THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams are 4-2 for the first time since 2006 and have shown maturity, poise, resilience and massive coaching and personnel improvements.
Most of that was on display when they beat the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday to remain undefeated (3-0) away from Los Angeles.
The offense struggled to put together consistent drives and managed just one touchdown and two field goals.
But a defense that's rapidly rounding back into form and a spectacular effort from the special teams was enough to balance out the offensive shortcomings.
That's the sign of a team that's transitioning back to NFL relevance after spending the last 13 years on the outside looking in while not positing one single winning season.
More and more, the Rams are looking like a complete team able to beat opponents a variety of ways. Be it outgunning them, out-punching them or, as was the case Sunday, getting a huge lift from a special-teams unit that scored two touchdowns.
On an afternoon in which the offense wasn't clicking, another area of the team was available to step up.
"That is kind of exactly what I just said to a few teammates," said quarterback Jared Goff. "Obviously, you never want to do what we did offensively tonight. I don't know where we were on third down, but I know it wasn't very good. For the rest of the guys on the team to be able to pick us up and really win the game for us is the reason why we won tonight and the sign of a good team."
And in the process, the Rams begin their long three-game odyssey away from Los Angeles on the right foot. The Rams will remain in Jacksonville this week to practice in preparation for their NFC West clash against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday in London. And after the bye week the following week, they'll return to the East Coast to play the New York Giants.
Getting the win on Sunday kicks things off on the right foot.
"It makes the trip more enjoyable, you know?" said Rams head coach Sean McVay. "Credit to our players. I think they just continue to show character, and continue to fight. Sometimes things don't always go our way, we've had a lot of adversity, but I think what you saw today, offense not really playing quite as well as we would like, defense and special teams picked up their performance, and it's about winning as a football team, and that's what we were able to do, and we've got to continue to improve in all three phases. I thought really, when you look at the special teams and the defense, hats off to them. They did a great job today."
Running back Todd Gurley II enjoyed a homecoming of sorts, having played four previous times at Jacksonville's EverBank Field as a member of the University of Georgia football team. No surprise, then, he enjoyed a solid afternoon against the Jaguars, rushing for 130 yards on 21 carries.
"This is my stadium, right here," Gurley said. "I've had one loss in this stadium, and (three) wins. Being able to play here brings back old memories. I had my family here and a bunch of Georgia Dawg fans here, so that was a good feeling."
Linebacker Cory Littleton, a second-year player, is a backup on defense but is turning into a valuable player on special teams. He flashed big time Sunday by bursting through the Jaguars offensive line to block a punt inside the Jacksonville 10-yard line. Teammate Malcolm Brown picked the ball up at the 8-yard line and rumbled into the end zone for the touchdown.
"Basically, 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."
The Rams special teams under coordinator John Fassel have been a strength of the team. Littleton said part of it is mindset.
"Our play on specialty teams and our whole mindset was to dominate all four phases and that's exactly what we did," he said.
NOTES: WR Pharoh Cooper returned the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown. The last time the Rams had a kickoff returned for a touchdown was Oct. 9, 2005, when CB Chris Johnson returned one 99 yards. Cooper's return is tied for the third longest kickoff returned for a touchdown in franchise history. Two players have returned kickoffs for 105 yards (Jon Arnett and Travis Williams). Cooper's 103-yard return is tied with Tony Horne and Tommy Wilson for third longest. ... Rookie TE Gerald Everett notched his first career touchdown on a 4-yard pass from QB Jared Goff. ... CB Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted a QB Blake Bortles pass and returned it 31 yards. It was Robey-Coleman's second interception of the season. This is the second consecutive season that Robey-Coleman has nabbed two interceptions in a single season. He has five career interceptions.
REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS
--PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The Rams threw for just 107 yards against the ball-hawking Jaguars, which is not acceptable given the talent on hand and the improvements of second-year QB Jared Goff. They need to do better moving forward.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Todd Gurley II exceeded the 100-yard mark for the third time in four games with 116 yards on 21 carries. The Rams would have preferred that output would have resulted in more points offensively, but they'll still take springing Gurley over the century mark any time they can. Especially in a win.
--PASS DEFENSE: A -- The Rams gave up just 220 yards and no touchdowns while notching five sacks against Blake Bortles and the Jaguars. They also forced an interception and rushed Bortles on some other errant throws. It was a winning effort, and the kind they'll gladly live with the rest of the season.
--RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Outside of the 75-yard touchdown run the Rams surrendered to Leonard Fournette on the Jaguars' opening play, the Rams actually did a solid job bottling up the impressive runner by limiting him to just 55 yards on 20 carries the rest of the way. Their goal was to slow Fournette down and put the game on QB Blake Bortles, and outside of the opening run that's exactly what they did.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: A-plus -- Pharoh Cooper took the opening kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown. Cory Littleton blocked a punt and Malcolm Brown returned it 8 yards for a touchdown, Greg Zuerlein was good on two field-goal attempts, one of which was for 56 yards, and didn't allow a kickoff return. Johnny Hekker averaged 46 yards on seven punts with a net of 43.1 and four inside the 20. That is an exemplary effort any way you slice it.
--COACHING: B -- The Rams have some work to do on the offensive side of the ball, especially on third downs as they converted just 4 of 13 situations. And that's on head coach Sean McVay, the Rams de facto offensive coordinator for all intents and purposes. But aside from that, Wade Phillips made defensive adjustments to limit the Jaguars' powerful run game and John Fassel and the special teams were spectacular.