ATLANTA – None of it made sense.
Not the offensive game plan.
Not the monotone assurances that Todd Gurley’s healthy.
Not the postgame apologies of a nascent head coach so many were quick to dub a genius.
The Gurley who had shouldered the load of the Los Angeles Rams‘ offense for much of the season disappeared from view when it mattered most. And on the biggest stage, in moments that could drastically alter careers and secure legacies, Gurley was nowhere to be found.
The former workhorse of the Rams’ once-explosive offense was essentially a no-show in Super Bowl LIII, rushing for only 35 yards on 10 carries in a lopsided 13-3 loss to New England.
But outwardly, he seemed unfazed by his diminished workload, despite his apparent availability.
“Oh, it’s cool, man,” Gurley, who had only three total rushes in the first half, said of his lack of touches against the Patriots. “It’s a team sport. There’s 11 people on the field. Everyone can’t touch the ball. Still a great season by us. I’m blessed either way it goes. I’m just grateful to be able to play in the Super Bowl.”
But that’s just it – he barely played against New England, which earned its sixth championship behind the greatest head coach and quarterback pairing in NFL history.
Nevertheless, Gurley denied the knee injury that sidelined him for two weeks late in the season was still lingering. “I know there’s been a lot of concern about my knee and stuff, but I really am fine,” he said, sounding far from convincing.
Meanwhile, Rams head coach Sean McVay – the fresh-faced newcomer who had been appointed the baby Bill Belichick by so many – insisted in recent weeks that he’d find a way to make Gurley a more prominent figure on offense. But when the time came to put the ball in the hands of his top playmaker, Gurley again was an afterthought behind recent free-agent pick-up C.J. Anderson. Save for a handoff on the Rams’ first play from scrimmage, Gurley was largely missing in action in the first half.
Somehow, a 33-year-old coach who’s so detailed-oriented he can remember the names of reporters and players on opposing rosters, failed to factor in one of the game’s greatest weapons.
“He is [healthy],” McVay said. “I never enabled to get into a rhythm offensively. … I think a lot of it was a result of some of the things they did, but a lot of it was play selection. I was not pleased at all for my feel for the flow of the game and kind of making some adjustments as the game unfolded. … I certainly didn’t do good enough for us, but Todd is healthy.”
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Gurley, who has posted 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons in three of his four years in the league, ran for 115 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against Dallas in the NFC divisional round. But in the weeks that followed, his playing time decreased behind the burgeoning role of Anderson.
But if Gurley hated the game plan on Sunday, he didn’t say it.
And if his knee – or any other body part – was ailing him, he didn’t let on.
“I kind of had a break, low-key, the last two months,” he said, adding that he underwent an MRI in mid-December after he injured his knee. “It’s cool. We do the physicals and all that stuff tomorrow, but I’m fine.”
Instead, the Rams’ high-priced running back shrugged off his decreased role.
“Whenever my name’s called to get in, I’m ready,” said the former 10th overall pick, who signed a four-year, $57.5 million extension this past summer. “We’ve got a good running back in C.J., so obviously, he’s going to come in as well. And I’ve just got to take advantage of my opportunities when I get the chance as well.”
There are only two possible explanations for Gurley’s disappearing act. And McVay comes off looking bad in either scenario.
Either Gurley still is nursing an injury that the Rams have purposely tried to hide, or he’s the 2019 version of Malcolm Butler – the Patriots cornerback who was inexplicably benched by Belichick in last year’s Super Bowl.
Asked if he was sufficiently involved in the Rams’ Super Bowl game plan, Gurley said: “Yeah, I mean, I was in there. Was able to try to get a couple plays. But we never know how the game’s going to go.”
There seemed to be so much more beneath the surface. And the more the Rams tried to explain an unfathomable outcome, the less their words made sense.
“We just didn’t really get a chance to get anybody going and that starts with me,” McVay said. “There were some different situations. You could always look back, and certainly that’s going to be something that I’m sure I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I wish I could’ve gotten him a little more involved.'”
A football-junkie head coach, who’s already proven he’s adept at making in-game adjustments, suddenly forgot how to play-call for one of the NFL’s most explosive running backs?
Something just doesn’t add up here.
Either Gurley wasn’t really healthy enough to play. Or McVay isn’t as smart as everyone thinks he is.
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