GLENDALE, Ariz. — Rookie running back Todd Gurley’s NFL debut didn’t go as well as he would have hoped last week.
The first-round pick out of Georgia ran for just nine yards on six carries in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
What a difference a week can make.
Gurley rumbled for 146 yards on 19 carries, including some big back-breaking runs in the later stages of the St. Louis Rams’ 24-22 win over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.
The Cardinals’ run defense shut down Gurley in the first half, holding him to just two yards on four carries. Then the second half happened.
On St. Louis’ second possession of the third quarter, Gurley ripped off runs of 23 and 12 yards. Two more totes got the Rams down to the Cardinals’ 18-yard line. On a 3rd-and-5, quarterback Nick Foles hit Stedman Bailey on an 18-yard touchdown pass to extend the Rams’ lead to 17-9.
Gurley was just getting started. He reeled off a 52-yard jaunt early in the fourth quarter that set up a Foles-to-Tavon Austin touchdown strike and a 24-15 lead with 8:16 to go.
The Cardinals would get into Rams’ territory with a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but a drive ended on downs at the St. Louis 43-yard-line. Arizona had all three of their timeouts, but Gurley made that a moot point by ripping off runs of 20 and 30 to seal the win.
Gurley could have scored on the 30-yarder, but instead slowed down and stayed in bounds to kill the clock and any remaining Arizona hope.
“I was just being a smart player and made the right decision,” he said. “I didn’t want to go out of bounds and hold onto the ball. I could have easily scored, but no, I was just trying to get the win.”
Pretty heady stuff for a player who was seeing extended action for the first time and sat out most of his junior year at Georgia with a knee injury. Foles lauded his young teammate for his smarts.
“That was a veteran move right there, especially it being possibly his first NFL touchdown on a run like that in a situation like that,” he said. “It shows you that he is a team guy first and that is what you want.
“I was proud of him today for coming out and playing the way he did.”
St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher felt the same way.
“It’s totally unselfish,” Fisher stated. “Beyond that, for a rookie to have the presence of mind to do that, it says a lot for his understanding of this game and putting games away. Three times he had carries where he stayed inbounds and on two of them, he went down.”
Arizona came into the game yielding an average of just 88 yards rushing through the season’s first three weeks. Gurley piled up 106 yards in the fourth quarter alone.
The Cardinals were impressed, but pinned a lot of the rookie’s success on their own failings.
“He’s a great player, a physical player, but we need to get in our gaps,” safety Deone Bucannon said. “Honestly that’s all it is. Every back is a big, physical back, it’s just about being mentally sound and understanding where we need to be.”
Safety Rashad Johnson echoed those sentiments.
“A lot of it was self-inflicted. The plays that they made were assignment issues that we had,” he said. “In the run game, in the second half — we’d done a great job in the first half. In the second half, it seemed like we were trying to make big plays instead of just doing our jobs up front.
“For myself, I have a high standard, so it was just a lack of focus in the second half.”