Rams' Gurley is OK with losing rush title for playoff health
By GREG BEACHAM
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) Todd Gurley realizes he could lose his first NFL rushing title - and maybe even the league MVP award - while he stands on the sideline at the Coliseum this Sunday.
The Los Angeles Rams' do-it-all running back insists he doesn't mind taking a forced week off, even with just a 13-yard lead in the NFL rushing race.
That's because Gurley knows he'll be playing next weekend.
"You've just got to look at the bigger picture," Gurley said. "Coach (Sean McVay) has a plan, and he's done nothing but right things since we've been in here, so you've got to trust him on this decision as well."
Gurley heads into the final weekend of the regular season with 1,305 yards and that slim lead over Kansas City rookie Kareem Hunt (1,292) and Pittsburgh star Le'Veon Bell (1,291). Gurley is also a top candidate for league MVP, with many observers seeing it as a two-man race with New England quarterback Tom Brady.
The Rams, Chiefs and Steelers are all headed to the postseason with minimal reason to risk their workhorse backs in a largely meaningless regular-season finale, but only McVay has confirmed that his star back will sit out Sunday to rest. Gurley doesn't know whether he'll finish on top, but he'll cheer on his replacements in the Rams' backfield either way.
"I'm happy for the guys that's going to be able to play," Gurley said. "They haven't been able to play this whole season, and this is a great job for these guys to go out and compete. There's free agency next year, stuff like that."
Although Gurley is a big football fan who understands what company he would be joining by winning an NFL rushing title, he understands the primacy of the NFC West champion Rams' first playoff appearance since 2004.
"Your best ability is availability, and being able to play in each game of the season," Gurley said. "To be healthy, and put points on the board to help your team win, is a great accomplishment for me. I'm just thankful to be in the positon that I'm in."
Barring a monster final day by Hunt or Bell, this season's rushing champion will finish with the fewest yards for a champ since 1990, when Barry Sanders won the title with just 1,304 yards. The next-lowest total for a champ since 1990 is LaDainian Tomlinson's 1,474 yards in 2007.
But Gurley is back among the NFL's top offensive players after a rough 2016 relocation season with the Rams because of his superb work as a receiver as well as a ball-carrier.
While his rushing success is back at the level of his outstanding rookie season in St. Louis, Gurley has turned himself into a constant threat as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He leads the NFL with 2,093 all-purpose yards and Bell (1,946) would need a huge game to catch him for that particular title.
Gurley's 788 yards receiving are the most in the NFL for a running back. Only Alvin Kamara, New Orleans' dual-threat rookie, is close with 742.
"He has really worked and been intentional about getting better as a receiver," said McVay, who has exploited Gurley's pass-catching ability with increasing enthusiasm as the season wore on. "He's a special back, and he's been playing at his best these last couple of weeks. He's got such a great energy and an ability to contribute in a variety of ways."
Indeed, Gurley's regular season ended with a bang when he posted 456 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in the past two games. He put up 276 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in the Rams' division-clinching win at Tennessee last weekend.
Gurley heralded that game with a clever tweet: "Fantasy owners you're welcome now leave us alone. Merry Christmas!"
Gurley has a love-hate relationship with fans who bother him about their fantasy teams' performances, but he was thrilled when a social media movement emerged this week for championship-winning fantasy owners to donate part of their winnings from Gurley's brilliance to Shriners Hospitals for Children, one of Gurley's favorite charitable organizations.
"Man, that was dope," Gurley said. "That's real cool, just seeing that on social media. It doesn't matter what the money amount is, $10, $5, $25. Just to see that, and people caring, that means a lot."
NOTES: The Rams activated safety Cody Davis from injured reserve and placed linebacker Matt Longacre on injured reserve in two long-anticipated moves. ... McVay added two more names to the list of veterans who won't play much, if at all, against San Francisco on Sunday: linebacker Mark Barron and guard Rodger Saffold. Barron's Achilles tendon injury could limit him next week and into the playoffs, McVay acknowledged.
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
Updated December 29, 2017