The Rams headed to Nashville on the back of a resounding victory in Seattle, which had assured them of a playoff berth for the first time since 2003. A further victory against the Titans would see them crowned NFC West Champions, a remarkable turnaround from the 2016 season where they finished 4-12. The Titans were also fighting for their own playoff prospects, and at 8-6, it was nearly a must-win game for them.
Receiving the kick-off, the Rams took on a 58-yard drive to the Titans 32-yard line, ending in an incomplete fourth down fake punt pass from Johnny Hekker. In opting for the punt deception, the Rams were making a bold statement of intent: they were here for the win. The Titans picked up the offense on their own 33-yard line, and on second down and eight, Marcus Mariota was intercepted by Cory Littleton, giving the ball back to the Rams on their 47-yard line. Three quick first downs and a penalty advanced the Rams to the Titans three-yard, where Todd Gurley II took the ball over for the first touchdown of the game.
Sam Ficken took to the field for the first time since the Rams’ leading scorer Greg Zuerlein had been placed on a season-ending injured reserve just four days earlier, for the conversion. However, Ficken didn’t get off to the best start, missing the kick and keeping the score at 6-0 for the Rams. After a Titans field goal, Ficken came on for a chance at a 36-yard field goal and redemption. It swung wide, piling on more pressure for the new kicker.
A second-quarter fumble on the Rams 11-yard line saw the Titans score an unexpected touchdown and take the lead, but a lead which wasn’t to last long. What followed was what will arguably be one of the most talked about Rams touchdowns for years to come. Receiving the punt on the Rams 21-yard line, and losing a yard on the first drive, an under-pressure Jared Goff found Gurley with a pass on the 15-yard line. The screening of John Sullivan and Jamon Brown gave Gurley the space he needed to open up the throttle and make an 80-yard, 21.23 mph rushing touchdown. To put this into context, Usain Bolt’s average sprint speed at the 2009 Athletics World Championships was 23.35mph. There is plenty of hyperbole that could cover what Gurley achieved with this touchdown, but the simplest term that comes to mind to describe it is: phenomenal.
The following two quarters saw both teams exchange touchdowns and field goals, with Ficken calming his nerves and getting points on the board. An early fourth quarter Tennessee field goal put the Titans three points ahead but the lead (and the game) would not stay in the Titans’ hands for much longer. Pharoh Cooper received a punt, making it to the Rams 26-yard line, and with a five-yard penalty against the Titans, play continued with a 54-yard drive in five plays.
At third and six on the Titans 14-yard line, Goff spotted Cooper Kupp in space in the end zone, where Kupp made a diving two-handed catch, dropping his knee in play with inches to spare. If Gurley’s ground play in the game was phenomenal, this catch was just downright awesome and spoke volumes about Kupp’s foresight and agility. A solid kick from Ficken game the Rams a nervy four-point lead with 11.51 still left on the clock.
The Home Stretch
The rest of the quarter saw little gains for either side, until the last-gasp drive for the Titans. The Titans were on their own 20 yard-line with just four minutes on the clock. If they were going to have any further say in the game, the time was now. Moving 37-yards on seven plays, a tough fourth and four left Mariota scrambling to make a play, but he could not outrun a determined Connor Barwin, leaving Mariota falling and throwing an incomplete pass.
The Rams bench erupted in celebration, they were just seconds away from being crowned the NFC West Champions for the first time since 2003 and bringing the crown back to Los Angeles after a gap of more than 30 years. It was a hard-fought game but the Rams deserved the win, and the Rick Flair inspired locker room celebrations that were to follow. The Los Angeles Rams were the NFC West 2017 Champions.