CHARLOTTE — Few in the NFL have had as long an offseason as Los Angeles running back Todd Gurley.
Gurley has been hounded by questions about the health of his knee ever since his disappearing act in Super Bowl LIII. Rams head coach Sean McVay has been rather coy about his health and availability, and the former NFL Offensive Player of the Year himself hasn’t offered much clarity either.
So following the Rams’ 30-27 win against the Panthers on Sunday, in which Gurley rushed for a team-high 97 yards on 14 carries, you’d figure this could be a moment of relief from all of that for the back.
“No,” Gurley said curtly.
But what about his finish to the game? It’s a humid, late-summer afternoon in North Carolina, and with just 39 yards on seven carries with 10 minutes left in the game, Gurley went on to more than double the day’s production in the ensuing series.
“Four-minute situation, get a first down, get out of here, go back to L.A. with the win,” Gurley said.
Gurley let his play do the talking for him. His knee didn’t turn to dust on the field at Bank of America Stadium. He wasn’t limping to the sideline. In fact, he would regularly show good burst once he got to the second level of the defense.
But just like his 6.9 yards per carry spoke loudly, so too did how the Rams used him throughout the game—notably just five carries for eight yards in the first half. A few days after head coach Sean McVay said Gurley wasn’t on a pitch count, the team leaned on backup Malcolm Brown even more than Malcolm Brown expected.
A fifth-year back, Brown tallied 11 carries for 53 yards as he took over entire series for L.A. His Sunday was good for fourth in his career on carries and rushing yards, and his two rushing scores added to his career total of one rushing touchdown.
“A little bit but I wasn’t banking on anything,” Brown said when asked if he was surprised by his increased workload. “I’m always just going to be prepared. Since my rookie year I felt I always prepare myself to the best of my ability, so however my number is called I just have to go out there and win.”
Not only did Brown take over full series like the 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the middle of the third quarter, but he also siphoned most of the red-zone carries as well. Of the 12 official red-zone plays in four trips for the Rams on Sunday, Gurley got an official touch on zero of them.
The lone Gurley red-zone touch was negated by a holding penalty, but that even ended poorly with Gurley fumbling after a five-yard rush (a teammate recovered the ball). That was one of two Gurley fumbles, with the other later coming on a pitch from quarterback Jared Goff (that officially was assigned to Goff since Gurley never had possession of the ball, even though any reasonable observer would correctly cast blame on Gurley there.)
McVay insisted the running back rotation plan was predetermined, that the Rams do not have a two-running back system and that Brown got the bulk of red-zone carries due to how the game panned out.
“I would just say it was more the flow of the game. And then we’ll continue to evaluate as the season progresses,” McVay said. “Todd’s our starting back and feel really good about him that it was the first action that a lot of our guys have gotten in a while in a different environment.”
It’s early yet, but it’s possible this will be the new normal for Gurley and the Rams: decent spells, lots of Brown, few carries near the goal line and an ice wrap immediately after the game. That’s what it seems to be, even if no one wants to openly talk about it.
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