If you’re a Rams fan, Saturday night might go down as “the C.J. Anderson game.” But if it’s the Dallas Cowboys for whom you root, it most certainly will be called something else.
The Rams’ 30-22 divisional-round victory over the Cowboys didn’t reach “Dez Caught It” depths, but there were two crucial calls that went against them in the first half as a close game started slipping away.
The Rams rang up 455 yards of offense and played turnover-free ball, as their run game (277 rush yards) proved to be their biggest surprise. It was the first playoff victory since the franchise moved to Los Angeles, something that — ironically — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones helped make happen after his efforts to help his friend, Rams owner Stan Kroenke, ease the team's relocation.
They now await the results of Sunday’s Eagles-Saints game in New Orleans. If the Eagles can pull off the upset, they’ll be headed to the Los Angeles Coliseum for the NFC championship game. If the Saints hold at home, the Rams will be headed to the Superdome for the right to play in Super Bowl LIII.
Let's get those calls out of the way: First, Cowboys DB Byron Jones was called for hands to the face, wiping out a third-down stop; the Rams converted that into a touchdown and a two-score lead. And then Dak Prescott was ruled “in the grasp” on a phantom sack where his own man, right tackle La’el Collins was grabbing him, not any Rams defender.
“Dak Wasn’t Sacked” doesn’t exactly spill off the tongue, and to be fair, the Cowboys didn’t lose on those two plays alone, even if momentum had changed twice. It probably was more on a Dallas run defense that came in on a sterling recent run but left with a bruised reputation. The Cowboys’ only true defensive stop until late in the third quarter was when the Rams missed a 63-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the first half.
The Rams dominated up front and ran to excess. Anderson and Todd Gurley were great, leading an unorthodox rendition of a Rams offense we thought we knew. Both topped the 100-yard mark, and the Rams set a franchise postseason rushing mark that had gone back to 1986. Anderson ran 23 times for 123 yards and two scores. Gurley scored once and ran for 115 yards.
Sean McVay playing big-boy ball. How about that?
It wasn’t pretty, but maybe all this “next McVay” craze is for a decent reason. The Rams’ soon-to-be-33-year-old head coach didn’t draw up passing-game wizardry in this game. It was him playing a numbers game at first, taking advantage of light boxes early, and then turning it into a street fight once the Cowboys brought a safety down. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth led the way with several huge blocks.
Early, though, McVay looked a bit passive as the Rams bogged down in the red zone, and he missed the chance to go for it on fourth down late in the third quarter from midfield as the Rams were protecting a 23-15 lead.
It was fourth-and-2 from the Dallas 47-yard line, and McVay called for a fake fake punt (trying to draw the Cowboys offsides) and ended up booting it away after shredding Dallas’ defense on the ground all night.
But McVay made up for it midway through the fourth quarter when he handed it to Anderson on fourth-and-goal to put the game away.
His counterpart, Jason Garrett, somehow looked like the more daring coach prior to that. The Cowboys converted their first two fourth-down attempts — in spots you’d never expect Garrett to actually go for it — and tried a third time on the first play of the fourth quarter in a one-score game.
But Rams DT Ndamukong Suh, backed by a goal-line front that was selling out completely to the run, destroyed an obvious inside handoff to Elliott for a stop. Anderson’s second TD put the game away.
Anderson’s early workload might have initially raised questions about whether Gurley was as healthy as the Rams said he was this week. But FOX’s Joe Buck said during the broadcast that McVay’s bigger concern was Gurley’s conditioning (having taken three weeks off), not his knee that caused him to miss the end of the regular season. Anderson, the man who was signed as insurance after the Raiders cut him on Dec. 12, paid off in a big way.
Jared Goff hit Robert Woods on a strike for what looked like a touchdown, but replay showed Woods dropped it. Two plays later, Goff just overthrew Cooks on what looked like a gorgeous corner route.
That would be the second of two red-zone possessions to open the game where McVay initially passed on the chance to go for it. The Cowboys actually had the lead at 7-6, with Amari Cooper bursting through for an impressive early touchdown, even while the Rams dominated the stat sheet — most notably with their work on the ground.
Goff had a so-so night overall, and the Rams still haven’t appeared to rediscover the same juice the passing game rang up the first 12 games of the season. He completed 15-of-28 passes for 186 yards with no touchdowns. But his first-down run in the closing minute helped ice the game.
Prescott made some big throws — including a gorgeous completion to Michael Gallup (119 yards receiving) to set up a Dallas touchdown — and finished 20-of-32 passing for 266 yards, a touchdown and zero turnovers. He also ran for a score with 2:11 remaining to give the Cowboys a shot late. Prescott also threw a terrible pass that should have been run back the other way for six points. It wasn’t his finest hour, but Prescott was not the reason the Cowboys lost. Neither was Garrett, Cowboys fans.
That would fall predominantly on the defense that had pretty much carried the team through its toughest stretches this season and vaulted the Cowboys into the playoffs.