It took a couple of weeks, but Tuesday finally brought an answer that made plenty of sense: Gurley may not, in fact, have been healthy. At least not fully so, according to the other Rams running back of note, C.J. Anderson.
“He was more hurt than what we thought,” Anderson said on FS1′s “Undisputed” to co-host Skip Bayless, when asked “how hurt” Gurley was when Anderson signed with Los Angeles in mid-December. “The injury was a little bit more than what everybody in the building thought, including himself.”
Anderson may have been mixing in some candor with phrasing that could allow the Rams to maintain that they had no reason to put Gurley on the injury report before the Super Bowl or the preceding NFC championship game. The fourth-year back, who had 1,831 yards from scrimmage and led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns and 21 total end zone trips, sat out the final two games of the regular season with what the team described as inflammation in his left knee, but he was pronounced ready to go against New England.
“We expect him to play a big role in this game,” Rams Coach Sean McVay said of Gurley before the Super Bowl. After his usually high-powered team could only muster 260 total net yards in a desultory display, McVay said that Gurley’s relative lack of touches was a result of the Rams’ overall inability to sustain drives.
“We just didn’t get a lot of attempts off,” the coach said. “So that really ended up being a big result of what ended up happening where neither Todd nor C.J. got involved.”
What McVay didn’t say after the Super Bowl was anything about Gurley still being hurt, and the latter told reporters in his postgame news conference that his knee was fine.
McVay might have thought he had to stick to the party line, lest his team get slapped with penalties from the league for failing to report an injury. The Rams may even have felt that almost any punishment would be worth gaining an edge over Patriots mastermind Bill Belichick that could help secure a Super Bowl win, but Anderson was willing on Tuesday to largely confirm what many suspected.
When Bayless asked whether Gurley’s injury could be described as “a sprained knee,” Anderson replied that he wasn’t specifically told what it was but added, “I would say sprained knee.”
“Obviously, it’s the same knee injury he’s had before in his career,” Anderson continued, referring to Gurley’s 2014 tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Noting that he’d had surgery on his meniscus, Anderson said, “Once you have a knee, you always have a knee,” and he pointed to the way “getting a lot of touches earlier in the year” could have aggravated an issue for his teammate.
McVay did acknowledge in late December that Gurley’s left knee hadn’t just flared up in the wake of a Week 15 loss to the Eagles, but that it had bothered the back after a Week 1 win over the Raiders.
“It was bad,” Gurley said at the time of how he felt after that opening victory, in which he totaled 147 yards and a touchdown. “I was contemplating on giving the Rams back their money and everything. It was bad. It was real bad.”
With Los Angeles cruising late in the season to the NFC West title and nearing a first-round bye in the playoffs, the team decided to rest Gurley for Weeks 16 and 17 and give plenty of work to the newly acquired Anderson. The sixth-year veteran, who had been released by the Panthers earlier in the season, rumbled for 299 rushing yards in those two games, then he and Gurley both went over 100 yards in a divisional-round win over the Cowboys.
Bayless noted Tuesday that even with Gurley looking like he was back to his usual form at that point, the Rams still rotated him with Anderson in the NFC title game and Super Bowl. To Bayless’s suggestion, though, that McVay simply felt that Anderson had been “running at a higher level” than Gurley and was “the hotter back,” Anderson demurred.
”No, it’s Todd’s team, no matter what happens,” he said. Anderson added that he did think he’d “earned playing time” and that “having two capable backs who’ve done it in this league at a high level” gave McVay “more tools to play with.”
Still, Anderson claimed that the primary “goal” of their time-sharing situation was “keeping Gurley fresh” so that he could “spring the home run.” Anderson, known for a squat physique and a hard-charging style, said with a chuckle that he himself was no threat to go 80 yards on one play, but frustrated Rams fans could be forgiven for not finding much to smile about in his comments.