CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay said before Sunday’s game that star running back Todd Gurley would not be on a snap count, but it became apparent Sunday in a 30-27 victory over the Carolina Panthers that the offensive game plan has expanded to include backup Malcolm Brown.
Gurley rushed for 97 yards on 14 carries, and Brown finished with 53 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries, as the Rams held off a late surge from the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Sunday’s game provided a first look at the Rams since their loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII after McVay elected to sit all of his starters and key reserves during the preseason. There appeared to be plenty of rust but also plenty of reason to think that a Super Bowl hangover will be avoided.
QB breakdown: Fresh off signing a four-year extension worth $134 million, with $110 million guaranteed, Jared Goff overcame a slow start — and a fourth-quarter blunder — to help the Rams improve to 1-0. Goff passed for 186 yards and a touchdown with an interception. In the first half, Goff overthrew a wide-open Robert Woods in Panthers territory on third down. In the fourth quarter, he was intercepted by cornerback James Bradberry. Goff settled in behind an offensive line that features two new starters in left guard Joe Noteboom and center Brian Allen — but it was far from a memorable performance.
Buying a breakout performance: The Rams signed outside linebacker Dante Fowler to a one-year deal worth $12 million with the hope that Fowler would continue the playmaking trend that he started last season. Fowler delivered, as he finished with three tackles and sacked quarterback Cam Newton twice. Before the opener, Fowler said his confidence had returned to the level he felt when he was a junior at Florida, before he was selected with the third overall pick in the 2015 draft.
Troubling trend: The Rams struggled to stop the run in 2018 and did not fare any better in the opener. Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey gashed the defense for 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 81 yards. McCaffrey averaged 6.7 yards per carry.
Pivotal play: Linebacker Cory Littleton intercepted a pass from Newton with under six minutes to play in the fourth quarter, with the Rams leading 30-20. The pick ended any attempt at a fourth-quarter comeback. Littleton, an undrafted free agent in the final season of his rookie contract, also forced and recovered a fumble in the first half.