Two weeks after a 45-6 beat down by the Baltimore Ravens had the Rams fading from the playoff picture, the team is back in the race.
All it took was a game against the Arizona Cardinals to get the offense back in sync and then a Sunday night game against the Seattle Seahawks for the team to show glimpses of what it looked like last season when it went to the Super Bowl.
The Rams followed a 34-7 victory over the Cardinals Dec. 1 with a 28-12 win over the Seahawks Dec. 8. With the win, the Rams moved within a game of the Minnesota Vikings for the second NFC wild card slot.
With three games remaining in the regular season, if the Vikings win two out of their last three games, the Rams have to win out against Dallas Dec. 15, the San Francisco 49ers Dec. 22 and Arizona again Dec. 29.
The Dallas and San Francisco games are against division leaders on the road, although with only a 6-7 record, Dallas shouldn’t scare a team as good as the Rams.
The Vikings also have a tough remaining schedule, facing the Chargers at Dignity Health Sports Park Dec. 15 followed by home games against the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.
The Chargers could do the Rams an immense favor by knocking off the Vikings this week. The Vikings are only 3-4 on the road this season and generally don’t play well on the West Coast.
The Chargers played their most complete game of the season last week, defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars, 45-10. It was the first time the Chargers had scored more than 30 points in a game since the fourth week of the season.
Quarterback Philip Rivers completed 16 of 22 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns and running back Austin Ekeler gained more than 100 yards rushing and receiving to pace the Chargers offense. Ekeler finished with 213 yards on only 12 touches (eight runs, four pass receptions).
It was the first time the Chargers looked like a possible contender since they beat the Indianapolis Colts in overtime the opening week of the season. Since then, the Charges have lost two in a row, defeated the lowly Miami Dolphins, lost three in a row, defeated the Chicago Bears, lost four in a row and defeated the hapless Jaguars.
Not the impression the Chargers wanted to make this season.
The Rams were coming of a Super Bowl season and have struggled at times this year, mostly because of an offense line that isn’t what it was last season.
But that line has started to jell the last two weeks as the Rams have varied their offense in an effort to help quarterback Jared Goff.
Against the Seahawks, head coach Sean McVay had Goff rolling out several times to avoid the Seahawks rush and give him a chance to see downfield. He completed 22 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns, although his two interceptions in the third quarter almost let the Seahawks back in the game.
Running back Todd Gurley had 27 touches for 113 yards, but the Rams also handed the ball to wide receivers Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds on fly sweeps or reverses to slow down the Seahawks defensively. Those five running plays accounted for 58 yards.
Defensively, the Rams kept Seahawk quarterback Russell Wilson out of the end zone all day. The Seahawks lone score came on an interception return by Quandre Diggs early in the third quarter.
Diggs picked off Goff again on the Rams next drive, but the Seahawks couldn’t move the ball and the Rams put the game away with a fourth quarter touchdown by Gurley, who used a brutal straight arm to get into the end zone.
The Rams are starting to look like last year’s team. Whether it’s too late to make another big playoff run remains to be seen.
THE BEST CHOICE: I know that 80% of the USC football fans probably disagree with me, but keeping Clay Helton one more year was the best thing to do for USC. The new administration will have another year to evaluate Helton and his coaching abilities and see how he fits in with their vision for the future of the university as a whole and its athletic program.
If Helton improves on this season’s 8-4 record and the Trojans play for the conference championship and a major bowl game could earn Helton another year. He’s under contract through 2022.
If the Trojans somehow aren’t as good next year, go ahead and fire Helton and find yourself a coach who can build the program everybody at USC wants. Helton might want to replace defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special teams coordinator John Baxter to get fresh eyes on problem areas.
USC was having a bad time recruiting this season. By announcing Helton is staying, USC no longer has to worry about what opposing schools are telling recruits about the school’s coaching situation.
Helton now needs to go out and close on a couple of significant recruits to make up for too many recruits who decommitted to the program recently.
The Trojans will play Iowa in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego Dec. 27. The last time the Trojans faced Iowa in a bowl game was the 2003 Orange Bowl, won by the Trojans, 38-17.
The Trojans won the national championship the next year.
DYNAMIC DUO: LeBron James and Anthony Davis have become the newest dynamic duo in the NBA. The two superstars have meshed well with the Lakers through the first quarter of the season.
Davis is averaging 27.7 points and 9 rebounds a game, while James is averaging 25.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 10.8 assists as the Lakers have jumped out to a 21-3 start, tied with Milwaukee for the best record in the league this year.
Going back to Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in the 1960s, the Lakers have always been about dynamic duos.
When they won their first title in 1972, it was West and Wilt Chamberlain. During the Showtime era of the 1980s it was Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. At the turn of the century it was Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal and later it was Bryant and Pau Gasol.
James and Davis may be the most dynamic since Magic and Kareem.
The Lakers also are getting solid efforts from guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and their center combination of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Playing about 36 minutes a game, Howard and McGee are averaging 14.2 points and 13.1 rebounds a game and providing solid inside defense.
Howard has been cheered more often at Staples Center this season than he was the entire 2012-13 season when he played 76 games for the Lakers.
Howard is happy to be with the Lakers now. He wasn’t seven years ago when he still wanted to be the star and Bryant wasn’t ready to surrender that role.
James is more willing than Bryant to get his teammates involved and he particularly seems to like playing with Davis and watching him fulfill his potential.
The Lakers were rolling along at a fine clip in December last year when a load of injuries began to hit. By the time the team was healthy again, they were out of the running for the playoffs.
Barring a major injury to James or Davis, that won’t happen this season