LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay felt the pressure. So did quarterback Jared Goff. Despite producing back-to-back division titles for the first time in nearly four decades, both coach and quarterback knew the results that matter most are those posted in the playoffs.
Last season, they fell flat in a wild-card loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
On Saturday, in front of a boisterous sold-out, and celebrity-packed, crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, McVay executed a masterful game plan in a 30-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys in a NFC divisional round game.
The Rams now await the winner of a divisional-round matchup Sunday between the NFC’s top-seeded New Orleans Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles, before they make their first appearance in an NFC Championship game since 2001.
The playoff victory Saturday was a first for the 32-year-old McVay, who in his second season as coach has recently been in the spotlight as teams around the NFL fill head-coaching vacancies in an obvious attempt to replicate the explosive offense, and overnight success, that McVay has produced in L.A.
Against the Cowboys, Goff returned to the efficient and effective form he displayed in the first 11 weeks before he hit a late-season slump. In his first playoff win, the third-year quarterback completed 15 of 28 passes for 186 yards. He also rushed for a crucial first down late in the fourth quarter to ice the game.
But it was McVay’s savvy in abandoning his signature high-flying offense, instead relying heavily on the run, against a Cowboys’ defense that last week decisively shutdown the NFL’s top rushing team in the Seattle Seahawks, that won the game. The Rams piled up 273 yards rushing Saturday.
After spending the final two games of the regular season sidelined because of inflammation in his left knee, Todd Gurley appeared fresh and fast. Gurley rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns. And veteran backup C.J. Anderson, who the Rams signed on Dec. 18 to provide depth to an injury-struck position group, continued his late-season dominance. Anderson rushed for combined 299 yards in the final two games of the regular season, then provided a perfect complement to Gurley, pounding the ball Saturday to pick up 123 yards and a score against the Cowboys.
On Sunday, the Rams will watch the Saints and Eagles divisional round game, knowing whichever team they face has defeated them before. Drew Brees and the Saints dealt the Rams their first loss of the season in Week 9, when the Rams could not overcome a 21-point deficit. And then the Eagles, in Week 15 behind Nick Foles, handed the Rams their second straight loss. They fell to the Bears in Week 14.
But on Saturday, the Rams proved the Super Bowl or bust talk wasn’t hype and they have what it takes to win in the playoffs. Now, the pressure mounts again, as they’re one win away from their seasonlong goal of an appearance in the Super Bowl.