LOS ANGELES — When a team sits on the shelf for two weeks with a first-round playoff bye, as the Rams did this month, the players might start searching for a pick-me-up. Typically innocuous comments made by the opposing team become bulletin board material, so Los Angeles was watching, and waiting. Then the Twitter alerts popped up on the smartphones of Rams offensive linemen as they were leaving meetings and heading to walkthroughs on Friday morning.
“He is a quarterback. I don’t like quarterbacks,” Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence told reporters in Texas that day. “I go in every week wanting to take a quarterback’s soul.”
Rams fans went about the very necessary work of tagging the social media accounts of the Los Angeles offensive linemen to alert them of Lawrence’s comment, and they noticed. “We’re like, ‘They’re talking about snatching souls? OK!” left guard Rodger Saffold said.
Two days later—after Los Angeles’s 30–22 victory over Dallas, sending them to the NFC Championship Game next week—Rams cornerback Aqib Talib interrupted teammate Jared Goff's postgame network TV interview to respond to Lawrence with an uncensored bomb: “He ain’t taking no f****** soul!”
Earlier in the week Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper told reporters he was familiar with both Peters and Talib, having played for the Raiders in the AFC West, the former divisional home of the two mercurial cornerbacks. “I’ve played against those guys twice a year, both of them. I know them in and out. ... I know how they play, and I’m able to tell my teammates [and] the quarterback their tendencies.”
During the game, Rams cornerback Marcus Peters scrapped and jawed on multiple occasions with the Cowboys’ wide receiver, who hauled in six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Before he even reached the locker room, Peters couldn’t contain himself. “These scary-ass n***** was talkin’ sh**!” he screamed in the direction of Cowboys players as he sauntered through a Coliseum tunnel. “What now?”
Fairly harmless? Peters didn’t think so. “That was for Amari Cooper,” Peters said in the postgame locker room. “He got strapped today. He said he knew us. Looks like he don’t know us too well cuz y’all just lost.”
To say the media interviews coming out of Dallas motivated these No. 2-seeded Rams would be an understatement. The winning locker room was abuzz with recollections of perceived insults from the other sideline and the media. “When I see Stephen A. Smith I’m gonna smack him upside his head!” exclaimed one defensive player.
The Los Angeles offensive line was feeling particularly triumphant, what with a week-long media focus on Dallas’ dominant defensive front, which ranked fifth in yards allowed and yards per carry in 2018. The Rams logged 273 yards rushing Saturday night with three touchdowns (5.7 yards per carry). C.J. Anderson, on his fourth team since April, was interchangeable with Todd Gurley, sledgehammering his way to a team-high 123 yards and two scores.
“The big boys did it,” Anderson said. “All week they was hearing about how the Cowboys defensive line was all this and how they stopped Seattle’s run game.”
The offensive linemen took the Lawrence comment to heart. Ditto for a press conference in which Cowboys coach Jason Garrett rattled off the merits of the Los Angeles offense and did not mention the o-line. Said Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth: “He didn't mention the offensive line, just talked about the skill guys. Last time I checked, we’re the only offensive line in the league in the top-five in passing and rushing, so we’ve got to be pretty daggum good. If we've gotta go earn the respect we will.”
As for Lawrence’s soul-snatching comment? “We heard it,” Whitworth said. “He didn't get crap all night and they got buried. I think we’ve said all we need to say.”
What now? What if the winner of Saints-Eagles on Sunday keeps their mouths shut? Where will these Rams possibly find motivation? Whitworth thinks Rams coach Sean McVay may have already provided it. Up 23–15 with 7:20 left to play, the Rams faced fourth-and-goal from a yard out. Conventional wisdom said kick the field goal to go up two scores, right? McVay elected to send Anderson off the left guard. Whitworth impolitely moved Lawrence out of the way, Saffold knocked Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith off course and Anderson plunged in for the score. Game, blouses.
“Coach felt a lot of confidence in us all year in those situations and he felt it there and we went for it,” Whitworth said. “I think he might have felt we needed the touchdown, and really just the message it sent to us. Sometimes thats the biggest confidence booster you can get.”
Said Peters: “That’s where we’re going to win the game in the postseason, with that offensive line, in the trenches.”
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