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Special teams TDs carry Los Angeles Rams past Jacksonville Jaguars

By Hays Carlyon, The Sports Xchange
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley II gets away from Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in the first half at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California on October 8, 2017. File photo by Lori Shepler/UPI
Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley II gets away from Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in the first half at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California on October 8, 2017. File photo by Lori Shepler/UPI | License Photo

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Some games are won with special teams.

The Los Angeles Rams' 27-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at EverBank Field was a prime example.

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The Rams (4-2) returned the opening kickoff for a 103-yard touchdown, blocked a punt for an 8-yard touchdown, kicked a 56-yard field goal and averaged 46 yards per punt.

"Real credit to the special teams, coming away with two touchdowns," Rams head coach Sean McVay said. "I thought it was the difference in that game."

The Jaguars, meanwhile, missed two 54-yard field-goal attempts and were let down by a shaky performance by punter Brad Nortman. In addition to the block, Nortman had punts of 18 and 28 yards for the Jaguars (3-3).

"It's very difficult in the NFL when you give up that many points on special teams," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. "It's very difficult to win the game, so I thought we were trying to battle our way back in there, but obviously that hurt. We weren't able to overcome that, which is difficult to do in this league."

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The special teams overshadowed a matchup of two of the NFL's surprising teams and two of the best young backs in the league -- Los Angeles' Todd Gurley and Jacksonville's Leonard Fournette. Both produced big days, with Fournette rushing for 130 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries while Gurley went for 116 yards on 23 attempts.

Los Angeles opened up a 24-14 halftime lead when linebacker Cory Littleton blocked a punt with Jacksonville facing a fourth-and-9 on its own 19. Littleton easily got to Nortman. The ball was quickly corralled by running back Malcolm Brown, who dragged multiple Jaguars into the end zone on an 8-yard return with 2:25 to play in the second quarter.

"We came out with a mindset that our special teams was going to make big plays in this game, and one thing was the blocked punt," Littleton said. "We came with a scenario where we had a chance to do it and we successfully executed it. ... Our play on specialty teams and our whole mindset was to dominate all four phases, and that's exactly what we did."

Jacksonville's Jason Myers kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to 24-17 with 5:16 to go in the third quarter.

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Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles spoiled the team's best chance to tie the game, throwing an interception to Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman with 12:07 to play in the game. Robey-Coleman returned the pick 31 yards to the Jaguars' 45.

"I had vision on the quarterback, and (tight end) Marcedes Lewis came underneath," Robey-Coleman said. "When Blake threw it, I just broke on the ball. I thought Marcedes was going to catch it. He tipped the ball, and it just landed in my hands.

"I had to cover the flats, and when nobody was in my flats, they cleared out on that side. I'm coached to look back across the field to see who's coming underneath. The Jaguars have run this exact play, and they ran it back to me. I think they run that exact play a lot."

The Jaguars went three-and-out on their final opportunity before the Rams made it a two-score game on a Greg Zuerlein 29-yard field goal with 2:36 to play.

Myers missed a 54-yard field goal with 1:12 left as Marrone tried to cut the margin to seven and try an onside kick.

The teams combined for 31 points in the first quarter.

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The Rams got it going immediately on the opening kickoff. Receiver Pharoh Cooper caught Myers' kickoff 3 yards deep in the end zone and brought it out. He ran into little resistance, hugging the right sideline on a 103-yard touchdown return.

"You can see that he's a strong runner," McVay said. "To be able to make that play to finish was huge for us, big momentum boost to start out 7-0 right away. Pharoh did an excellent job on that one."

The Jaguars didn't take long to answer.

Fournette broke free on the first play from scrimmage. He sliced between two defensive backs and ran 75 yards for a touchdown.

The two touchdowns came in a span of 25 seconds.

Fournette has scored in the first six games of his NFL career. Only Robert Edwards (1998) also accomplished the feat.

Special teams gaffes cost the Jaguars again later in the first quarter. Nortman mis-hit an attempt that went 18 yards to the Jaguars' 45-yard line. The Jaguars forced a three-and-out, but Zuerlein connected from 56 yards to give Los Angeles a 10-7 lead with 8:54 to play in the first quarter.

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The Jaguars responded with a four-play drive that went for 18, 17, 18 and 22 yards. The march finished when Bortles pulled off a nifty play-action off a reverse and found running back Chris Ivory on a screen pass. Ivory was able to turn it into a touchdown to give the Jaguars a 14-10 lead.

Fournette pulled off an impressive 18-yard run on the drive, putting a sensational spin move on Rams linebacker Connor Barwin.

The Rams closed the explosive opening quarter on a 4-yard touchdown shovel pass from quarterback Jared Goff to tight end Gerald Everett.

Bortles was 23 of 35 for 241 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Goff finished 11 of 24 for 124 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

NOTES: Rams CB Trumaine Johnson left the game in the fourth quarter to be evaluated for a possible concussion. ... Jaguars DE Calais Campbell recorded two sacks, giving him eight this season. ... The Rams will stay in the Jacksonville area for the next three days prior to leaving for their next game in London. Los Angeles plays NFC West rival Arizona on Sunday at Twickenham Stadium in a "home" game. ... The Jaguars were without C Brandon Linder (illness) for the second straight week. ... Jaguars RB T.J. Yeldon was a healthy inactive for the fifth consecutive game after missing the opener with a hamstring injury. The Jaguars selected Yeldon in the second round of the 2015 draft. ... The Rams were without S Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring). QB Brandon Allen, who was a sixth-round pick by the Jaguars in 2016, was a healthy scratch. The Jaguars cut Allen following the preseason.

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