Rams clinch 1st NFC West title since '03, beat Titans 27-23
By TERESA M. WALKER
Dec. 25, 2017
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Los Angeles Rams and first-year coach Sean McVay saved the real celebration for the locker room.
That's where McVay, the youngest coach in modern NFL history, channeled wrestler Ric Flair after the Rams clinched the franchise's first NFC West title since 2003 by beating the Tennessee Titans 27-23 on Sunday.
"When you find a way to come on the road and finish up your road record 7-1 and win a division title, there's only one thing you can say. Woooo! One more: Woooo!" McVay said before giving the Rams off until Wednesday.
Los Angeles trailed 23-20 before Jared Goff threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp with 11:41 left. The Rams (11-4), who came in needing a win or a loss by Seattle to secure the division, took care of business themselves, with Todd Gurley II and Goff leading the way again.
Gurley bolstered his argument for NFL MVP with 118 yards rushing and 158 yards receiving with two TDs, including a screen he took 80 yards for the longest reception of his career. He became only the third in NFL history to put together such a performance in the same game, joining Ollie Matson (1954) and Herschel Walker (1986). Goff finished with four touchdowns and 301 yards passing.
"He is in my book," Goff said, vouching for Gurley for MVP. "If there's anyone out there that's a running back that deserves it, he's the guy."
The Titans (8-7) lost their third straight game, damaging their chances of ending their own playoff drought stretching to 2008. The loss handed the AFC South title to the Jaguars, and Tennessee hosts Jacksonville in the regular-season finale needing a win to reach the postseason.
"We still have an opportunity to get into the playoffs, and that is the next objective," coach Mike Mularkey said.
The Titans had the ball and a chance to win late in the game. On fourth-and-4 at the Rams 44, Marcus Mariota rolled right and chucked the ball incomplete under pressure from Connor Barwin.
The Rams ran out the final 1:35 for their second straight victory and fourth in five games.
The Titans' penchant for settling for field goals was costly once again. They had four trips inside the Rams 20 and scored only one offensive TD on DeMarco Murray's 6-yard run. Ryan Succop kicked three field goals and missed a 45-yarder wide right. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard scored Tennessee's first defensive TD of the season on a 4-yard fumble return.
Greg Zuerlein was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, and the Rams really missed their Pro Bowl kicker. Instead of letting Sam Ficken kick with Los Angeles at the Titans 32 on their opening drive, the Rams picked up a delay of game penalty the Titans declined. Then punter Johnny Hekker's pass intended for Michael Thomas was batted down. Ficken also missed his first point after attempt.
When the Rams turned first-and-goal at the Titans 7 into fourth-and-18, McVay sent Ficken out for a 36-yard field-goal try. The kick bounced off the right upright no good.
It looked as if the Rams benefited from a confusing sequence in the third quarter. After Murray scored on a 6-yard run, the Titans recovered an onside kick. Succop said the official signaled live ball, so he tried the onside kick to steal a possession. But officials threw a flag, and referee Walt Anderson announced the Rams took their first timeout just before kickoff. Then he announced there was no timeout because the ball had not been put in play. Then he said, "First down." The Titans kicked deep on the next try.
The Rams forced a turnover on the opening drive for the eighth time this season. Linebacker Cory Littleton, starting with Mark Barron scratched, intercepted Mariota on the Titans' second play from scrimmage.
Rams left guard Rodger Saffold hurt his ribs late in the game, and Rams safety Marqui Christian hurt a shoulder.
Murray was helped to the sideline with 2:23 left with an injured right knee. Mularkey said Murray will have an MRI exam, but it doesn't look good.
Rams: Host 49ers on Sunday.
Titans: Host Jaguars on Sunday.
( Corrects Safford to Saffold)
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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker