Cam Akers called his mother immediately after he tore his Achilles tendon last July, and he spent much of the next two days crying.
The Los Angeles Rams running back then dried his eyes and made a plan.
“It was always my goal, if I was able to, to come back for the playoffs," Akers said Thursday in his first public comments on his recovery.
That was an extraordinary goal for Akers to set after an injury that typically sidelines both elite athletes and regular folks for many months. Yet Akers reached it ahead of schedule last weekend when he played in the Rams' regular-season finale, and he'll be back in uniform Monday night when Los Angeles (12-5) hosts the Arizona Cardinals (11-6) in the first playoff game in SoFi Stadium history.
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Roughly 5 1/2 months after he realized something had gone terribly wrong during a private workout before training camp, Akers is a self-described “100%” at the tail end of his second NFL season.
Nobody would have been surprised if Akers had taken a year off to complete a deliberate, normal rehabilitation of a sometimes tricky injury.
But Akers doesn’t want to wait.
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“I want to win the Super Bowl,” he said.
Akers credits his comeback to a combination of hard work and comprehensive support from the Rams, but he candidly acknowledges the minor identity crisis that hits many elite young athletes in their first major injury setback.
Akers described his primary motivation in his rehab as “the fear of not being able to be me. That was something that kept me up for three months.”
“The fear of not coming back the same me was all the motivation I needed,” Akers added. “There’s no feeling sorry for yourself at that point. I had to retrain my mind, retrain my thought process and just attack. Cut a lot of the outside noise off, a lot of the outside people, and just go for what you know.”
Only a month into his rehab, Akers and the Rams could see he was ahead of most normal schedules in his mobility and strength. The Rams never publicly rushed Akers, but the team was in alignment with Akers' desire to become a late-season boost to the Rams' playoff hopes.
Coach Sean McVay praised Akers' work ethic while heralding his return earlier this month. Akers realizes he didn't do it alone.
“To come back from something so fast, to do something that’s never been done, is a blessing,” Akers said. “That’s just a testament to the way I work and the team we have. Our training staff did such an amazing job mapping out a plan and making sure I followed it to a T, making sure every day I came in with a purpose, and I made it happen.”
Akers was the Rams’ leading rusher as a rookie last season, and he was expected to be their starter this year until his injury. His absence compelled the Rams to trade for Sony Michel, who has become their No. 1 ball-carrier with Darrell Henderson sidelined by injury down the stretch.
Akers got five carries and caught three passes against the 49ers last weekend for 13 total yards. His return wasn't prolific, but it was busy enough to instill confidence in both Akers and his teammates that this incredible comeback is real.
“I just can’t tell you how proud I am of that guy,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “It’s an unbelievable feat that he’s been able to just be available in any regard, and he looks as good as he ever looked. I think it was big for him to get out there, get some reps. We're obviously looking for more of him as he continues to get healthy.”
NOTES: S Taylor Rapp (concussion protocol) and LB Leonard Floyd (back) missed practice Thursday as the Rams began their week of on-field preparation. CB Darious Williams (shoulder) was a full participant, and his injury doesn't appear to be as serious as initially feared. ... Stafford (toe) wasn't limited in practice, and he thinks the injury won't affect him Monday. McVay said Stafford's mobility was limited down the stretch last week against the Niners.