As he came onto the field before Sunday’s game at CenturyLink Field, Rams coach Sean McVay stopped to acknowledge a taunting fan holding a large sign with a message:
“McVay looks like a junior high P.E. teacher.”
A few hours later, the 32-year old McVay gave a master’s-degree lesson in empowerment.
Facing a late fourth-quarter decision to either punt or go for it on fourth down, McVay appeared to boldly reverse himself, telling quarterback Jared Goff to sneak against the Seattle Seahawks.
Goff got the necessary yardage, and the Rams held on for a 33-31 victory before a crowd of 68,893.
The Rams improved to 5-0 with a comeback victory that included three touchdown runs by Todd Gurley, Cairo Santos’ redeeming fourth-quarter field goal and Goff’s clutch sneak.
“The toughness and resolve of this football team was certainly tested,” McVay said.
No one was tested more than McVay, the reigning NFL coach of the year.
On a day when receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp left the game because of concussions, the Rams overcame mistakes, missed opportunities and a defense that struggled to contain Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
Sunday was another barometer game for the Rams, who had had routed the Seahawks here last season in a victory that tilted the balance of power in the NFC West.
The Rams began the season by defeating the Oakland Raiders, Arizona Cardinals and Chargers with relative ease before holding off the Minnesota Vikings last week.
Goff passed for 321 yards and a touchdown Sunday, with two interceptions. But without Cooks and Kupp, he was not as sharp as he was in his five-touchdown performance against the Vikings.
The Seahawks led 31-24 before Gurley pulled the Rams within a point with his third touchdown early in the fourth quarter. But Santos missed wide left on the extra-point attempt, and the Rams trailed 31-30.
Santos redeemed himself with a 39-yard field goal with about six minutes left to give the Rams the lead, and the defense finally stiffened on the ensuing drive, forcing the Seahawks to punt and give the offense the ball with 3 minutes 28 seconds left.
Gurley rushed the ball four times, but the Seahawks stopped him on third and one with 1:39 remaining and the ball at the Rams’ 42-yard line.
The punt team went onto the field before Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called a timeout. Most Rams players were sure that McVay was putting the game in the hands of the defense.
“I thought we were punting,” Goff said. “Went back onto the field just to talk to one of the officials about something, and as I’m turning around the offense is running back on.
“I’m like, ‘All right, I guess we’re going for it.’ ”
Goff wasn’t the only player caught off guard. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth said that he was on the bench with his helmet on the ground. He joked that he was in “full pouting mode” about not getting the job done and having to punt.
“And I realized the whole offense was out there,” he said, “and took off running.”
So did Gurley. “I just see Goff ran back on and then, I’m like, ‘Oh, snap,’” he said.
Left guard Rodger Saffold lobbied for McVay to go for it.
“He was either going to be the saint or the donkey of the week,” Saffold said.
Said McVay: “It was a little bit of a whirlwind, but everybody was on the same page. Once we made the decision, it’s final.”
Goff went into the huddle and gave the offense a short inspirational message.
“Jared had a couple words for us,” right tackle Rob Havenstein said.
Words he could share?
“Probably not printable,” Havenstein said, chuckling.
Goff recognized the stakes. If he came up short, Wilson and the Seahawks were a short distance from getting into field-goal range for Sebastian Janikowski, who already had converted from 52 yards.
“If we don’t get it,” Goff said, “the game’s over. It was all riding on one play.”
McVay was confident the risk was worth it.
“If you’ve got to get six inches to win a football game,” he said, “what better opportunity is there going to be?”
Goff took the snap from center John Sullivan and pushed forward on the right side for two yards. He leaped up and pumped his fist, knowing the victory was in hand.