SEATTLE — The Los Angeles Rams were a broken team the last time they played here, on Dec. 15, 2016. They were without a head coach and without a direction, their season fading to black while uncertainty surrounded both their quarterback and their future.
Sunday, 367 days after an uninspiring defeat from CenturyLink Field on national television, marked the unofficial completion of the Rams’ breathtaking turnaround. Amid gray skies and waning interest, they slayed the mighty Seattle Seahawks with a 42-7 dismantling and all but wrapped up a division title along the way.
Todd Gurley scored four of five Rams touchdowns and Aaron Donald recorded three of seven sacks on elusive Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who was brought down more often than he had been all season. The Rams are 10-4 now, an eternity removed from the 10 straight losing seasons they carried into 2017. They lead the Seahawks by two games in the NFC West with only two games remaining, their chances of at least hosting a playoff game now a probable outcome.
“Everything has changed,” Rodger Saffold, the Rams’ eighth-year offensive lineman, said. “Just the way this team plays; the way they feel.”
Through 14 weeks, the Rams were undoubtedly the best team in their division.
On the 15th week, they needed only the first two quarters to prove that definitively.
Before halftime, Gurley rushed for 144 yards — the most by any player in the first half this season — and Donald recorded six pressures. Thanks to their defense, which held the Seahawks to 59 yards on their first 27 plays, and Pharoh Cooper, who picked up 109 yards on his first four punt returns, the Rams began five first-half drives within enemy territory and went into the locker room with a 34-0 lead that was never threatened.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff said it “seemed like we were on the 50-yard line every time we went out there.”
The Rams lost to the Seahawks at home earlier this year, but they outgained them by 134 yards and were done in by five turnovers, most of which they could’ve easily avoided.
“We felt like we did not play to the capabilities that we thought were possible when we played them the last time, and I think there was a lot of anger between us,” Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “We really just felt very disappointed in ourselves in how we played the first time we played them, and really had a bunch of opportunities to win that game and just didn’t. I think that meant a lot to us to really have that opportunity and go get it. I think guys felt that all week. There was an emotion behind that all week, and it showed today.”
The Rams started the game by forcing an opening-drive turnover for the seventh time this season, using a Tanner McEvoy fumble to set up a field goal. A Seahawks three-and-out led to a second field goal by Greg Zuerlein, who is on pace for a scoring record. Cooper returned Seattle’s second punt 53 yards to the 1-yard line, paving the way for an easy touchdown run by Gurley. Cooper returned another one 26 yards, sparking a five-play, 36-yard drive that ended in another one-yard run by Gurley.
The Seahawks finally reached Rams territory at the seven-minute mark of the second quarter. But Wilson lost 13 yards on the ensuing play and fumbled the football, setting up another touchdown drive that ended in a 1-yard pass from Goff to Robert Woods, who had missed the previous three games with a sprained left shoulder.
After the Seahawks punted for the fifth time of the first half, Gurley sealed it. He took a handoff to the left and zipped past the entire Seahawks defense, sprinting 57 yards untouched for the 16th of his NFL-leading 17 touchdowns this season.
“We didn’t want to let up,” Gurley said. “These guys have been kicking our ass for the last 10, 15 years. You have to enjoy it. You have to take advantage of the situation.”
Gurley recorded the first four-touchdown game in the NFL since 2015 with a 14-yard reception in the flat with more than 22 minutes remaining.
By the final seconds of the third quarter, CenturyLink Field — a house of horrors for many an NFL team this decade — was half full and stunningly quiet. By the fourth, the Rams had pulled most of their starters from a game that had quickly become more contentious than competitive.
The Seahawks have made five consecutive trips to the playoffs and have won the NFC West three out of the past four seasons. But the Rams, who have yet to lose back-to-back games this season, can now clinch a division title with their next win or Seahawks loss. The Rams were 4-12 in 2016 and last in every important offensive category in what became Jeff Fisher’s final year as their head coach. But now they lead the NFL in point differential and sit as the No. 3 seed in their conference.
It’s been one year since their last trip to Seattle, but everything is different now.
“That definitely feels like a while ago,” Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner said. “Out of sight, out of mind.”