Entering Sunday’s game, the Cleveland Browns had a top-10 offense, and 36-year old quarterback Josh McCown was in the midst of one of his best seasons in his long career.
The Rams defense would have none of that.
In a clash between arguably one of the best offensive lines (Browns) and best defensive lines (Rams) in the NFL, it was the defensive line that emerged on top, and added with the fact that Todd Gurley continued his hot streak, rushing for 128 yards, the Rams improved to .500 (3-3) by defeating the Browns (2-5) 24-6.
St. Louis came off of their bye week firing on all cylinders. Within the first two drives by the Browns, the Rams had already conjured up a 10-0 lead, the first points being scored on a 17-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by safety Rodney McLeod. Later, William Hayes (starting in place for an injured Chris Long) strip-sacked McCown, although the Browns defense buckled down as the Rams only mustered a field goal.
Gurley was also limited in both touches and yards in the first half, as the Rams entered the second half only up by a touchdown.
But it was during the second half where the Rams really kicked it into high gear. The Browns started off their first possession driving down the field, as Travis Coons kicked a field goal that cut the score to 10-6. From there it was all St. Louis. With the passing offense still struggling, they turned to the one player that has torched defenses over the past three weeks: Gurley.
And the rookie from Georgia didn’t disappoint.
Whether it was by stiff arm, cutback, or even by hurdling defenders, Gurley took full advantage of Cleveland’s run defense, and ended up rushing for 97 yards after contact, which is the most by any player this entire season. In total, he finished with 128 yards and two touchdowns, leading the crowd at the Edward Jones Dome to begin chanting his name.
Tavon Austin also had himself a very good game, leading with four receptions for 43 yards, as well as having a big carry for 21 yards on an end around. On one of Gurley’s big runs, Austin also played a role with a big block.
The Browns had more first downs than the Rams (19 to 16), more total yards (364 to 308), and held the ball for 11 more minutes. But when it came down to it, it was the dominance of the Rams defense and Gurley’s offense that was the deciding factor in the game. Physicality was the theme of the day: Browns tight end Gary Barnidge, who finished with six receptions for 101 yards, had a tooth knocked out, and McCown suffered a shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins also left and went through the concussion protocol.
For Pierre Desir, the Browns cornerback from Francis Howell Central and Lindenwood University, it wasn’t the best of homecomings on the field (he had a big pass interference penalty that led to a Gurley touchdown), but just being back in town was still something special for the young defensive back.
With the 24-6 win, the 3-3 Rams are in second place in the NFC West, behind the Arizona Cardinals (5-2), whom the Rams already have a win against this season. Meanwhile, the Seahawks possess the third place spot at 3-4, and the 49ers are in the cellar at 2-5.
As the halfway point in the season draws near, the Rams are in the thick of the playoff hunt, and with a lighter schedule ahead, the opportunity is there for them to really make an impact in both the wild card and divisional race.
One more thing to note: throughout the game, hundreds of fans (when they were chanting for Gurley) began chanting “Kroenke sucks!” in response to team owner Stan Kroenke. And when a fan sign saying “St. Louis is OUR home” appeared on the jumbo tron, the crowd of both Rams and Browns fans began applauding. Browns fans especially know what it’s like losing a team that is loved.
And the Rams fans don’t intend of suffering the same fate.
(Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)