The head is down, the sentences short and the tone soft. This is Todd Gurley during most media sessions. The Los Angeles Rams' star running back is withdrawn and generally uninterested when speaking publicly, the expressions hiding behind his dreadlocks and his words trailing off at the end.
On Sunday, though, Gurley suddenly became forthcoming.
His Rams had just dropped their third straight game, a 17-10 loss to the New York Giants. And Gurley had been held to 57 yards on 15 carries, marking the 14th time in the last 15 games that he had failed to reach 100 yards on the ground. When it was over, Gurley told reporters from London, he went around the room to each of his teammates "to tell them I love them and to stay together."
"Leave it in God's hands," Gurley said. "It is what it is. We lost the game. You've got to move on from this and stay together. When times get rough, everybody goes to blame, whether it's in the locker room, media, whatever it is. We're on the field together, so we've just got to stay together."
The Rams are 3-4 now, below .500 through seven weeks for the eighth time in the last 10 years and seemingly on their way to another season of mediocrity as they head into their bye week.
Teams that started off 3-4 made the playoffs only 19 percent of the time from 1990 to 2015, and the Rams' chances are even lower if Gurley continues to struggle. Gurley finished third in rushing as a rookie last year despite starting only 12 of 16 games. He was widely expected to establish himself as the game's best running back in his sophomore year, but in an offense that struggles to block and to pass, Gurley instead ranks 37th with 3.01 rushing yards per carry. Seventeen others have compiled more than his 403 yards.
“I think everybody needs to, whether it’s players or coaches, [ask themselves], ‘Are you helping or are you hurting the team?’" Gurley said. "It’s as simple as that. Mental mistakes -- you can’t have them, from everybody. We’ve got to play better, man. We’ve got to play better. This is football. We’ve been doing it our whole lives. We can’t be shooting ourselves in the foot.”
Gurley was probably talking about the four interceptions thrown by Case Keenum, who entered the week with the second-lowest Total QBR among qualified quarterbacks. But he could've also been talking about the eight penalties, adding to a total that is the most in the NFL since Jeff Fisher's first season as head coach in 2012. Or a group of receivers who either dropped easy passes (Tavon Austin), or didn't complete routes (Kenny Britt) or didn't run them entirely (Brian Quick).
"It is what it is," Gurley said. "It happened. Stay together. Leave it in God's hands. Keep working hard."
Gurley, one of five captains, was asked if he believes he is helping or hurting the team.
“Some games I’m hurting myself," he said. "Some games I feel like I’m doing as much as I can. It’s definitely not effort. Because everybody -- we love this game and we want to win. You just have to do the little things, the simple things. Football is the only sport where you practice every day and you play one game a week. And you practice every day. When the game comes, it should be second nature.”
This is Gurley, 22, immersing himself as a leader. He has previously stayed away from calling out teammates, even though he has every reason to be irate with the way this season has begun. And now -- for one day, at least -- he is speaking out about what must be done collectively. He is developing right in front of our eyes, but it doesn't matter much if the production does not follow.
Gurley averaged 4.14 yards per carry in Week 6 and 3.80 yards per carry in Week 7, but he has only carried the ball a combined 29 times.
On Sunday, Gurley took two snaps from the Wildcat formation -- one fewer than he took all of last year -- and also caught a screen pass for 20 yards. All told, he made six catches for 35 yards. But that's not enough.
"We've got a really good running back here," Fisher said. "We got to get him some touches and hit some creases. Until we do that, these games are going to be close."
Fisher said after the game that he is sticking with Keenum as his quarterback, and Gurley somewhat defended the move. He said he loves Keenum "to death" and pointed out how he is only one week removed from completing 27 of 32 passes against the Detroit Lions.
"That's football," Gurley said. "Stuff happens. That's not my call, whether there's a quarterback change or not. But I love Case to death."