Just two games into his NFL career, Todd Gurley is dismissing any concerns about how he'll play following his torn ACL. The rookie running back rushed for 146 yards on 19 carries to help secure a 24-22 road win for the St. Louis Rams over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
ESPN Stats & Info put Gurley's performance into perspective:
According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals entered Week 4 with the seventh-best run defense in the NFL, but they were unable to slow down Gurley as he consistently helped move the chains, which took a lot of pressure off quarterback Nick Foles and the St. Louis passing game.
Gurley clearly showed that he has retained the explosive speed in the open field that he displayed in his three years at Georgia. This 52-yard run in the fourth quarter helped set up a 12-yard touchdown reception for Tavon Austin, which proved to be the game-winning score, per the NFL:
Shane Gray of CBS Sports Radio 920 in St. Louis is already drawing comparisons to a Rams legend:
ESPN's Skip Bayless went so far as to say Gurley could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs for St. Louis:
The Rams needed everything they could get from Foles and Gurley, considering they allowed 447 total yards to Arizona.
Carson Palmer went 29-of-46 for 352 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Larry Fitzgerald continued his strong start to the 2015 season by catching seven passes for 99 yards, while Chris Johnson was once again a nice presence on the ground for the Cardinals, rushing for 83 yards on 16 carries.
The victory will likely feel particularly sweet for St. Louis. It was the first time the Rams got a crack at Arizona since Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians called the Rams "a team that is always 8-8" following a December win last year, per Curtis Crabtree of Pro Football Talk.
"When somebody takes a shot like that, at your team, you try not to look into it," said Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers before the game, per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "But deep inside, it's a little fire in you saying, 'OK, I've got to get these guys back.'"
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The St. Louis players couldn't have envisaged a better start to the game after Cardinals return man David Johnson fumbled the opening kickoff. The Rams needed three plays before Foles found Austin for a 12-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring.
Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin was happy to see his former college teammate at West Virginia finding the end zone:
Some Rams fans have been upset with Austin's impact on the offense in the past few years, arguing head coach Jeff Fisher needs to find more ways to get the ball in the wide receiver's hands. Mike Jurecki of Fox Sports noticed St. Louis was doing just that Sunday:
A pair of field goals from Chandler Catanzaro got Arizona to within a point of St. Louis, 7-6, in the second quarter, but Greg Zuerlein answered back with a field goal of his own to get the Rams' lead back up to four points.
With the first half winding down, Catanzaro split the uprights for the third time, giving Arizona some nice momentum going into halftime even if the team was down 10-9.
After Fitzgerald fumbled on the Cardinals' first drive of the second half, Stedman Bailey made it a 17-9 game after hauling in an 18-yard touchdown catch. USA Today's Jim Corbett praised the throw by Foles, which he placed perfectly over the top of the Arizona secondary:
For the third and fourth times in the game, the Cardinals had to settle for three points despite getting into the red zone on back-to-back drives as Catanzaro connected from 38 and 29 yards.
Austin provided the dagger with 8:16 remaining in the game as he put the away side up 24-15.
A 23-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to David Johnson made it only a one-score game, and Arizona had one more chance to move into position for a game-winning field goal. Instead, the drive stalled at the St. Louis 43-yard line, and the Cardinals turned the ball over on downs.
While Rams fans will be elated with the victory, NFL.com's Matt Harmon is staying cautiously optimistic:
Fisher has built a reputation of being a good but not necessarily great coach in the NFL. The last time he led a team to the postseason was 2008—also his last winning season—and he has reached the playoffs just twice in the past 10 years.
St. Louis has the pieces to make a playoff run in 2015, but Harmon's observation about the team is on point. If the Rams can go into Lambeau Field and beat the Green Bay Packers next week, then maybe the postseason discussion can truly begin.
Even with the defeat, the Cardinals remain first in the NFC West, and they'll stay in first no matter what the Seattle Seahawks do against the Detroit Lions on Monday night.
The good news for Arizona is that it has the Lions, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns before playing the Seahawks on Nov. 15. The Cardinals could very well be 7-1 or 6-2 on the year by the time they travel to Seattle.
After the game, Arians rued all of his team's missed opportunities offensively.
"You're not gonna win many games kicking field goals in the red zone," he said, per Fox Sports Arizona.
Arians added that the defeat "had nothing to do with overconfidence," instead arguing his team "just didn't play well enough," per Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.
Obviously, Fisher was a little more upbeat in the Rams' locker room.
"Well, we got a contribution out of all three phases today," he told reporters, per Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "That's what has been hindering us the last couple weeks. We finally had a second half of offense, and that was the difference in the ballgame."