ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Los Angeles Rams won two of their first three games, but they were supposed to. They beat the short-handed Indianapolis Colts, then survived against a San Francisco 49ers team that is at the onset of an all-out rebuild. Sunday, on the road against a star-studded Dallas Cowboys team coming off a 13-win season, represented the Rams' first real test of the year. Todd Gurley admitted as much in the days leading up to Week 4. He called it a chance to "see what we are; see how far we came."
The Rams have come a long, long way.
Their come-from-behind, 35-30 win at AT&T Stadium proved that definitively.
Gurley, the NFC's Offensive Player of the Month for September, gained 215 yards from scrimmage and scored on a 53-yard wheel route that the Rams practiced all week. Cooper Kupp caught five of seven targets for 60 yards and a touchdown. Jared Goff went 21-of-36 for 255 yards and zero turnovers. Tavon Austin gained 48 yards on six carries. Greg Zuerlein made a franchise-record seven field goals. And a Rams defense that allowed 287 yards in the first half -- and 806 combined yards to the Redskins and 49ers in back-to-back weeks -- allowed only six points after halftime.
"The No. 1 thing we've shown every week is that there is absolutely no quit in these guys," said Goff, his QB rating now 112.2, nearly double his 63.6 rating from last year. "I think that's not only a sign of a good team, but a team that is maturing; a team that has some veteran leadership now and a team that's getting older and starting to learn situations better."
The Rams' rejuvenated offense gained 412 yards from scrimmage and topped 30 points for the third time this season, after doing so three times in all of 2015 and 2016.
They did so even though their No. 1 receiver, Sammy Watkins, was targeted only twice. They were pinned deep in their own territory to start back-to-back third-quarter possessions because of penalties on punt returns, and they still marched up the field to score each time. They held the ball for more than 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, and they gave themselves an NFL-leading 142 points through the first four games -- 79 more points than they had through the first four games last year.
"Our offense is really going out there and competing and scoring, man," Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. "It’s a great sight to see. I’ve been with the Rams six years. Our offense hasn’t been there. But they’re being consistent. They really are."
Trailing by eight with less than 10 minutes left, the Cowboys came back with a quick touchdown drive but failed to convert on a game-tying two-point conversion. Then the Rams got the ball, chewed up more than five minutes and gained 68 yards, setting up Zuerlein's seventh field goal. On the Cowboys' ensuing possession, the Rams wrapped up Ezekiel Elliott about a yard shy of the first-down marker on fourth down to seal the win.
The Rams began the second half having allowed 90 points in their previous 10 quarters, then forced the Cowboys to punt on three straight possessions and intercepted a pass. Veteran outside linebacker Connor Barwin said the Rams were "prepared for everything [the Cowboys] did, and it was kind of like we had to see it to believe it."
"Everything they did in the first half was exactly what we practiced all week, and everything in the second half was exactly that," Barwin added. "We came in here [at halftime] and reiterated to just do what we’re coached to do, and do what we thought they would do. Everybody just kind of settled down and played the defense how they’re supposed to."
The Rams are 3-1 now, and that may sound familiar. They started 3-1 last year, and then it all went downhill, with only one victory over their final 11 games. But this year's 3-1 feels different, several returning players admitted, because the offense looks so much better.
The Rams, still in first place in the NFC West, are a different kind of team.
"They've got a lot of talent," Cowboys owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones said. "It looks to me like it's coming together."