LOS ANGELES — With 1 yard between the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas end zone on fourth down midway through in the fourth quarter, Sean McVay decided to go straight ahead.
No clever plays for this high-flying offense. No elaborate schemes from their inventive coach.
C.J. Anderson ran directly into the left side while his line cleared a path. He tumbled into the end zone with 7:16 left for the Rams’ final points in their first playoff victory in 14 years, 30-22 over the Cowboys on Saturday night in the divisional round.
“We always talk about attacking success, never fearing failure,” McVay said of his reasoning behind the simple call. “We wanted to come out here and try to play fearless tonight.”
Los Angeles’ ground game is something to be feared after racking up a franchise playoff-record 273 yards rushing from the opening drive to Anderson’s final first-down run.
Anderson rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns, and Todd Gurley ran for 115 more yards and another TD to send the second-seeded Rams (14-3) to the NFC championship game for the first time in 17 years.
That’s also the most ever allowed in the postseason by the five-time Super Bowl champion Cowboys, who were playing in their NFL-record 63rd postseason game.
“Feels great, just running the ball the way we did,” quarterback Jared Goff said after his first career playoff victory. “Two 100-yard rushers, that’s rare, and it starts with those five guys up front.”
Next weekend, the Rams will face the winner of the other divisional playoff game in New Orleans between the top-seeded Saints and the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
The long-struggling Rams had won only one postseason game since their last trip to the Super Bowl in February 2002, but the 32-year-old McVay has added his first playoff victory to his spectacular two-season franchise turnaround . Los Angeles is one win away from another Super Bowl trip after McVay largely stuck to old-time football basics with his unlikely running back tandem and an offensive line determined to assert its superiority.
With the Rams’ veteran offensive line cutting holes in the Cowboys’ defense, Gurley and Anderson became the fourth set of teammates in NFL history to rush for 100 yards apiece in a postseason game, an improbable development just a few weeks ago. Gurley is the Rams’ offensive centerpiece and one of the NFL’s elite running backs , but Anderson is a well-traveled veteran playing only his third game with the Rams after signing last month when Gurley was struggling with a knee injury.
“It’s scary,” Anderson said of his new partnership with Gurley. “We’ve got two different styles, and we can keep teams off balance. … Playing on the field with Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, I’m just trying to make my statement and make my stamp in this game, too.”
The Cowboys (11-7), who largely shut down Seattle’s league-best rushing attack last week, hadn’t allowed two 100-yard rushers in a playoff game since the NFL-AFL merger. Los Angeles racked up more yards than the Cowboys had allowed on the ground all season.
“We got beaten,” Cowboys defensive end Tyrone Crawford said. “Like I said in (the locker room), it’s a scar that you’re going to wear for the rest of your life. You can either look at your scar and run from it, or you can look at your scar and remember it, and punch somebody in the face because of it. So hopefully our guys use this as ammunition for next year.”
Elliott rushed for a TD and Amari Cooper caught an early TD pass for the Cowboys, who still haven’t won a playoff game on the road in 26 years. After winning the NFC East and beating Seattle last week, Dallas lost in the divisional playoff round for the sixth consecutive time and fell short of its first trip to the NFC championship game since January 1996.
Dak Prescott passed for 266 yards and rushed for a TD with 2:11 to play, but the Cowboys couldn’t climb out after falling into a 23-7 hole midway through the third quarter. Elliott managed only 47 yards on 20 carries as Dallas lost for just the second time in its last 10 games.
“They’re a physical football team,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said of the Rams. “There is a little bit of a misperception of how the Rams play offensive football with the run. They do an outstanding job.”
Goff passed for 186 yards and spent much of the night handing off, but the gangly quarterback improbably scrambled 11 yards for a first down with 1:51 to play, essentially wrapping up his breakthrough win. It was also the first postseason victory for the anchor of that line, 37-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and veteran defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.
Anderson and Gurley ran with equal verve while Dallas gave up 200 yards rushing in a playoff game for the first time since Eric Dickerson did it for the Rams in 1986. Anderson became the third Rams player with more than 100 yards and two rushing TDs in a game, joining Dickerson and Marshall Faulk.
The Rams chewed up the ground and the clock on four lengthy scoring drives in the first half. Anderson reached the end zone seven minutes before halftime on a 1-yard plunge — and just 3 1/2 minutes later, Gurley broke through the middle and went 35 yards for his first career playoff touchdown , putting the Rams up 20-7 at halftime.
Elliott scored on a 1-yard plunge and the Cowboys got a 2-point conversion to trim the Rams’ lead to 23-15 in the third quarter, but the Rams made a decisive 12-play, 65-yard drive in the fourth capped by Anderson’s bold 1-yard TD plunge on fourth down.
Jan. 12 is a big day for the Rams
Three years to the day after the NFL approved the Rams’ return to Los Angeles, and two years to the day after McVay was hired, the franchise earned its first playoff victory since coming home from 21 years in St. Louis.
The Main Event
A sellout crowd of 77,187 assembled in the cavernous Coliseum, and a significant portion of those fans cheered on America’s Team. The sideline was dotted with celebrities, and LeBron James hosted several Lakers teammates in a field suite behind the east end zone.
Cowboys: WR Cole Beasley had one catch for 15 yards, and tight end Blake Jarwin had two catches for 17 yards. They both missed practice all week with ankle injuries.
Rams: Gurley appeared a bit hesitant early in his first action in four weeks, but his knee seemed to hold up well. … CB Aqib Talib went to the locker room in the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. He returned for the fourth quarter.
Cowboys: Season over.
Rams: Either a trip to New Orleans or a visit from Philadelphia for the NFC championship game.