Los Angeles Rams fans could not have expected or received a bigger, better gift than the one that they were handed on Christmas Eve.
With their 27-23 victory over Tennessee (that looks like too many “n’s” “s’s” and “e’s” doesn’t it?) the Rams (11-4) clinched their first NFC West title in 13 years.
L.A. needed this win, or a loss by the Seattle Seahawks, to secure the division…and it wasn’t an easy task.
The Titans were trying to give the Rams A Nightmare Before Christmas instead of It’s a Wonderful Life.
It started with Tenese (that doesn’t look right either) foiling a 58-yard kickoff drive and taking the ball over on downs after a fake punt ended in a failed 43-yard pass attempt.
But the Rams defense (strong all season) stepped up and intercepted the ball at mid-field.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff put the ball in the air to running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Cooper Kupp for a combined 48-yards that led to the first touchdown of the game.
Unfortunately, Rams kicker Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein, who was on track to set an NFL record for scores by a kicker, was out on injured reserve. Replacement kicker Sam Ficken (whose name sounds much like what the coaches mumbled when he missed) was wide on the attempt and Los Angeles held a 6-point lead.
The Titans scored a field goal on their subsequent possession to end the first quarter, 6-3.
Ficken had a chance to redeem himself with a kick from 18-yards out…but hit the upright.
It got worse when the Rams next possession lasted one play and resulted in a fumble, which was recovered and returned by the Titans for a TD and the lead, 6-10.
Goff answered with an 80-yard TD pass to Gurley, the Titans managed an FG and the half ended tied, 13-13.
Coming back from the half, the teams exchanged punts and TD’s. The Titans booted another FG and started the fourth Q leading, 20-23.
On their next possession Goff mowed 68-yards of lawn to score on a 14-yard reception by Kupp.
The Los Angeles “D” forced two 3-&-outs and then held on to takeover on downs for the win, 27-23.
The Rams host the San Francisco 49ers (5-10) this weekend; and this is cause for concern.
I was in the stadium last Sunday when new S.F. QB Jimmy Garoppolo chopped through the best and most efficient defense in the NFL; and handed the Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5) an embarrassing 44-33 shredding.
Garoppolo has raised the level of play for the entire team. And the Niners are now dangerous.
The Rams have already carved out their highest possible seed position.
If they win their last game (the 49ers) the highest they could be seeded will be 3rd, which gives them home field advantage (HFA) over the 6th and lowest seed.
That will either be the Atlanta Falcons or the Seattle Seahawks.
If the Falcons win at home against the Carolina Panthers, they are in…no matter what else happens.
The Hawks will most likely win their game at home against the Arizona Cardinals, but that alone will not get Seattle into the playoff scheme.
They would have to win their game, and the Falcons would have to lose theirs.
But if San Francisco spoils the regular season finale for the Rams, Los Angeles could only hold the 3rd seed position if the Bucs can hand the New Orleans Saints a loss, and the Falcons top the Panthers. Any other win/loss combination and the Rams move into the 4th seed (their lowest possible position) where they will retain HFA but have to face the Panthers or the Saints – statistically much tougher teams than either Seahawks or the Falcons.
God Bless your New Year!
Mark Felicetti sent bus fare to Ficken. Reach Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.