ATLANTA — Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley should be one of the surest things in Super Bowl LIII. He was NFL offensive player of the year last season and an MVP candidate most of this season. He’s one of the NFL’s true superstars.
Yet, there are a lot of questions about Gurley before the Rams play the New England Patriots, and how much he’ll play after spending a lot of the NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints on the bench, watching C.J. Anderson.
“I expect to play the whole game, never come out of the game, never get a break,” Gurley said at Super Bowl Media Night on Monday, keeping a straight face. “Nah, I’m just messing with you.”
He maintained the jokes during an interview with the NFL Network’s Deion Sanders, who pointed out the running back’s eye-popping necklace.
“I don’t rock nothing less than 100 around my neck,” Gurley said.
Assuming he meant $100,000 here, which would mean it’s good to be a baller.
Jokes aside, Gurley’s role is a mystery. Before the playoffs, his role was never in doubt. Gurley logged at least 85 percent of the snaps nine times in his first 14 games, usually coming up short of that only in blowout wins, as one of the true workhorse backs left in the NFL. Then Gurley dealt with a knee injury that cost him the final two games of the regular season. He has been sharing time with Anderson in the postseason.
Gurley denied he’s still injured, telling media in Los Angeles last week that “if there was an issue on my knee it would have been on the injury report.” Gurley wasn’t on the injury report leading up to the NFC title game.
“I’m feeling good,” Gurley said on Monday. “Practice has been going well.”
So we wait to see how much Gurley will play Sunday, whether he’ll be back to his normal role playing nearly every down, or if the All-Pro back will be still be splitting time.
Gurley didn’t get many touches vs. Saints
Gurley’s split in time against the Saints was surprising, including to the guy who got the extra playing time as a result.
“You’ve got an All-Pro back who’s been a first-team All-Pro for three years I believe,” Anderson said, though Gurley has been All-Pro only twice. “What he brings to the game, how special he is, you’re always surprised if you’re going to get any more touches or carries than a guy like that.”
Gurley injured his knee in Week 15, and missed Weeks 16 and 17. Then the Rams had a bye week, and he was productive in the divisional round. He had 115 yards against the Cowboys, and even though it was still strange that Gurley got 16 carries while Anderson got 23, it seemed Gurley was back on track.
That’s what made the NFC championship game so odd. Anderson has had a good career and gave the Rams a boost after they signed him to fill in while Gurley was injured. But he’s not as good as Gurley, arguably the NFL’s best running back over the past two seasons. Yet, against the Saints, Anderson had 35 snaps and Gurley had 32. Anderson had 17 touches and Gurley had five. Gurley had one touch after halftime, with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe was convinced during the game that Gurley wasn’t healthy.
Gurley is hurt. His body language tells me this
— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) January 20, 2019
Gurley said his lack of playing time was because he struggled early, and he dropped two passes and wasn’t great in pass protection. McVay said it was a “flow of the game” thing. It is very hard to believe that a couple bad plays early caused McVay to think Anderson was a better option than Gurley, one of the best players in the NFL, or that he forgot about Gurley in the flow of the game.
But that’s the Rams’ story, and they’re sticking to it.
“Nah, it’s cool,” Gurley said when asked about his knee. “It’s been good.”
Gurley looking to bounce back in Super Bowl
Anderson wasn’t giving away any of the Rams’ plans at running back.
“We don’t know how Sunday is going to go,” Anderson said. “But if the number is called, I’ll be ready to go.”
Nobody will remember or care how many carries Gurley got in the NFC championship game if he has a big Super Bowl in a Rams win. That would further cement his status as one of the league’s superstars.
“That’s why you play in games like that, to set you legacy,” Gurley said. “That’s why guys like Tom [Brady], that’s why he’s Tom.
“For me to be able to come here, if I can win that, if we can win that, it would be amazing for everyone’s legacy.”
More than any other Rams player, he seemed overwhelmed by making it to the Super Bowl. He kept saying on Monday night that it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” and he seemed to appreciate every part of it. He was sobbing tears of joy on the field after the Rams beat the Saints. He didn’t seem to care he got only five touches. He was headed to the Super Bowl.
“That was just … it was crazy. We were going to the Super Bowl, man,” Gurley said. “It was so exciting just to be able to soak it all in with your teammates, all the hard work you put in. It was definitely a good feeling. A lot of tears of joy.”
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