After stringing the world along by not saying who would start at quarterback for the Rams in Saturday’s NFC wild-card game in Seattle, creating not only drama surrounding the game but a sort of journalistic scavenger hunt for clues to the decision, Sean McVay admitted afterward that he’d known all along it would be John Wolford.
"I made [the call] last week," he said with a smirk.
What he had no way of knowing when he did so, however, was that Wolford would not last through the first quarter. He was knocked out on a 2-yard run on the Rams’ second possession, taking the shoulder of Seahawks safety Jamal Adams to the crown of his head when he lunged headfirst for extra yardage on a scramble. It led to a scary situation for Wolford, who left Lumen Field in a neck brace via ambulance for evaluation at a nearby hospital.
It also led to a scary situation for the Rams, who had to turn to Jared Goff, their regular starter, who had thumb surgery on Dec. 28.
Both situations turned out just fine. Goff — with the help of 176 offensive yards from rookie running back Cam Akers along with the league’s top-ranked defense — was able to lead the sixth-seeded Rams to a 30-20 win. And by the time the team was in the locker room to celebrate the victory, Wolford was back from the hospital to join in the celebration.
It was, all-in-all, a thumbs-up kind of day for the Rams.
Of course, Goff probably was unlikely and unable to flash that universal signal of approval himself, given the status of his right hand.
It was well enough for him to go 9-for-19 for 155 yards and a key 15-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods that gave the Rams a 30-13 lead. It was not well enough for him to celebrate in the usual fashion after that throw. He awkwardly gave high-fives to teammates and coaches with his left hand only.
"It doesn’t hurt, but it had surgery 12 days ago," Goff said of his hand, which had just a small bandage on the outside and three pins holding things together on the inside. "The functionality of it is close."
Goff, who practiced during the week and warmed up well on Saturday, said he was disappointed when McVay told him he would not be starting. He was assured this was not a benching.
"The thought process going into the game was that our starting quarterback had thumb surgery," McVay said. "He did everything in his power to get himself ready. We felt like him being ready, even in a limited capacity behind John, was going to be the best option."
That was why the Rams did not have third-string quarterback Blake Bortles active. And why, when Wolford left the field, Goff was the only other true quarterback option. He quickly went from the emergency option to a symbol of the team’s grittiness.
"You could see he just battled and I was really pleased with his effort," McVay said.
His and everyone else’s.
Such as Akers, who scored the team’s first offensive touchdown. "Cam Akers is a stud," McVay said.
And the defense, which scored the first touchdown of the game. Darious Williams stepped in front of a wide receiver screen that Russell Wilson was throwing to DK Metcalf and returned it 42 yards to give the Rams a 13-3 lead. Wilson hit Metcalf for a 51-yard TD on the next series, but the Rams led 20-10 at halftime. They are 37-0 when leading at halftime under McVay.
The teams traded second-half field goals that made it 23-13, and Goff’s TD pass came after the Seahawks had two chances to stay in the game.
On fourth-and-1 from their own 34 with 9:56 left, they hurried to the line of scrimmage but were flagged for a false start. They wound up punting. Punt returner D.J. Reed later fumbled, and four plays later, Woods was in the end zone.
Wilson hit Metcalf for a 12-yard pass with 2:28 left to make it a 10-point game for third-seeded Seattle. Wilson was sacked five times, including on fourth-and-15 with 1:31 left on Seattle’s last gasp.
"I told these guys I have no place in my brain for this outcome," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "We were planning on winning and moving on."
It’s unclear who and where the Rams will play in the divisional round. It’s also unclear whom they will have available. They also lost All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald (rib injury) and receiver Cooper Cupp (right knee injury) during the game.
McVay said he did not have immediate updates on either situation.
Perhaps after next week’s game, he’ll say he knew all along.