GREG BEACHAM | ASSOCIATED PRESS
LOS ANGELES — The high-flying Los Angeles Rams kept the ball firmly on the ground, and they ran straight past the Dallas Cowboys for a breakthrough playoff victory.
C.J. Anderson rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns, and Todd Gurley ran for 115 more yards and another TD in the Rams’ first postseason win in 14 years, 30-22 over the Cowboys in the divisional round Saturday night.
From the opening drive until the final first down, Gurley and Anderson methodically punished the Cowboys’ normally sturdy run defense and sent the second-seeded Rams (14-3) to the NFC championship game for the first time in 17 years.
Los Angeles racked up a franchise playoff-record 273 yards rushing. That’s also the most ever allowed in the postseason by the Cowboys, who were playing in their NFL-record 63rd postseason game.
“Feels great, just running the ball the way we did,” quarterback Jared Goff said after his first career playoff victory. “Two 100-yard rushers, that’s rare, and it starts with those five guys up front.”
The long-struggling Rams had won only one postseason game since their last trip to the Super Bowl in February 2002, but 32-year-old coach Sean McVay has added his first playoff victory to his spectacular two-season franchise turnaround.
“That’s a big-time win for us, and the key was being able to hold them to 50 yards (rushing) and to rush for 273,” McVay said.
Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a TD and Amari Cooper caught an early TD pass for the Cowboys (11-7), who still haven’t won a playoff game on the road in 26 years. After winning the NFC East and beating Seattle last week, Dallas lost in the divisional playoff round for the sixth consecutive time and fell short of its first trip to the NFC championship game since January 1996.
Next weekend, the Rams will face the winner of the other divisional playoff game in New Orleans between the top-seeded Saints and the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.
The Rams are one win away from another Super Bowl trip after McVay’s inventive offense largely stuck to old-time football basics behind their unlikely running back tandem and an offensive line determined to assert its superiority.
The Rams proved it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 7:16 to play. McVay called a simple run, and Anderson bulled in behind his blockers for LA’s final points.
“We always talk about attacking success, never fearing failure,” McVay said of his reasoning on the call. “We wanted to come out here and try to play fearless tonight.”
The Cowboys, who largely shut down Seattle’s league-best rushing attack last week, hadn’t allowed two 100-yard rushers in a playoff game since the NFL-AFL merger.
Dak Prescott passed for 266 yards and rushed for a TD with 2:11 to play, but the Cowboys couldn’t climb out after falling into a 23-7 hole midway through the third quarter. Elliott managed just 47 yards on 20 carries as Dallas lost for just the second time in its last 10 games.
Goff passed for 186 yards and spent much of the night handing off, but the gangly quarterback improbably scrambled 11 yards for a first down with 1:51 to play, essentially wrapping up his breakthrough win.
It was also the first postseason victory for the anchor of that line, 37-year-old left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and veteran defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.
Gurley and Anderson became the fourth set of teammates in NFL history to rush for 100 yards apiece in a postseason game, an improbable development just a few weeks ago.
Gurley is the Rams’ offensive centerpiece and one of the NFL’s elite running backs, but Anderson is a well-traveled veteran playing only his third game with the Rams after signing last month when Gurley was struggling with a knee injury.
“It’s scary,” Anderson said of his partnership with Gurley. “We’ve got two different styles, and we can keep teams off balance. … Playing on the field with Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, I’m just trying to make my statement and make my stamp in this game, too.”
They ran with equal verve while Los Angeles racked up more yards than the Cowboys had allowed on the ground all season. Dallas hadn’t given up 200 yards in a playoff game since Eric Dickerson did it for the Rams in 1986.
But with the Rams’ veteran offensive line cutting holes in the Cowboys’ defense, Anderson became the third Rams player with more than 100 yards and two rushing TDs in a game, joining Dickerson and Marshall Faulk.
Three years to the day after the NFL approved the Rams’ return to Los Angeles, the franchise earned its first playoff victory since coming home from 21 years in St. Louis.
The Rams chewed up the ground and the clock on four lengthy scoring drives in the first half. Anderson reached the end zone seven minutes before halftime on a 1-yard plunge — and just 3 1/2 minutes later, Gurley broke through the middle and went 35 yards for his first career playoff touchdown, putting the Rams up 20-7 at halftime.
Elliott scored on a 1-yard plunge and the Cowboys got a 2-point conversion to trim the Rams’ lead to 23-15 in the third quarter, but the Rams made a decisive 12-play, 65-yard drive in the fourth capped by Anderson’s bold 1-yard TD plunge on fourth down.
THE BIG SHOW
A sellout crowd of 77,187 assembled in the cavernous Coliseum, with a significant portion of those fans cheering on America’s Team. The sideline was dotted with celebrities, and LeBron James hosted several Lakers teammates in a field suite behind the east end zone.
Cowboys: WR Cole Beasley had one catch for 15 yards, and tight end Blake Jarwin had two catches for 17 yards. They both missed practice all week with ankle injuries.
Rams: Gurley appeared a bit hesitant early in his first action in four weeks, but his knee seemed to hold up well. … CB Aqib Talib went to the locker room in the third quarter to be evaluated for a concussion. He returned for the fourth quarter.
Cowboys: Season over.
Rams: Either a trip to New Orleans or a visit from Philadelphia for the NFC championship game.