By Peter Gleason
If you’re looking for the two likeliest competitors for the Eagles in NFC supremacy, hope you were watching last night’s Rams-Vikes game.
They both looked Super.
Jared Goff hit wide receiver Cooper Kupp in stride for a 70-yard second-quarter touchdown that gave his Los Angeles Rams their first lead of a 38-31 shootout victory over the Vikings.
As the quarterback jogged back to the side line, a wide grin on his fresh face, he spotted his head coach and play-caller, Sean McVay, who also erupted in jubilation. Goff kept running to his coach. He pointed to the sky. McVay knew what that signal meant, took a few quick steps toward his quarterback and the two leapt into the air for a flying chest bump. Well, sort of. McVay — a good six inches shorter than the 6-foot-4 Goff — actually bumped his head on the quarterback’s chest and then stumbled backwards, his headset flying off.
“I told him after I didn’t mean to knock him over,” Goff said with a sheepish grin. “I was just fired up over that.”
McVay admitted that the head-to-chest bump hurt.
“He drilled me,” the coach said, rubbing his forehead. But he’ll take it, especially on a night like Thursday, when he saw Goff throw for a total of five touchdown passes, 465 yards and no interceptions, and especially after his team improved to 4-0.
For McVay and his players, the night featured “a lot of fun, exciting moments for our team,” and the win felt especially sweet because the Rams’ most prolific offensive outing of the season came against the Vikings, who boast both a top-10 defense and talent-laden offense of their own.
So, the way that Goff & Co. performed, and with the contributions by a defense that recorded four sacks and forced a game-clinching fumble and recovery with 1:18 left on the clock with Minnesota threatening to score, the Rams garnered a defining win with a quarter of the season in the books.
Many associated with the game will tell you that it usually takes about four games to really learn a team. It takes time for a squad to find its rhythm and carve out its identity.
But now with four games in the books, and with Goff ranked among the five best passers in the game, his offense ranked third in the league, and the defense ranking sixth, the Rams appear poised to live up to the expectations heaped upon them after a surprising 11-5 2017 campaign and an offseason devoted to further bolstering the defense and offense at critical positions and retaining key veterans to long-term deals.
The Rams’ identity is clear. Like their young head coach, they are a high-energy, aggressive bunch that plays with a bit of a swagger. At the same time, this roster — chocked full of big personalities — boasts great unity and selflessness, living by the “We, not me,” motto McVay preaches.
The Rams already are showing the league that last year’s success was not a fluke, and that their chances of repeating as NFC West champs and advancing deep into the postseason are realistic.
Goff is playing at an elite level. Two years after being labeled a bust by the previous coaching regime, and a year after McVay found a way to help him tap into his true potential, Goff has now taken another seismic leap. He’s not just playing within the system and according to the script McVay has composed for him. He’s now elevating the offense further by making plays when things break down, and by identifying and capitalizing on exploitable breakdowns in the defense.
The Rams have given Goff a potent collection of weapons in Kupp, fellow wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods (all three recorded 100-yard receiving games on Thursday, with Kupp leading the way with nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns). And running back Todd Gurley continues to execute at an All-Pro level