for another touchdown, but also to do it in style.
Gurley blazed 57 yards to the end zone, moving the Rams closer to an NFC West title and tilting the balance of power in a division recently ruled by the Seahawks.
Gurley rushed for a season-high 152 yards and scored four touchdowns, and the Rams’ defense and special teams also dominated in a 42-7 victory that a silenced a crowd of 69,077 at CenturyLink Field and seemingly signaled a changing of the guard.
“We didn’t want to let up,” Gurley said. “These guys have been kicking our ass for the last 10, 15 years so you got to enjoy it. You got to take advantage of a situation like this.”
Crowds at CenturyLink Field are renowned for making so much noise, the stadium shakes. But the Rams’ victory might portend a seismic shift.
They improved to 10-4 and increased their lead in the division to two games over the Seahawks, the NFC West champs three times in the past four years.
The Rams avenged a Week 5 loss to the Seahawks at the Coliseum and posted 10 wins for the first time since 2004, when they made their last playoff appearance.
“Our guys understood it was a big opportunity,” first-year coach Sean McVay said.
The Rams play at Tennessee next week and then finish the season at home against San Francisco. The Seahawks (8-6) play at Dallas and conclude the season at home against Arizona.
“But it kind of ends when we leave here,” Saffold said, “because to win the division, we’re going to have to win another game to put it out of reach.”
The odds would seem to be in the Rams’ favor if they keep giving the ball to Gurley, who eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the fifth time this season. The third-year pro has rushed for 1,187 yards and scored a league-leading 17 touchdowns, statistics worthy of most valuable player consideration.
“It’s nice handing the ball off and just, ‘Oh, there he goes again,’” said quarterback Jared Goff, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 120 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. “It seems to happen more often than not, but [Sunday] especially. Every time a running play came in, I was like, ‘OK, we got a good one.’ ”
After last week’s loss to Philadelphia, when Gurley rushed for 96 yards in only 13 carries, McVay blamed himself for not getting his star running back more involved.
“Certainly, you don’t want to make the same mistake again,” McVay quipped Sunday.
With the Rams’ defense harassing Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and forcing two fumbles, and punt returner Pharoh Cooper providing the offense outstanding field position, the Rams built a 27-0 lead on two field goals, two one-yard Gurley touchdown runs and Goff’s one-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods, who returned with a team-high six catches for 45 yards after missing three games with a shoulder injury.
Then, with slightly more than 30 seconds left in the half, Goff gave the ball to Gurley.
“When I handed off, it’s like, ‘Oh, this could go for maybe 15, 20 [yards],” Goff said. “I turn around, and sure enough, he put in the extra gear he’s got and ran right by everybody.”
Said Gurley: “It felt good to be able to get in some space and run one of my longest runs since my rookie year.”
“If we can get him to being explosive and doing what he does to churn out those yards, it makes the whole offense have the opportunity to move faster and better. He’s definitely a guy that sets the tone for us.”
For the defense as well.
“It keeps us fresh on the sideline and we’re able to just kind of relax and let them do all the work and be fresh to get pressure on the quarterback,” linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “When you’re playing a Russell Wilson and that type of offense that they have, you definitely have to be fresh and be able to sustain it over a period of time.”
The Rams sacked the usually-elusive Wilson seven times and limited him to 142 yards passing and 39 rushing.
Lineman Aaron Donald had three sacks and linebacker Robert Quinn two for a Rams team that has bounced back from every defeat with a victory the next week.
The Rams won at CenturyLink Field two years ago, but that was during a 7-9 season. After Sunday’s win, Rams players were quick to point out that they must do it consistently to be regarded as the new division heavyweight.
But that did not make the victory any less satisfying.
“We just knew it was matter of time before our opportunity came to come up here and win and be on top of the division,” Ogletree said.
A Christmas Eve victory next week at Tennessee would finish the job. Gurley is eager for the opportunity.
“We got to go out there and take care of business,” he said, “and get a good win for Christmas.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein