As if the pressure of playing for the Rams’ first playoff victory in 14 years wasn’t enough, Todd Gurley carries an extra imperative into the Coliseum in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
“Basically, everybody I know hates the Cowboys,” the Rams’ All-Pro running back said. “They’ve been hitting me up all week, so I’ve got to try to take care of business for those guys.”
And then there’s Wade Phillips, the 71-year-old Los Angeles defensive coordinator who was fired as Dallas’ head coach in 2010 and replaced by his assistant, Jason Garrett. With a straight face, Phillips calls the divisional playoff matchup “a revenge game for me.”
The Cowboys (11-6) inspire strong feelings across the football world, but these Rams (13-3) are just joking around. Their ability to do so indicates they’re not feeling crushed by the extraordinary weight on both teams in this game under the Hollywood spotlight.
A trip to the NFC Championship Game is more than enough motivation for two franchises that haven’t been that close to a Super Bowl in many years.
Photo: Michael Ainsworth / Associated Press
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“It’s a prime-time game in the playoffs,” Gurley said. “What better game would you want? Playoff game in L.A. versus America’s Team. It’s going to be a great matchup.”
Dallas has won three playoff games in 22 years, and it hasn’t won a road playoff game since January 1993 (a 30-20 decision over the 49ers at Candlestick Park). The Cowboys haven’t reached the NFC title game since the 1995 season, losing five straight times in the divisional round.
“Yeah, it would mean a lot,” Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott said. “And more than what it means for the past, but because of this group of guys that I’m going to do it with. Just simply how we’ve been able to persevere (through) all the adversity and everything that we’ve been through together, off the field, on the field. I just know we’ve got the right guys to do it.”
The Rams haven’t been in a conference championship game since the 2001-02 season, and they ended a 12-year playoff drought last January with a home loss to Atlanta in the wild-card round. Head coach Sean McVay’s turnaround of this franchise has inspired a wave of copycat coaching hires across the NFL this month, but McVay knows it doesn’t mean much without his first playoff victory.
The matchup also showcases two of the best young quarterback-running back combinations in the league. Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are the heart of a team that has won eight of its past nine games since trading with the Raiders for receiver Amari Cooper. Dallas got past Seattle 24-22 last Saturday in the wild-card round.
Jared Goff and Gurley make it happen for the Rams, who rolled to an 11-1 record with a nearly unstoppable offense. Losses to the Bears and Eagles in December raised questions about their run defense and offensive line, but McVay’s team is rested and determined to make a Super Bowl run .
“I think there’s a confidence that’s been earned,” McVay said. “We have a lot of respect for the Dallas Cowboys, but we expect to win this game. We know it’s going to take a great effort, but we’re going in with the mind-set and mentality that we expect to win. I think that confidence is something that’s been earned every day by our players, and then we’ve got to go out and prove it.”
The game is definitely a hot ticket. By Thursday, the average price of a ticket for the game was $708, making it the most expensive divisional-round buy of this decade, according to TicketIQ.com.
Briefly: The Jets made the hiring of Adam Gase as their head coach official. Gase, 40, was 23-26 in three years with Miami, including a playoff game in the 2016 season, before being fired last week. … Fired Denver head coach Vance Joseph has been hired as the defensive coordinator on new Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s staff. … Mike Pettine is staying as defensive coordinator of Green Bay under new head coach Matt LaFleur. … Chargers tight end Hunter Henry is hopeful of playing less than eight months after suffering a knee injury, but it is likely to be a game-time decision for Sunday’s AFC divisional-round game at New England. He was a full participant in all three days of practice leading up to the game.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Rams-Cowboys-seek-long-awaited-postseason-13527903.php.