Denis Poroy/Associated Press
The Los Angeles Rams’ dream of a perfect 2018 season is still alive after a 29-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Jared Goff prevailed in a showdown between two of the top quarterbacks in the league, and his team improved to 8-0. Aaron Rodgers‘ Packers have been inconsistent and fell to 3-3-1.
Goff finished 19-of-35 for 295 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions, while Rodgers countered with 18-of-30 passing for 286 yards and one touchdown with zero interceptions. It wasn’t just the quarterbacks who impressed, as Todd Gurley thrived with 114 rushing yards, 81 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Rodgers missed a chance to lead a game-winning drive with less than two minutes remaining when Ty Montgomery fumbled on the kickoff return following Greg Zuerlein’s go-ahead 34-yard field goal.
Gurley’s Versatility Makes Him NFL‘s Best Weapon
The Packers’ interior run defense attacked the line of scrimmage and swallowed a number of Gurley’s attempts, especially in the first half. His inability to score from the goal line on two straight runs was stunning given his typical physicality between the tackles.
Many running backs would have been derailed by the failed opportunities and lackluster start, but Gurley is no ordinary offensive weapon.
He set up a second-quarter touchdown with a bobbling 32-yard catch on the sideline that required precise footwork and showed off his hands again on a 30-yard touchdown catch that gave the Rams the lead in the third quarter. He hauled in the ensuing two-point conversion through traffic after his fourth touchdown reception of the year.
The effort gave Gurley a touchdown in 11 straight games, tying Elroy Hirsch’s franchise record and underscoring his head-turning versatility.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Todd Gurley’s 15th TD of the season puts the Rams ahead, 16-13
(via @NFL) https://t.co/xHDh5GWBsx
Los Angeles Rams @RamsNFL
That’s 1️⃣1️⃣ straight!
@TG3II ties Crazylegs Hirsch for the franchise record of 11-straight regular season games with a touchdown! Congrats TG! https://t.co/ubv6tB5EXf
Green Bay held the Georgia product in relative check (4.6 yards per carry), but he still had a monster impact and spearheaded the Rams’ second-half effort. His ability to make a major impact even when the offense isn’t hitting on all cylinders sets him apart from the rest of the league and makes him better than some entire offenses:
Andrew Siciliano @AndrewSiciliano
Points scored, in progress @NFL Week 8
Todd Gurley: 96
Not only does it make him an MVP candidate, it makes the Rams dangerous against any defense with the stretch run and playoffs looming.
Defenses that excel against the run will be forced to deal with him as a pass-catcher in space, while those with strong secondaries will need to borrow from their strength to commit additional defenders to the box to prevent him from churning away on the ground.
Gurley may not win the MVP award in such a quarterback-driven league, but his ability to hurt defenses in so many ways is a primary reason the Rams still have a chance to finish undefeated.
Packers Defense Difference Between Title Shot and No Playoffs
It is seemingly an annual tradition for Packers fans to grow frustrated as the team’s defense spoils another season of Rodgers’ prime.
This year has been no different, as Football Outsiders’ defense-adjusted value over average, which accounts for strength of schedule, ranked the Green Bay unit 24th in the league overall and 29th against the run.
It set the stage for a monster day for MVP candidate Gurley, but the defense flashed its potential by holding the Rams to a mere eight points in the first half. The one touchdown came after a Los Angeles safety forced the Green Bay defense right back on the field.
Ryan Wood @ByRyanWood
#Packers defense is doing yeomen’s work today. Basically held Rams to a pair of three-and-outs consecutively. Who saw this coming?
The Packers stuffed Gurley on two straight goal-line runs and a two-point conversion, sacked Goff five times and consistently flushed him out of the pocket, making an offense that entered play second in the league in yards per game and third in points per game look pedestrian at best.
However, the familiar struggles returned as Gurley powered the Rams offense to 21 points after halftime.
Even an average showing would give Rodgers chances to work his late-game magic, and the version that kept the Rams in check for extended stretches would make Green Bay a Super Bowl contender. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, and the idea of him working with a formidable defense should send a chill through the NFC’s collective spine.
However, a playoffs without the Packers is still in play if the defense reverts back to the version that’s struggled for much of the campaign.
The defending NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings and resurgent Chicago Bears make it an uphill climb to the division crown, and strong wild-card contenders in the Philadelphia Eagles, Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks crowd the playoff picture.
Both teams face significant tests in Week 9 with the Packers visiting the New England Patriots and the Rams visiting the New Orleans Saints.