Five Takeaways: Rams Clinch NFC West with Win over Titans

Posted Dec 26, 2017

Rams insider Myles Simmons shares his five takeaways from Los Angeles' 27-23 victory in Tennessee.

It’s been a couple days but it still feels fresh — the Los Angeles Rams are 2017 NFC West Champions.

There was a lot that went on in the hard-fought 27-23 victory over Tennessee on Sunday — that’s besides running back Todd Gurley’s outrageous performance and the club receiving hats and T-shirts.

With the Rams now preparing to host a playoff game at the L.A. Coliseum for the first time in decades, here are five takeaways from Week 16.

1) Barwin comes through in the clutch

Outside linebacker Connor Barwin made one of the most consequential plays on Sunday, when he forced quarterback Marcus Mariota into throwing up an errant pass on 4th-and-4 with just 1:45 left in the fourth quarter. That play gave L.A. the ball back on downs, and helped the club seal its first division title since 2003.

“I just saw Connor running as hard as he could and Mariota scrambling out. Connor was able to get to him. I didn’t think he was that fast but I saw him catch up to him,” middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “I was like, ‘Oh yes. He has him.’ So definitely proud of that man for what he brought to this team, what he brings to this team and his fight, will to keep fighting all the way to the end.”

“I was rolling out and I saw him turn. It just looked like he was about to make a play and all of us saw Connor come out of nowhere and take him down,” outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. “I instantly just went to a smile because I knew we were off the field. So, the game was over just about.”

Barwin has been lauded as a veteran leader throughout the season, but he’s also made his share of significant plays in 2017. That was certainly one of them.

2) Littleton makes a spot start

With linebacker Mark Barron surprisingly sidelined by an Achilles issue that popped up on Sunday morning, linebacker Cory Littleton was once again pressed into duty. Littleton had played all but three of the Rams’ defensive snaps against the Seahawks in Week 15, after Barron left the contest with a knee injury.

But Littleton made the most of his opportunity, intercepting quarterback Marcus Mariota’s first pass of the game, and recording the first sack of his career later in the first half.

“I didn’t expect this before the game started,” Littleton said. “[Coach] ended up telling me just before the game and basically he said I know you can fill this role and he believed in me. And I just went out there and performed.”

After Littleton’s extensive playing time last week, head coach Sean McVay said Littleton’s practice reps undoubtedly aided in the second-year linebacker’s ability to be ready to play. That had the same effect this week, as Littleton receives Barron’s practice reps when the latter does not participate.

“I’m just thankful that I’m able to get some of those reps alongside Mark and it gets me ready for this game,” Littleton said.

3) Kupp bounces back

Wide receiver Cooper Kupp has been the most productive rookie wide receiver in 2017, but that designation has come with its share of hiccups. But what’s separated Kupp is his constant ability to bounce back.

Kupp dropped a third-down pass late in the third quarter, which gave the Titans chance to score a field goal and take the lead. But on Los Angeles’ next drive, Kupp caught a 14-yard touchdown in the back of the end zone, getting a knee down to establish possession.

Quarterback Jared Goff said he wasn’t surprised by Kupp’s ability to shake off the negative play to get ready for a positive one.

“Yeah, I’m not shocked by it. It’s just his demeanor and the way he is,” Goff said. “He’s a helluva player and he’s got so many great catches this year that whatever drop he had today overrides that.”

But the catch was impressive, too, particularly in a critical situation, as Kupp’s grab gave L.A. a fourth-quarter lead.

“It was just a nice little high-low [route combination],” Goff said. “They were in man coverage and had pretty good leverage on Cooper. It’s not a ball we normally throw on that play, but I liked it, had good leverage on him, and he ran a great route with an even better catch.”

4) Ficken does, too

In his first game replacing injured kicker Greg Zuerlein, Sam Ficken missed his first two kicks — an extra point and a 36-yard field goal. But Ficken did convert his next three kick attempts, all three of them extra points.

“We knew we were going to need to score touchdowns to win the game regardless,” Goff said. “He finished it off there for us pretty good.”

On Tuesday, McVay said the Rams will stick with Ficken as their kicker, in large part because of how well he responded after the early struggles.

“I think what we talked about right after the game is really the response, which was encouraging,” McVay said. “I think when you have such a small sample size, there was a reason why we signed him — because he had a great workout. His résumé kind of going back to what he’s done in college is something that we felt good about and we’re going to continue to give him an opportunity and we believe in Sam. Like we said, we loved the way that he responded and I think this week will provide a great chance for him to continue to do some things for our team and we’re going to move forward with confidence with him.”

5) What’s next?

The Rams will play the 49ers in the regular-season finale on Sunday. Because Los Angeles has wrapped up the division and will host a playoff game during Wild Card weekend, there’s a possibility the club could rest some players in Week 17. And McVay made it seem likely that’s exactly what the Rams will do, especially for those with injuries.

“It is one of those deals where I think you might see us rest some guys and use this week where — you don’t ever take anything for granted — but knowing that you do have a home playoff game regardless of how things play out, this might provide an opportunity for us to get some guys healthy,” McVay said. “So, that’s a luxury that we want to try to take advantage of and everything that we did is what we think is best for our football team.”