Excitable Rams secure division title with a sleepy win in Detroit

DETROIT -- Owner Stan Kroenke donned an NFC West champions hat as he put an arm around an excitable Todd Gurley.

Across a cramped visitors locker room Sunday at Ford Field, Aaron Donald hollered, "One more, now flex!" as the Los Angeles Rams defensive line posed for photos.

And Jared Goff stood atop a wooden platform, an escape from the madness below with a bird's-eye view of a celebration the Rams knew was a long time coming.

"It's pure insanity!" center John Sullivan hollered above the music, to no one in particular.

Minutes earlier, after a sluggish three quarters, the Rams' offense found its footing and Donald forced another late-game turnover as Los Angeles outlasted the Detroit Lions 30-16 to clinch a second consecutive division title.

"We've had so much success up to this point and did expect it towards the end here," Goff said about securing the West. "And we're happy to get it done when we could."

It's the first time since 1979 that the Rams (11-1) have won the division in back-to-back seasons. The Rams are the first team since the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 to wrap up the NFC West by Week 13, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

"That's the first step," Donald said. "We're happy, but we have to keep rolling."

At the outset of the 2017 season, Sean McVay's first as coach, few anticipated that the Rams, coming off an abysmal 4-12 season, would contend for a division title. Then they clinched in Week 16 against the Tennessee Titans.

This season, with the return of Goff, Gurley and Donald, plus several key additions, a division title was cause for celebration Sunday, but it's the least of the Rams' expectations.

"This is something that we put as check mark early on in the year," Goff said. "We're able to mark that off now."

With the victory, the Rams remain in control of NFC home-field advantage for the playoffs after the Dallas Cowboys defeated the New Orleans Saints at AT&T Stadium on Thursday, which dropped the Saints to 10-2.

Maintaining home-field advantage is something the Rams are cognizant of, but Robert Woods said it has not been at the forefront of discussion. "We know it's obtainable, we know it's one of our goals in the near future," Woods said.

Coming off a bye and playing their first game in the Eastern time zone this season, the Rams' offense appeared out of sync and lacked urgency throughout most of Sunday's game.

The Rams averaged 35.4 points and 448.6 total yards entering Sunday's game, but through three quarters, the Lions limited them to 277 total yards and 16 points.

"They did a nice job stopping us," McVay said. "They did some different things on the back end and they forced a couple turnovers."

Gurley sparked production in the fourth quarter, when he rushed for 59 of his 132 yards and two touchdowns.

"Just didn't play up to our standards," said Gurley, who also caught three passes for 33 yards. "To be like that, that's why we got our defense holding us down."

Goff threw his seventh interception of the season and suffered his second lost sack-fumble in two games. The third-year quarterback completed 17 of 33 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked twice.

"They did a lot of good stuff to stop us," Goff said. "They were doing some different things on defense and had a good plan. ... Sometimes the other team does their job a little bit better than us. Today that was the case."

Brandin Cooks became the first Rams receiver to surpass 1,000 receiving yards this season after he caught four passes for 62 yards.

Donald strip-sacked Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter as he continued his campaign to repeat as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, if not earn MVP honors. Donald sacked Stafford twice and has 16.5 sacks this season, the most by a defensive tackle through 12 games since 1982, according to ESPN Stats & Info data.

"Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games," Donald said. "That is what we need to keep doing."

The Rams return to the Midwest next weekend to face the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday Night Football.

After clinching the division Sunday, Goff paused when asked about the next goal, then offered a dry response.

"You know the boxes," Goff said. "We got a few more to go and it starts this week with beating Chicago."