"These guys have been kicking our ass for the last 10, 15 years. You have to enjoy it. You have to take advantage of the situation."
That was Todd Gurley shortly after the Rams demoralized the Seahawks . It was as thorough a beatdown as you'll see in the NFL, and if ever there was a moment you might point to and say, "Yep, that's when it all changed," Sunday's 35-point victory would be it.
This isn't to say that Seattle has gone from annual playoff participant to sudden also-ran, but it does seem clear that the Rams needed just a few months to shake off five seasons of underwhelming football from the Jeff Fisher era.
Funny story: The Rams were better against the Seahawks with Fisher than his replacement, Sean McVay. Fisher had a 5-4 record against Seattle, while McVay is 1-1. The difference, of course, is everything else. Fisher was 26-41-1 against teams not from Seattle. Meanwhile, McVay, in his first season in Los Angeles and a Coach of the Year favorite, has the Rams at 10-4 with two games to go, headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2004 with the most wins in a season since 2003.
So what has changed since Fisher?
Pretty much everything.
An unstoppable offense
The Rams finished the 2016 season with a 4-12 record and ranked 30th in total efficiency, according to Football Outsiders (32nd in offense, 15th in defense, third in special teams). The team headed into Sunday's game as the NFL's best overall team (fifth in offense, fourth in defense, second in special teams) -- ahead of the Eagles, Saints, Patriots, Steelers and everyone else.
It starts with second-year quarterback Jared Goff, who ranked dead last in value per play in 2016 and is currently No. 5, ahead of Carson Wentz and Ben Roethlisberger. Then there's running back Todd Gurley, who bolstered his MVP candidacy with a four-touchdown effort against Seattle.
We'll admit it; we thought the Rams drafted Gurley too high. The 10th overall pick in 2015 rushed for 1,106 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns as a rookie but regressed last season when he managed just 885 yards (3.2 ypc) and six touchdowns. Like Goff, Gurley has been a completely different player in McVay's system; he has rushed for 1,187 yards (4.6 ypc) with 13 touchdowns in 2017 and has already doubled his receiving yards from a season ago (630 yards along with four touchdowns).
A microcosm of just how good Gurley has been this season was on full display on this 57-yard touchdown sprint just before halftime. The Rams, already leading 27-0, faced a third-and-20. It was a conservative, predictable play call that was so well executed that Gurley wasn't touched until he was celebrating with his teammates in the end zone:
Gurley was pulled with five minutes to go in the third quarter. By the time he took a seat on the bench, he had run for 152 yards on 21 carries, including three touchdowns. He also had three catches for 28 yards and another score, which came just before he departed and made the score 40-0.
By Goff's lofty 2017 standards, he had a low-key effort against the Seahawks. But when everything else is clicking -- from the running game to special teams to defense -- that's all you're looking for. Goff finished 14 of 21 for 120 yards with two touchdowns and a harmless first-quarter interception. And to be fair, the Rams offense didn't exactly floor it coming out of halftime; they led 34-0 at the break and scored just one touchdown the rest of the way. In fact, Goff gave way to backup Sean Mannion with 12 minutes left in the final period.
A hidden MVP candidate
If this was the game that put Gurley into the MVP conversation, it should also serve as a reminder that defensive tackle Aaron Donald already belonged there. Of course, no one was talking about Donald as a legit MVP candidate before Sunday because of the position he plays. But other than, perhaps, Rob Gronkowski, no single player dominated a game this weekend like Donald did.
The Seahawks' offensive line spent the afternoon trying to devise ways to slow the former first-round pick and none of them worked. On Monday, Carroll said Donald was the most unique player the Seahawks face and when the team tried to double team him, he consistently beat it.
Carroll also said this about the entire Sunday-afternoon experience, though he just as easily could have been talking specifically about Donald:
Carroll on the Rams: "It seemed like they were faster than us.''— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) December 18, 2017
By the time Russell Wilson dragged himself off the field for the final time, he had been sacked seven times, three directly due to Donald, and at least another couple because he single-handedly destroyed the pocket allowing another teammate to take Wilson down.
Here's the NFL's most athletic quarterback having no chance against the NFL's most athletic defensive tackle:
"When I think about Aaron Donald, he's probably in my opinion the greatest defensive player I've ever played against in terms of actually playing a game against. That's a pretty big statement because I've played against some really good guys. I think back to my rookie year an my second year -- I played against guys like [NaVorro] Bowman, [Patrick] Willis, and all those guys in my head are probably the top guys I've ever played. And then I think about Aaron Donald and he's up there as well. I have tremendous respect for how he plays the game. He's really tough, he's really quick. He's pretty special. You look forward to those matchups because those are things you remember and what you'll tell your kids one day. He'll probably be a Hall of Famer no doubt."
That was Wilson. Donald somehow exceeded those already-lofty expectations. But he wasn't just a terror in passing situations, he routinely blew up any attempts the Seahawks made to run the ball. They finished with 78 rushing yards. As usual, Wilson led the way with 39 yards on five carries. Remove Wilson scrambling for his life and Seattle's running backs had 39 yards on 12 carries (3.3 ypc).
To put Donald's dominance against Seattle into perspective, here's Pro Football Focus:
Over the past four seasons, [Donald] has seven sacks, 13 hits, 33 hurries for a total of 53 pressures across eight games. That is pressure once every 4.8 snaps, which is a ludicrous pressure rate that betters even the best numbers from edge rushers, who typically generate pressure at an even greater figure.
For the season, he has 11 sacks, which ties his career best. He has also forced four fumbles, two better than his previous high.
At 10-4, the Rams could lose their final two regular-season games and finish with the same 10-6 record as the Seahawks, should Seattle win out. But this feels different. McVay has a lot to do with that, setting the tone and the expectations in the offseason and helping his team live up to both in the months that followed.
For an idea of how different the McVay Rams are from their Fisher predecessors, just take a look at this table from SportsLine's Stephen Oh. Before the season, the Rams were expected to rank 29th out of 32 teams, win 37.7 percent of the time against every other team on a neutral field and have a five percent chance to make the playoffs.
Now? They're the No. 2 team, win two-thirds of the time on a neutral field, and are 97 percent certain to make the playoffs. And the only reason their chances of winning the Super Bowl aren't higher is because they're unlikely to lock up home-field advantage. Still, the 10 percent chance they win it all is a vast improvement over the 1-in-2,500 chances they were facing before the season.
"Everything has changed," Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said Sunday. "Just the way this team plays, the way they feel."
It sure seems that way for McVay's Rams. And not just for the 2017 season, but the foreseeable future.