Two years ago, the Rams visited CenturyLink Field and tilted the balance of power in the NFC West with a rout of the Seattle Seahawks.
Last season in Seattle, Rams coach Sean McVay daringly went for it on a fourth-down play late in the Week 5 game, and quarterback Jared Goff executed a sneak that sealed a two-point victory. The win kept the Rams unbeaten and helped send them on their way to a second consecutive division title and an eventual run to the Super Bowl.
On Thursday night, the Rams open division play against the Seahawks. The NFC West appears to be strong with the San Francisco 49ers off to a 3-0 start, and the Rams and Seahawks each 3-1. The Arizona Cardinals are 0-3-1 under first-year coach Kliff Kingsbury.
“It’s definitely different,” Rams safety John Johnson said of division play. “It’s kind of like all the weeks we just played go out the window — like we have to win this game.
“You want to make the playoffs, you want to accomplish the goals you want to accomplish — you got to win this game.”
The Rams are coming off a 55-40 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Coliseum.
Under McVay, the Rams have only once lost two games in a row. In 2017, McVay held out starters to rest during a meaningless season-ending loss to the 49ers, and the Rams lost to the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card playoff game.
But the Rams have otherwise bounced back from defeats.
Two years ago, for example, the Rams lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 43-35, at the Coliseum, a defeat that dropped their record to 9-4. The Rams traveled to Seattle the next week and demolished the Seahawks.
Repeating that scenario might be difficult against a remade Seahawks team that is getting excellent play from veteran quarterback Russell Wilson and appears to have finally solidified its offensive line to power a rushing attack that features Chris Carson.
“They want to start off pounding the ball so they can get their play-action game going,” Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. “The biggest thing this week is definitely stopping the run up front.”
Linebacker Bobby Wagner leads a Seahawks defense that added ends Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah in the wake of a trade that sent end Frank Clark to the Kansas City Chiefs.
“We’ve been trying to find us,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of his team. “I really feel like we are just continuing to kind of figure it out.
“Hopefully, we can win some games and keep rolling while we are figuring it out, so we can get our act together as we get to the second half of the season and really know who we are, what we are.”
During the offseason, the Seahawks signed Wilson to a four-year, $140-million extension that included $107 million in guarantees.
The mobile Wilson, who led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl victory at the end of the 2013 season, has passed for eight touchdowns, with no interceptions. He also has rushed for two touchdowns.
“It’s the best he’s ever been,” Carroll said.
After failing to control Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, a prototypical pocket passer, the Rams now must try to contain one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks at extending plays.
“It’s a headache, chasing a guy around,” Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “I’d rather play against a quarterback that sits still.”
Said safety Eric Weddle: “With Russell, with the threat of him pulling it any time, it creates some problem plays for you.”
Goff played fairly well and running back Todd Gurley starred in the Rams’ last two games at CenturyLink Field. In 2017, Goff passed for 120 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception, in a 42-7 victory. Gurley rushed for 152 yards and three touchdowns and also caught a touchdown pass.
Last season, Goff passed for 321 yards and a touchdown, with two interceptions, in the 33-31 victory he clinched with his sneak. Gurley had 77 yards and three touchdowns in 22 carries.
Goff enters Thursday coming off a game against the Buccaneers that touched both ends of the performance spectrum.
He completed 45 of 68 passes for 517 yards — all career-bests — but had three passes intercepted and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. Gurley rushed for 16 yards and two touchdowns in five carries, and caught seven passes.
Goff knows what awaits at CenturyLink Field, one of the NFL’s loudest stadiums.
“It should be rocking, Thursday night,” Goff said. “It should be fun. It should be a good one.”