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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, January 24, 2019 1:00 am

Going all in paid off for Rams this season

GREG BEACHAM | Associated Press

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – One year ago, general manager Les Snead and the Los Angeles Rams' front office decided they had to jump through the championship window that had suddenly appeared before them.

Now that they've landed on their feet in Atlanta, Snead has zero regrets about writing the checks and making the commitments necessary for his Super Bowl team to make that leap.

“After winning the division last year, after contending last year, we sat back and said, 'We definitely feel like we can do this, and we could do this consistently for a little while,' ” Snead said Wednesday. “I think the moves this year were (about saying), 'Let's improve. That wasn't good enough.'”

The Rams reached the playoffs last season for the first time in 13 years, with rookie coach Sean McVay leading a seven-win improvement for a franchise that hadn't had a winning season since 2003.

But Los Angeles promptly lost its first postseason game to the Falcons.

Knowing the tenuousness of NFL success and realizing the impact a Super Bowl run could have in the Rams' new home, Snead decided it was already time to do everything possible to help homegrown stars Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald and Jared Goff.

“That feeling after Atlanta was hollow, even after the sweetness of the breakthrough,” said Snead.

So the Rams made several enormous bets on themselves, and every one of them has paid off.

The Rams acquired defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and edge rusher Dante Fowler to bolster their defense. They gave huge contracts to Gurley and Donald – and even to receiver Brandin Cooks, who was just acquired from New England for a first-round pick.

Snead's largely homegrown roster was suddenly supplemented by elite, high-priced veteran talent, and McVay's staff made it work.

After matching the NFL's best regular-season record at 13-3 and then beating Dallas and New Orleans in the postseason, the Rams are beginning preparations for their trip to Atlanta to face New England in the Super Bowl.

Snead gives much of the credit to McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, but isn't surprised.

“We always say around here that we're not collecting talent,” Snead said. “We're building a team, and there's more to team than just a skillset on the football field. I like to say, 'You can't bring someone in that's going to be a toothache.' ... And also, our culture can lead to them thriving.”

The Rams' bets on Donald and Gurley paid off with outstanding seasons from both. Cooks also lived up to his five-year, $81 million extension with 80 catches and a career-best 1,204 yards receiving. The Rams acquired Fowler from Jacksonville during the season, and his effectiveness has steadily increased, culminating in two strong playoff games.

Note: Kicker Greg Zuerlein appears on the Rams' first injury report before the Super Bowl with a foot injury. The right-footed Zuerlein was spotted with a walking boot on his left foot Monday.