Only 10 days after being given the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, the Los Angeles Rams returned to sender.
The road to the Super Bowl in the NFC is again going through New Orleans. That’s because the Saints were the primary beneficiaries when the celebrated offense of the Rams was bottled up Sunday night in Chicago. The Bears defense was dominant in a 15-6 win over L.A. at Soldier Field.
The loss dropped the Rams’ record to 11-2. The Saints have an identical mark but hold the tiebreaker advantage by virtue of beating the Rams at the Superdome in November.
A 13-10 loss at Dallas rendered the New Orleans offense uncharacteristically ordinary while putting the Rams in position to secure the NFC’s top seed by winning out. But after the Saints rebounded to win earlier Sunday at Tampa, it was the Rams’ turn to have their powerful offense held in check.
“Maybe defenses are catching up in the NFL,” analyst Cris Collinsworth said on the NBC broadcast Sunday night.
Maybe so. But it takes a superb defense, like that of the Cowboys or that of the Bears, to slow down one of these magnificent offenses.
The Rams managed only 214 total yards Sunday night. Quarterback Jared Goff threw four interceptions in a 20-for-44, 180-yard passing night and was sacked three times. Perhaps most importantly, tailback Todd Gurley ran for only 28 yards on 11 carries. With the Rams’ running game going nowhere, their play-action passes became ineffective.
“I wondered what would happen to the Rams’ offense if somebody stopped the run,” Collinsworth said. “The Bears did.”
The Bears won on a night when their quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, threw three interceptions of his own. It didn’t matter. It was a 6-all game following a first half in which each team had two field goals and two interceptions. The Bears got a safety early in the third quarter, then followed up with a touchdown that again put the creativity of Coach Matt Nagy on display.
On a third-and-goal play from the 2-yard line, the Bears went to a superjumbo package with defensive tackle Akiem Hicks lined up in the backfield. The Rams had to respect Hicks, who has a rushing touchdown to his credit this season. So when Trubisky faked a handoff to Hicks, the L.A. defense swarmed toward him. That enabled offensive tackle Bradley Sowell, who’d reported as an eligible receiver, to slip into the end zone and catch a pass from Trubisky for the touchdown.
“It was surreal,” Sowell told NBC after the game. “It really was. Hats off to Akiem there for selling the run …. I just told Mitch, ‘Throw it high there and see what I’ve got.’ ”
The Chicago defense took it from there. And the complexion of the NFC playoffs changed as a result, much to the delight of the Saints.
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