Todd Gurley scored the first touchdown of his NFL career on Sunday. And then he scored his second. So what the hell are we waiting for? Let’s etch his name next to Eric Dickerson’s, Marshall Faulk’s and Steven Jackson’s on the short list of the best running backs in Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams history.
What, too soon?
I honestly don’t care if it is. I know what I’ve seen these past three weeks.
Actually, it goes back further than that. Gurley was a superstar at the University of Georgia, big (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), fast, physical as all get-out and the talk of the vaunted Southeastern Conference – think Leonard Fournette before the actual Fournette arrived at LSU and took command of the 2015 Heisman Trophy race.
And now, the 21-year-old Gurley is – I’m just gonna say it – one of the best and baddest running backs in pro football. Welcome to the new NFC West, where first place belongs to the Arizona Cardinals, who host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night, and Gurley is beast-moding like that one guy…what’s his name again? Oh, yeah, Marshawn Lynch.
Still less than a year removed from surgery to repair his torn left ACL, Gurley has rushed for 433 yards on only 68 carries over the Rams’ last three games. He’s the first Rams back to top 100 yards on the ground in three straight games since franchise rushing leader Jackson did it in 2011.
Gurley was spectacular in Sunday’s 24-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns, which lifted St. Louis’ record to 3-3. First, understand this about the guy: As a teenager, he was a track sprinter of much renown and one of America’s finest young hurdlers. So when, early in the second quarter, Gurley hurdled Cleveland cornerback K’Waun Williams on a 13-yard run – traveling a good five yards in mid-air – it was jaw-dropping, but also a sign of many more such moments to come.
In the third, Gurley – playing without a knee brace for the first time since the injury that ended his career at Georgia – got ridiculous, shedding 300-pound defensive end Xavier Cooper like a flea before cutting back across the entire width of the field for a 48-yard gain. On his second touchdown, a 16-yarder that salted the game away, Gurley stuck his right foot in the turf for a magical cut upfield, blasted through cornerback Tramon Williams’ attempt at a tackle and then walked through safety Jordan Poyer and linebacker Christian Kirksey at the pylon like they weren’t even there.
Rams radio analyst D’Marco Farr, a star of the team’s 1999 Super Bowl-winning squad and one of the more eloquent ex-players in his profession, was left dumbstruck. His profoundly appropriate reaction: “Oh. My. God.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine was duly impressed.
“He can make you miss, jump over you,” he said. “He is patient; he knows when to slow down and is good with his change of pace. We battled him for a while, but unfortunately we weren’t good enough.”
That’s going to happen more and more. Gurley produced 163 yards from scrimmage on a day when Rams quarterback Nick Foles threw for only 163. It was reminiscent of coach Jeff Fisher’s old Tennessee Titans teams, including the one that lost to St. Louis in the aforementioned Super Bowl. Those Titans revolved around a strapping workhorse running back, Eddie George, on offense and leaned heavily on an aggressive, dynamic defense.
The Rams have one of the finest defensive lines in the league – not many can touch second-year tackle Aaron Donald – and a secondary that’s beginning to soar. Mark Barron is a wickedly physical safety. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins is an underrated playmaker; he forced the fumble on Rodney McLeod’s scoop-and-score for a 20-yard first-quarter touchdown. Before the Rams had gained a single first down on offense, they led 10-0.
Yet it was Gurley’s name the crowd chanted throughout the second half. As football heroes go, he already seems to be the biggest in this town since Faulk, Kurt Warner and the other leading players in the “Greatest Show on Turf” were doing their thing.
For Rams fans, there have been some good times since the franchise moved to the Gateway City prior to the 1995 season. Mostly, though, it has been hell. This is the Rams’ 21st season here, but only four have ended with a winning record. Since the organization’s last playoff win in 2004, there have been zero winning seasons.
Oh, yes, there’s also the endless speculation that Rams owner Stan Kroenke will relocate the Rams to Southern California. It’s endless because it’s very real: Kroenke has pushed hard for Los Angeles. St. Louis, which once had the Cardinals, is a longshot, to say the least, to get yet another shot at the NFL.
Rams fans figure the only cure might be winning, and one of the keys to that could be Gurley, an electrifying specimen who on Sunday had, according to ESPN, the most yardage after contact – 97 – of any NFL player in any game this season.
The crowd responded accordingly. About those “GUR-LEY!” chants:
“I heard it,” he said. “It was cool, but just to get this win is a good feeling. Hopefully, we can keep this thing rolling.”
The NFL is a fickle monster; the Rams could win the NFC West or finish shy of a winning season for the 17th time in 21 years in St. Louis. But Gurley? There’s no stopping his roll. Get that Rookie of the Year trophy ready.