Postgame attire for Rams players typically ranges from flashy suits to casual sweats. But Sunday’s sartorial choice was heavy on blue T-shirts and gray and black caps.
Both items were emblazoned with “NFC West Champions” after the Rams clinched their first division title since 2003 with a 27-23 victory over the Tennessee Titans before an estimated crowd of 50,000 at Nissan Stadium.
“It was exciting, man, breathtaking,” Todd Gurley said of the celebratory locker room scene, adding, “That’s what football’s all about.”
Jared Goff passed for 301 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner to Cooper Kupp early in the fourth quarter, but Gurley was the focal point of a victory that improved the Rams to 11-4 and guaranteed them a home playoff game.
The third-year running back amassed 276 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns, the latest exclamation point in a turnaround season under first-year coach Sean McVay.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” McVay said.
More like a giant leap.
The Rams were 4-12 last season under Jeff Fisher, who was in attendance Sunday.
Now, they could finish 12-4 under McVay.
“Just everything he’s done since he got here Day 1, it’s been so impressive,” said Goff, who engineered his first fourth-quarter comeback victory. “Hasn’t changed a bit. Same to me every day, and he goes about his business the same way every day.
“And I think it rubs off on players, and it rubs off on me for sure.”
Other players echoed Goff’s summation, especially veterans who suffered through losing seasons with a franchise that had not had a winning season since 2003.
“Christmas came early — for real this time,” said offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, an eight-year pro and the longest-tenured Rams player.
Linebacker Robert Quinn credited McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who kept alive his streak of taking teams that hire him to the playoffs his first year on the job.
“They instill confidence within the players, within the system,” said Quinn, drafted by the Rams in 2011. “Guys just believed in what they were preaching.
“Well worth the wait, I’ll tell you that.”
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson agreed.
“This is history right here,” said Johnson, a member of the 2012 draft class. “A stepping stone.”
Middle linebacker Alec Ogletree, drafted in 2013, sat at his locker trying to soak in the moment.
“It means everything,” he said. “We had a lot of down years here, and for us come in here and turn it around like we did, you couldn’t ask for a better story.”
The victory followed last week’s rout of the Seattle Seahawks, who’d won the division in three of the previous four seasons, and ensured that the Rams will finish 8-1 in games away from the Coliseum.
It did not come easy against a Titans team that is fighting to keep alive its playoff hopes.
With Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, the NFL’s leading scorer,out for the season because of a back injury, recently-signed Sam Ficken struggled early, missing a field goal and an extra point, enabling the Titans to keep it close.
But for the second week in a row Gurley was the difference, rushing for 118 yards in 22 carries and catching 10 passes for 158 yards.
His biggest play came late in the second quarter, after Titans defensive tackle Wesley Woodyard scooped up a Goff fumble and returned it for a touchdown and a 10-6 lead.
On the second play of the ensuing series, Gurley caught a screen pass and dashed 80 yards for a touchdown.
“When things don’t go right, it seems like he always comes out and adds a spark or gives life back to the team,” Quinn said.
The Titans kicked a field goal to go ahead, 23-20, early in the fourth quarter, setting the stage for Goff.
The Rams got a break when the Titans were called for pass interference, moving the ball to the Titans’ 28. Five plays later, Goff lofted the ball to the diving Kupp in the back of the end zone.
The Rams defense made it stand up, ending a final threat when linebacker Connor Barwin chased quarterback Marcus Mariota on fourth down and forced him to throw an incomplete pass.
Teammates mobbed Barwin on the field.
“I was just so tired, I couldn’t stand up, so i think I fell,” Barwin said, laughing. “But it was a tough game; even that last play was everything I had.
“Great for this organization, these guys and this team to get this win.”
McVay said players would be off Monday and Tuesday and then return to prepare for the season finale at home against the San Francisco 49ers. It remains to be seen how man snaps McVay gives key players in the finale. But those decisions will come later.
The Rams are NFC West champions.