Jared Goff was calm and precise, Todd Gurley ran with patience and ferocity, and a collection of receivers -- rookies like Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett, veterans like Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins -- made plays all over the field.
It was only a preseason game, not even an entire half of NFL football, but the way the starters navigated an eventual 24-21 win on Saturday night allowed one to believe, for the first time in a long time, that the Los Angeles Rams may actually have a functional offense.
On the road, against a good Oakland Raiders team with no injured starters, the Rams' first-team offense moved the ball effectively and efficiently, converting on six of eight third-down attempts while scoring two touchdowns and a field goal on four possessions.
Goff completed 16 of 20 passes for 160 yards, Gurley needed only eight carries to compile 38 yards on the ground, and Kupp hauled in six of seven targets to gain 70 yards through the air. Then there was Everett, who gained 24 yards thanks to a nice cut-back move near the sidelines. Woods, coming in motion, turned a short pass into a 10-yard gain. Watkins, finding the seam, picked up one of 12 first downs for the first-team offense in his first game with the Rams.
Keep in mind: Watkins has only been here a week.
"I'm catching onto it pretty quick," Watkins, who finished with two catches for eight yards, told reporters after the game. "I've got to get into a situation where I am not thinking. I am still thinking about the play and what I need to do. Once I get over that hump, I can go out there and play fast and make plays.”
The Rams have been last in the NFL in yards each of the last two years, and their offense has fallen outside the top 20 in defense-adjusted value over average after every season over the last decade. If Saturday was any indication, first-year head coach Sean McVay, the 31-year-old offensive mastermind, is already making a significant impact.
It all started with an effective running game, the type that never really showed itself amid a 4-12 season in 2016.
Gurley, described by McVay as a "violent runner" in the Rams' first joint practice, set the tone early. He gained 3 yards on a second effort to convert on the Rams' first third-down attempt, then pushed the pile for a 9-yard gain and picked up another 8 along the left side. Two plays later, Goff ran play action, rolled right and found a wide-open Kupp over the top for a 23-yard touchdown pass to end the first drive.
In quotes provided by the Rams at halftime, Gurley said he "wanted to focus really on just being patient. Sometimes I feel like I'm running a little too fast and miss things, so I was just trying to be patient.”
"Any time you can run the ball, it opens up so much in your offense," Goff said after the game. "It's no different for us. Having a guy as special as [Gurley] is, both running the ball out of the backfield and catching the ball, it can open up everything."
McVay often compares ideal quarterbacks to point guards who distribute the ball to an assortment of playmakers, and Goff did just that on Saturday. He completed passes to seven receivers, including Tyler Higbee, Malcolm Brown, Watkins, Woods, Everett, Kupp and Gurley. After going three-and-out on his second drive, Goff got help from a Trumaine Johnson interception and marched the Rams 46 yards on eight plays for a touchdown in his third.
He gained 11 yards by finding Kupp on the outside, picked up another 12 on a great throw to Higbee near the opposite sideline and nearly hooked up with Watkins downfield, throwing a perfectly placed pass that was batted away. An eight-yard run by Gurley made it third-and-2, and a nine-yard, juggling catch by Kupp put the ball on the 2-yard line, allowing Gurley to punch it in.
Goff's performance came after a week when he threw six interceptions in a three-day span during practice.
"My experience up to this point with Goff is that he's showing me that he's nothing but a mentally tough guy," McVay said. "He has great resilience and the ability to respond when things don't work out."
One of the keys was manageable third-down situations. The Rams needed more than 5 yards to move the sticks on only two of their eight third-down attempts. One of those was the result of Goff's only glaring mistake of the night, when he waited too long to uncork a deep ball to an open Woods and absorbed a sack from Khalil Mack, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year.
Aside from that, Goff operated out of a clean pocket. He was decisive in his reads, and he benefitted from the balance of an effective Gurley.
Maybe it's time to believe in the Rams' offense again.
"It seemed like we were able to get into a pretty good rhythm," McVay said. "... Overall, very pleased with the offensive effort."