There were many defining moments to the Rams’ 2017 season, but none more so than the first game of the season. No one knew what to expect from the Rams when it came time to kickoff the regular season against Indianapolis. They had a reputation for not showing up for the first game of the season under Jeff Fisher. In those five seasons, Rams went 2-3 in opening games and averaged 18.0 points. Their two wins came against division opponents, something Fisher was good at. This time, however, there was a clean slate. With the offense under new leadership and half of the players being new faces, this would be the first time the world saw what the new-look Rams were all about.
Week one was a game of firsts. Sean McVay’s first game as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. The first time the Rams scored more than 35 points in a season opener since week one of the 2000 season against the Broncos. But most importantly, it was the first of 11 wins and an emphatic start to something special in Los Angeles. Looking closer, we can see a lot of firsts define this special game. Here, I will break those down by quarters and show how this game laid the foundation for their impressive season.
All eyes were on the offense in the first game of the season, and for good reason. It didn’t take long for the wait to be over as the Rams received the openeing kickoff. The first play under a pass happy McVay was a Todd Gurley run that went for a two-yard gain. Then came another first, for both Goff and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Goff’s first completion of the season went to newly acquired Watkins for a first down and 13 yards. Only to be followed up by another ex-Buffalo reciever on the very next play. I am, of course, talking about Robert Woods. He caught his first target for a 21-yard gain that brought the Rams inside Colts territory. That drive would stall seven yards further and end with kicker Greg Zuerlein’s first field goal of the year. A 50-yarder that secured opening drive points.
After the offense secured their first points of the season, fans would finally see the new-look defense. A defense that saw Wade Phillips come in and change their base formation from a 4-3-4 personnel to a 3-4-4 personnel. On the third play of that drive, cornerback Trumaine Johnson intercepted a pass intended for wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. The first of eight opening drive takeaways produced by the Rams in 2017. He returned it 39-yards for his first touchdown since 2015. It put the Rams up by 10 less than four minutes into the game and put Phillips in a familiar position, ahead.
Outside of a field goal given up by the Rams, there would be no more scoring in the first. We would, however, see rookie wide receiver Cooper Kupp’s first NFL catch. It went for six yards on a third-and-three to extend a drive that lasted 4:18. With only 00:36 remaining in the opening quarter, Johnson came up big, yet again. After picking off a pass intended for Hilton, Johnson punched the ball loose from him. Putting the Rams at the Colts’ 34-yard line and within scoring distance to start the second quarter.
Even though the Rams started their drive from where Zuerlein made his first field goal, it was marred by two false start penalties and a hold. All three by three different offensive lineman. Their first possession in the second was not ideal. They lost 11 yards and were forced to punt it away. The foot of punter Johnny Hekker pinned the Colts at their own seven-yard line. The following Colts possession ended 21-yards later on a drive that saw one play go for more than three yards.
The Rams’ second drive of the second quarter saw the focus of the passing attack shift towards their top-two offensive draft picks with the first pass going to Kupp for 24 yards and the following completion going to rookie tight end Gerald Everett for 39 yards. It ultimately ended with the first of 13 touchdowns for Gurley on the ground on a five-yard run. The second drive of the day for the offense that lasted over four minutes.
With a 17-3 lead, the Phillips coached defense was able to push the Colts’ offense back 11 yards on three plays to give their offense another chance with the ball. They never looked back after that. Goff attempted five passes on the following possession. He completed four of those to three different receivers for 51 yards and a touchdown. The first touchdown of Kupp’s NFL career, an 18-yard strike over the middle. With a 21-point lead, the Rams were able to pin their ears back and rush the passer. Rotational defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker sacked Scott Tolzien for a loss of seven yards on the drives second play. That drive would end three plays later when the Colts went for it on fourth down at the Rams’ 40-yard line.
With just over three minutes to go, we saw the effectiveness of Gurley in the passing game. He caught two passes on that final drive for 30 yards and set up Zuerlein with a 35-yard field to end the half the same way it started, with points. Rams would take a 24-point lead into the half up 27-3. A great start for the new regime.
Despite forcing a punt on the Colts’ opening possession of the second half, the Rams defense found themselves in a tough situation. At that time, Tavon Austin was returning punts for the Rams and he muffed his first punt of the season. The Colts recovered the first blunder and were set at the Rams’ 24-yard line. Against a suffocating defense, the Colts were only able to gain four yards on three plays. To make matters worse, kicker Adam Vinatieri missed his 38-yard attempt off the upright.
You wouldn’t normally think a game was in hand with just over 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter, but the Rams were in control with no signs of letting up. They proceeded to milk another 4:40 off the clock and get their points off of Zuerlein’s foot, yet again. This time the star kicker nailed a 44-yard field goal. It would have been easy for teams to take their foot off the gas with a 27-point lead, but now was not the time. This was a new regime that was setting a tone for the season and needed to keep going. That was exactly what happened.
Playing in his first NFL game at safety, Lamarcus Joyner recorded his first ever NFL interception. It, once again, was intended for Hilton. He doubled down and brought that back for a 29-yard touchdown. The lead was now 34 points and getting out of hand. Something Rams fans are usually on the other side of. The Colts would finish their next two drives at the mercy of the Rams’ defense, netting -10 yards on their final two possessions of the third quarter.
After the Rams allowed only 144 net yards to the Colts’ offense, they had seen enough. They brought in quarterback Jacoby Brissett to replace Scott Tolzien. This was a quarterback that had been acquired just one week before this game. Certainly not enough time to know the entire offense. Regardless, he was able to complete a 50-yard pass on Blake Countess and get them to the five-yard line. Two plays later the Colts were able to put a touchdown on the Rams’ stingy defense, though they had brought in a lot of backups by this point.
Speaking of those backups, they showed up in a major way. The atmosphere was contagious and there was no letting up. Linebacker Cory Littleton showed that special teams wasn’t the only place he could make plays. He stripped Colts running back Marlon Mack of the football, only for defensive lineman Morgan Fox to tackle the recovering Colts player for a safety. This team was firing on all cylinders, from the starters to the backups. I’d like to call them finishers in this case because that’s what they did. They got the ball back to their offense with 9:10 remaining. That drive lasted 4:50 and ended in a Malcolm Brown touchdown. Total domination.
Rams fans aren’t used to their quarterback being pulled because of a lead, which is exactly what happened in this one. Goff completed 21 of the 29 attempts in his first game under McVay, while also throwing for his first 300-yard game in the NFL. That was something he hadn’t done in seven games his rookie year. They set a tone with what they had been preaching all offseason, “We not me.” Easily identified with nine different receivers seeing targets. Not one of them had more than five catches on the day. However, Gurley had six out of the backfield. It was an emphatic statement that said, “We’re here Los Angeles.”
However, this win did not come without doubt. Many chalked this up to playing a diminished Colts team without their quarterback Andrew Luck. They were also without their starting center. And of course, the Colts haven’t really been known for their defense. Despite that, things were different with the Rams. They had an offense that could be as balanced and efficient as the best in the league. They had one of the best defensive minded coaches leading their defense that had loads of talent. So, with the first win of the season under first-year coach McVay out of the way, it was time for the rest of the book to be written on the 2017 season.
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