LOS ANGELES, CA – JANUARY 12: Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams scores a 35 yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Todd Gurley played much less of a role in the Los Angeles Rams making it to Super Bowl LIII than the referees, that’s for sure.

The biggest story out of the Rams overtime win that booked their spot in Atlanta was the horrific pass interference no-call that, in many respects, made it possible. And though Gurley found the end zone once, he managed just 13 total yards, including 10 on the ground.

It’s not what the Rams envisaged when they added C.J. Anderson to the roster late in the regular season. The hope was that Gurley and Anderson would morph into a two-headed monster that would scorch the opposition’s rush defense en route to a Lombardi Trophy.

That endgame is still possible, even if it materialized via dubious circumstances. And standing in their way is a New England Patriots team highly motivated to cement themselves as the greatest NFL dynasty of all-time. The irony that their chance to do so comes against the Rams is glaringly evident.

For this year’s big game will take place on the 17-year anniversary of the Pats’ 20-17 victory over the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. That game is incredibly significant in that it marked the beginning of the now historic run of dominance under Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Nothing puts that dominance in perspective more than the fact that a win will give New England its sixth Lombardi Trophy in that time. It will tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for most all-time Super Bowl wins. But what differentiates their success from that of the Steelers is that it occurred under a single head coach-quarterback combination.

Having said all that, a loss to the Rams would have its own historic ramifications. No franchise in NFL history has come up short in six Super Bowls. Should the Rams triumph, the Patriots would be the first. And it would also drop them to 5-6 all-time in the NFL’s showpiece event.

Three of those losses came during the Brady-Belichick era, including last year when they fell to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. But their two defeats at the hands of the New York Giants are notable for the purposes of this particular discussion. Because, in many respects, those Giants teams and this year’s Rams are similar.

Like Eli Manning in both Super Bowls against the Pats, Jared Goff is by far the lesser heralded quarterback. The third-year signal caller likely has his fair share of doubters who don’t give him much of a chance to outduel a legendary 19-year veteran. Of course, even Nick Foles earning Super Bowl MVP honors against Brady probably came as a surprise to many.

But here’s the kicker. The signing of Anderson to compliment Gurley makes the Rams backfield invariably similar to that of the Giants during their two most recent Super Bowl wins. Their multi-pronged running game machine included Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. The tandem combined for six rushing touchdowns in the playoffs during those two seasons.

It makes sense to limit the discussion to the postseason when making this comparison. That’s especially true given that LA signed Anderson on December 19 and Gurley sat out the final two regular season games due to a minor knee injury. The hope was that Anderson teaming up with a fully-healthy Gurley comprised the final piece in a championship-winning puzzle.

It certainly looked like that was going to happen in their playoff debut this year. They absolutely gassed the Dallas Cowboys on the ground in the NFC divisional round, combining for 238 rushing yards and six total touchdowns. Gurley accounted for one on the ground and a whopping three through the air, showcasing his ability as one of the league’s top pass-catching backs.

A week later, the Saints succeeded in bottling him up. That simply can’t happen against the Pats. One of the keys to next Sunday’s clash at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is the Rams unleashing Gurley’s versatility. There are hints the Patriots are vulnerable. In their narrow 37-31 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC title game, they gave up a rushing touchdown and two receiving touchdowns to running back Damien Williams.

2018 saw Gurley continue to establish himself as one of the NFL’s best running backs. No player finished with more than his 21 total touchdowns. Only Ezekiel Elliott finished with more yards per game. He came within a tenth of a yard from becoming one of four players to eclipse 1,000 rushing yards while also averaging five yards per carry. And the only players to finish with more games of 100+ rushing yards during the regular season were Elliott and Saquon Barkley.

His MVP case evaporated late in the year when he prioritized getting fully healthy for the playoffs. Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees are clearly the front-runners for that award. But blown interference call aside, the Rams made it this far due in large part to Gurley’s exploits in both the Rams ground and pass game. If he can turn in one more standout performance this year, he’ll ostensibly make a case to take home MVP honors as part of the biggest spectacle in American sports.

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