The Rams have had a tough season.
At 4-10, the move to LaLa Land in the offseason for the former St. Louis franchise has not yielded the Hollywood ending one would have hoped for. However, there is a silver lining in the script that is the L.A. Rams 2016 season.
Two stars have emerged from the fire, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and punter Johnny Hekker, both of whom were selected to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday.
"It's been tough," Donald said of the Rams struggles this season. "It's definitely been tough this year. I had high expectations for this year, thinking we were going to do some big things, and a lot of things just didn't go the way we expected."
Some of those surprises were the team switching quarterbacks halfway through the season, and to see their coach get fired just four weeks later.
After the season ends, the leader of the Rams' defense will head to Orlando for his third straight Pro Bowl. He knows that shortly thereafter, the team will have a new head coach, and likely, a new general manager.
With an entirely different coaching staff and front office, the 2017 Rams will look drastically different, but without building around Donald, they could look the same on the field.
"We need to finish these last two games strong and try to build on what we have," Donald said of the team's final two games of the season that starts Saturday at home against the San Francisco 49ers. "Next year it's going to be a totally different team."
One player whose role is solidified is Hekker, a special teams standout who is one-punt inside the 20 away from setting the all-time NFL record this season.
"I'm so grateful to be playing under Coach Fassel and with the rest of the special teams group that takes so much pride in what we do," Hekker said. "I really owe it to the other guys that go out there and me look good on a consistent basis."
Hekker leads the league in punt average at 46.2 yards per kick and has surpassed 70 net yards twice already this season. Despite his historic season, he's still had some time to stop and admire his fellow Pro Bowl teammate.
"It's quite the sight to behold, just watching Aaron dismantle a double and triple team out there," Hekker said via conference call on Tuesday. "You can tell that the other teams' offensive coordinators have to game plan for Aaron Donald, and he's still a game wrecker."
Donald has seven sacks this season, four less than last season, and two less than he had in 2014 when he was named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. The reason for the drop off is the amount of attention that Donald receives on every snap, as coordinators often send two and three linemen at him at all times.
Pro Bowl voters saw past the statistics to see the game-changing player that Donald is, not to mention the fact that remarkably, he's been able to stay injury free this season. In doing so, Donald joins Torry Holt as the first Rams player to earn three consecutive Pro Bowl selections since 2000.
"It's definitely a big accomplishment," he said on a conference call of his own. "Anytime you get rewarded for all the work you put into this game, you're going to be happy about it. So definitely a big deal."
It's noteworthy, that no players on the Rams offense were selected to the Pro Bowl this season which should not come as a surprise considering that unit ranks last in the NFL.
That could all change on Christmas Eve when the Rams look to put up some points on the hapless 49ers defense that is also last in the league, and allowing an NFL-worst 31 points per game.
Running back Todd Gurley, who has had a disappointing sophomore campaign, has the opportunity to rush for over 100 yards for the first time this season as San Francisco allows 176.3 rushing yards per game, dead last in the league.
"We've got to make out blocks. We can't jump offside, and we can't hold on the big runs," Rams' Offensive Coordinator Rob Boras said on what it will take for Gurley to break out in Week 15. "I thought Todd was running really strong in the first half [against Seattle]. We need to find that rhythm and more consistency. Hopefully we can keep handing him the ball where he can find one of those explosive runs."
For the Rams to win on Saturday, Gurley will need to have a big game, and that will likely mean that the team is in the contest for it's entirety, unlike their lopsided 28-0 loss in their opener. If they can do that, there's a strong chance that the team can celebrate Christmas on a high note this year, with two Pro Bowlers and a victory over their rivals.