NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Aaron Donald wore an "NFC West Champions" cap and smiled like he never has in front of a camera.
"The last time I won a championship, I was 7 years old," Donald revealed. "It's been a long time, and I'm just happy; happy to be a part of it with these guys."
Backed by another MVP-caliber performance from Todd Gurley, and a defense that buckled down late, Donald's Los Angeles Rams beat the Tennessee Titans, 27-23, at Nissan Stadium on Christmas Eve and thus secured the franchise's first division title since 2003.
Watching from a luxury suite was the former head coach, Jeff Fisher, who was fired 13 games into a 2016 season that finished with a 4-12 record. Now the Rams, under 31-year-old rookie head coach Sean McVay, are 11-4, sitting as the No. 3 seed in their conference and getting ready to host the first NFL playoff game in L.A. in nearly 25 years.
"I’m still sitting here just trying to wrap my mind around it," Alec Ogletree said, a big smile on his face. "I’m excited, happy. And just thankful and blessed to be a part of this."
The Rams ended the second-longest active division title drought in the NFC, one topped only by the Detroit Lions.
"You're so happy for these players and coaches, just to be able to share that feeling with these guys that we've accomplished one of our goals when you start the season," said McVay, now the youngest NFL coach to ever make the playoffs. "I'm just so happy for these guys and just happy to be a part of it."
Many had a hand in the Rams' surprising resurgence, but nobody more so than Gurley, who amassed 276 scrimmage yards and scored two touchdowns in Week 16.
The Rams fell behind by four near the midway point of the second quarter, when a Jurrell Casey sack of Jared Goff led to a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. But on the next drive, Gurley took a screen pass and went untouched for an 80-yard score. The Rams went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Titans' 13-yard line well into the third quarter, largely because their new kicker, Sam Ficken, missed two easy attempts early. But Gurley took what could've been a 5-yard loss and turned it into a 10-yard gain, putting the ball at the 3-yard line to set up an easy touchdown pass from Goff to Sammy Watkins.
The Rams trailed again, 23-20 at the start of the fourth quarter. But Goff capped a six-play, 68-yard drive with a pass to a diving Cooper Kupp in the corner of the end zone. It became the winning touchdown, thanks to a defense that held a Marcus Mariota-led Titans offense to 64 yards -- and zero points -- over the last 16 plays.
And that drive was made possible, once again, by Gurley.
"He's been doing that all year," Rams outside linebacker Robert Quinn said. "When things don't go right, it seems like he always comes out and adds a spark, or gives life back to the team."
Gurley made 10 catches for a career-high 158 receiving yards and needed only 21 carries to pick up 118 rushing yards against a defense that entered the game allowing the NFL's third-fewest yards on the ground. With that, he became the first player since Herschel Walker in 1986 with at least 100 rushing yards and 150 receiving yards in the same game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Gurley, now with 2,093 scrimmage yards, is the third player in NFL history with 2,000 scrimmage yards, 10-plus rushing touchdowns and more than five receiving touchdowns in a single season, joining Hall of Famers Marshall Faulk and O.J. Simpson. His 19 touchdowns easily lead the NFL. And after the game, several Rams players pushed hard for Gurley to win the MVP, an award that has gone to quarterbacks after nine of the past 10 seasons.
Gurley was more excited about the division championship.
"Breathtaking" was how he described the scene in the postgame locker room. "Everybody was happy for each other and giving hugs and telling everybody that we love each other. That's what football is all about -- getting to have this feeling, winning games and a playoff spot. It doesn't get any better than this."
At this time last year, the Rams dropped a heartbreaker at home to the division-rival San Francisco 49ers. It was their sixth of seven consecutive losses to end their first season back in L.A. They didn't have a head coach or a competent offense, and they had no idea whether they actually had a franchise quarterback. Goff stood behind the podium that Saturday and said, "I promise you guys it will get fixed. Everything in my heart and soul to get it all fixed."
Three-hundred and sixty-five days later, Goff went 22-of-38 for 301 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions in a game that wrapped up the division.
He was asked how the turnaround happened so quickly.
"I guess from the outside looking in you could be surprised," Goff said. "But being on the inside of it and being there daily, and seeing all the changes that happened, and everything that went in the right direction this offseason, coming in through OTAs and through training camp, and trending upward and feeling good about it -- you never know how this whole season is going to play out, but we felt good about our year and coming into it. And now we are sitting here division champs, and it feels really good."