Surprising Turnaround Has Rams on Verge of First Division Title Since 2003 - NBC Southern California

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Surprising Turnaround Has Rams on Verge of First Division Title Since 2003

With a win Sunday, the Rams can assure themselves a home playoff game

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    Los Angeles Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson (22) and running back Todd Gurley, right, celebrate on the bench in the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

    Somewhere in Sean McVay's house are two hats celebrating division titles from his time as an assistant coach in Washington. A win at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday would get McVay his first as a head coach and give the Los Angeles Rams their first NFC West crown since 2003.

    "Those are tough to get," McVay said Monday. "That's a special accomplishment, to be able to win a division. To win games in this league is so hard, and you appreciate every single opportunity. When you do win, you certainly cherish that, especially division championships."

    After their 42-7 win at the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday to take a two-game lead in the division with two games remaining, the Rams (10-4) can assure themselves a home playoff game by winning at Tennessee this week or beating the San Francisco 49ers at home on Dec. 31. Even if the Rams lose this weekend, they could still clinch the division with a Seattle loss or tie. 

    A win would set up the first playoff game in Los Angeles since the Raiders defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 20-10 at the Coliseum in the divisional round on Jan. 13, 1991.

    McVay has continually preached an emphasis on process over results, but will acknowledge the opportunity to seize the tangible benefit of the team's hard work as soon as this weekend.

    "We don't shy away from what is at stake, but we do keep our same approach in terms of just kind of that weekly rhythm, but absolutely something you talk about," McVay said.

    The Rams' surprising turnaround has plenty of people talking about various ways of recognizing it. McVay, in his first year at the helm, is a leading candidate for coach of the year honors. Plenty of players are likely to be included when the Pro Bowl rosters are announced Tuesday. Even running back Todd Gurley is starting to get mentioned as a possible option in most valuable player voting.

    McVay will gladly lead the charge for Gurley's candidacy, coming off his eruption for 152 yards rushing and four total touchdowns against the Seahawks, as a way of saluting his resurgent third season and the Rams' revival. Gurley's performance was the result of the offensive line and receivers getting physical in the run game and quarterback Jared Goff's game management, and McVay said it can be extrapolated throughout the entire season.

    "I'm obviously going to be biased to Todd, but I think if you just look at it from a production standpoint he's been as productive as any player," McVay said. "He's got over 1,800 all-purpose yards, 17 touchdowns leading the league, over 630 yards receiving. He has a great game yesterday, but Todd will tell you that success he's had is a credit to his teammates."

    Outside the uptick in Gurley's workload against the Seahawks, which McVay joked about after receiving some criticism for only giving him 13 carries in the 43-35 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, there hasn't been much the head coach has had to change this season. A tweak to the midweek schedule has been one of the few exceptions.

    McVay will hold a walkthrough instead of a practice Wednesday after having to reduce the level of activity on each of the past two Wednesdays because of poor air quality caused by the Thomas Fire in Santa Barbara. It isn't a significant change as the Rams were already using Wednesdays to give veteran players like left tackle Andrew Whitworth, center John Sullivan and outside linebacker Connor Barwin an extra day off. After seeing a "fresh" and "fast" team against the Seahawks, McVay believes the reduced physical workload had a beneficial effect on the entire roster on game day.

    "As long as they continue to understand how important it is to just be locked in, great focus and concentration from a mental standpoint, we feel like that's going to be the best thing and that's the approach we'll take this week again," McVay said.

    NOTES: Linebacker Mark Barron was limited against the Seahawks with a knee injury that McVay believes was exacerbated by the cold weather. McVay expects Barron to play against the Titans, where the forecast on Sunday includes a high of 44 degrees and a mix of rain and snow showers.


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