GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For a St. Louis Rams offense that for 3½ games was desperately looking for points, it was ironic the play nobody could stop discussing Sunday was a touchdownTodd Gurley politely declined.
Attempting to salt away a 24-22 victory against the previously unbeaten Arizona Cardinals, Gurley took a third-and-12 handoff from Nick Foles and sprinted around left end with a clear path to the end zone. At around the 8-yard line, Gurley slowed up and suddenly dropped to the ground in bounds, eschewing his first NFL touchdown and instead opting for his first NFL victory as an active player. The Rams took a knee and sealed the upset win to improve to 2-2.
It was the type of play you'd expect from 10-year veterans, not a rookie playing in his second NFL game.
"With Todd, it doesn't surprise me," Foles said. "He knew that the second he goes down, the game is over. You don't give them an opportunity to have the ball back. Crazy things can happen. That was a veteran move right there, especially being it possibly his first touchdown on a run like that, in a situation like that. It shows you that he is a team guy first and that is what you want."
That Gurley was even in position to make such a savvy play in the situation was a result of his ability to gash Arizona's fifth-ranked run defense. Entering the game, Arizona was allowing only 3.45 yards per carry, an average it appeared they might actually improve on after another wretched first half for the Rams' offense.
At halftime, the Rams had nine carries for 9 yards. In need of a spark, they turned to the two skill position players they've drafted in the top 10 in the past three years: Gurley and wide receiver Tavon Austin.
Austin was really the Rams' only offense in the first half, catching two balls for 59 yards and a touchdown and rushing once for a gain of 8. He quickly set the tone in the second half with a 17-yard catch-and-run. For the game, Foles targeted Austin seven times and completed six for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
For a player who hasn't been as much of a focal point as his draft position or game-changing ability would indicate, it was a step in the right direction.
"There were previous times where they attempted to get me the ball," Austin said. "This isn't the first game I had a big game. I have had a couple big games, and it is all about the opportunities. Some games, it won't work. Sometimes you have a great defensive coordinator taking you out of the game, like last week. It is all about the opportunities and taking advantage of it when the ball comes your way."
When Foles wasn't throwing to Austin, the Rams were handing it to him on jet sweeps or using him as a decoy on plays that looked like jet sweeps. That allowed Gurley and the offensive line the chance to get the ground game working.
Gurley got it started on the team's second drive of the third quarter, carrying four consecutive times for 40 yards to set up a touchdown. By the time the fourth quarter began, Arizona found itself worried about Austin doing damage on the perimeter while Gurley went to work between the tackles.
With the offensive line and Gurley finally finding a rhythm in the team's outside zone-blocking concepts, Gurley gashed the Cardinals for 106 fourth-quarter yards. He had 80 yards on nine carries before contact in the final quarter after posting just 14 yards before contact on 10 carries in the opening three.
"What can you say about Todd?" coach Jeff Fisher asked. "Second half he took the game over when we needed him."
Gurley finished with his first 100-yard rushing game, going for 146 yards on 19 carries, an average of 7.7 yards per attempt. To put that in perspective, Rams running backs (not including Austin) had combined for 108 yards rushing in the first three games combined.
More important, the Rams' offense finally stepped to the forefront and showed what it could be with the powerful Gurley and speedy Austin as the centerpieces.
"We just knew we had to pick up the slack," Gurley said. "The defense, they're doing a hell of a job just stopping guys, and we just can't keep putting the pressure on them. We have to step up, we have to run the ball, we have to make plays and get first downs, stop going three and out. So we just got fed up. We know what we're capable of doing."
For one day, at least, they didn't just know it, they showed it.