Rams try to wrap up NFC West against Titans
At this time last year, the Los Angeles Rams had gotten coach Jeff Fisher fired. Quarterback Jared Goff appeared to have a nice early start toward a spot next to Ryan Leaf in the Busts Hall of Fame, and running back Todd Gurley looked like a bigger one-hit wonder than Player.
My, how things can change in a year.
As Los Angeles prepares for its Christmas Eve game at the Tennessee Titans, first-year coach Sean McVay looks like a good bet for Coach of the Year. Goff is suddenly one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. And Gurley? Some are talking about him as an MVP candidate.
"I might be a little biased, but I think he's the best running back in the league," Goff said of Gurley. "He's the most complete running back; he can do it out of the backfield, he can do it in the passing game, and he can do it in (the) pass-protection game.
"Obviously, the way he runs is special, so he deserves everything coming his way. I think the best thing about him is he could care less about that and just be super excited about this game."
And why wouldn't Gurley, or any other Ram for that matter, be super excited about this one? Los Angeles (10-4) can wrap up a surprising NFC West title with a win or a Seattle loss in Dallas. With a two-game lead, the Rams have the wriggle room to afford a loss and a Seahawk win, and still be able to clinch at home on New Year's Eve against San Francisco.
But Los Angeles, which last made the playoffs in 2004 and last won a division title in 2003, when it was based in St. Louis, would rather not wait any longer than necessary.
"We've just got to get ready for our next opponent," defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. "And try to come away with the same outcome, come away with a win."
While the Rams can assure themselves of a home game in the playoffs, Tennessee (8-6) no longer controls that part of its playoff equation, thanks to consecutive road losses against Arizona and San Francisco.
The Titans trail Jacksonville by two games in the AFC South. To make their Week 17 home game against the Jaguars a showdown for the division title, they have to defeat the Rams and hope the 49ers can beat Jacksonville.
But Tennessee is still in control of its playoff chances. Two wins cinches no worse than a wild-card spot, regardless of what Baltimore or Buffalo, the other 8-6 teams, do in the last two weeks.
"They know where we are at," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of his players. "They know we have a great opportunity sitting right in front of us that is very reachable if we come in here the way we've come in here, with the mindset of putting in a good week's worth of preparation.
"We need to put 60 minutes of good football together, one game at a time."
Some would argue the last time Tennessee did that was three months ago, when they followed up a 37-16 rout at Jacksonville with a 33-27 decision over Seattle. Since then, the Titans have played in fits and starts, becoming more and more prone to mistakes.
They didn't look or sound like a winning team in the wake of the loss at San Francisco. Players blamed communication issues for poor pass coverage that led to Jimmy Garoppolo torching them for 381 passing yards, and wide receiver Rishard Matthews opened a few eyes when he said the coaches should use more no-huddle sequences offensively.
Whether it was because of more no-huddle or because receivers won more plays than they had in past games, quarterback Marcus Mariota played one of his best games in several weeks at San Francisco. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 241 yards and two touchdowns, doing most of his damage after Tennessee fell behind 16-3.
Mularkey estimated the Titans ran about 75 percent of their plays without a huddle last week.
"It just depends on who we are playing, the defensive scheme, and if we feel it is a good way to attack, then it will be in," he said.
Updated December 20, 2017