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The Rams were more fun than anyone expected in 2017

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Let’s remember the best moments from the Rams’ breakout season.

Wild Card Round - Atlanta Falcons v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams’ season ended on a sour note, a 26-13 home loss to the Atlanta Falcons where the offense was stagnant for most of the night.

There will be time for reflection and second-guessing mistakes, but right now, we want to remember the good parts of a wildly successful year under new head coach Sean McVay.

It’s hard to overstate how big a turnaround the franchise made in 2017. The Rams were a punchline not that long ago, going 4-12 in 2016 and firing Jeff Fisher in December. The move back to L.A. was already looking like a dud. But McVay and his staff turned the Rams into a contender overnight, putting up an 11-5 record and winning the NFC West. With top-tier stars all entering their prime, the Rams should be in the playoff mix for years to come.

Let’s take a look back at the highlights of the 2017 Rams, one of the NFL’s best stories.

Todd Gurley, destroyer of worlds

After a down 2016 campaign, Gurley roared back to become an MVP contender this season. A man of his size shouldn’t be able to move the way he does, but here he is hurdling the hell out of opponents, because Todd Gurley is cooler than you:

Gurley also became an incredible asset in the passing game, taking Jared Goff dumpoffs for huge chunk gains on a regular basis:

Gurley was Goff’s favorite target, snagging 64 catches for 788 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns — more than he recorded in his first two seasons combined. Not even third-and-long situations could bother Gurley, who’s as good as gone whenever he reaches the second level:

Gurley almost finished the season as the NFL’s leading rusher and likely would have if McVay hadn’t sat his starters in Week 17. Instead, he finished just behind Kareem Hunt with 1,305 yards on the ground. Gurley did lead the way with 13 rushing touchdowns, though.

Here’s to more Gurley highlights in 2018.

Special teams magic

You wouldn’t know it by watching their Wild Card Round loss to the Falcons, but the Rams had one of the best special teams units in the league. Three specialists were named first-team All-Pros this season. Punter Johnny Hekker is a legitimate X-factor with his ability to flip field position. Greg Zuerlein is a reliable leg at kicker and was a huge loss when he went on injured reserve in late December. And Pharoh Cooper, when he isn’t fumbling kick returns, has the speed to break big plays:

Let’s also give a shout-out to the coverage unit:

And hey, even Hekker can throw the ball!

Jared Goff to Robert Woods

Sammy Watkins got all the headlines when the Rams acquired him from Buffalo in the preseason, but his former Bills teammate, Robert Woods, ended up having a career year. Woods had a forgettable run in Buffalo, but 2017 reminded us why he was considered a special talent coming out of USC with his game-breaking speed:

Woods finished with a career-high 781 yards and five touchdowns, shining in his first season in LA.

He also had a huge game in his playoff debut, catching nine passes for 142 yards against the Falcons.

That’s not to say Watkins was a chump — he had plenty of highlights himself and led the team with eight receiving touchdowns:

It was rookie Cooper Kupp, who shook off a slow start to his career, who ended up as Goff’s leading receiver this season. But Woods was the steady receiver Goff needed all along.

Aaron Donald, the one-man wrecking crew

The season didn’t start the way Donald wanted. Entering the fourth year of his rookie deal, the dominant defensive tackle wanted a new contract and sat out all of training camp, preseason, and even Week 1 of the regular season to make that perfectly clear to the Rams.

He didn’t get one. Did that slow him down in 2017? Not a chance.

In 14 starts, he led the Rams in sacks by tying his career high with 11. That brought his career total to 39 sacks — putting him right in the thick of the most fearsome pass rushers of the last four years. But unlike Von Miller, Chandler Jones, Khalil Mack and many of the other top sack artists in the NFL, Donald does his damage from the interior of the defensive line.

The result is chaos for opponents:

Donald earned first-team All-Pro honors for the third time and Pro Bowl honors for the fourth time in his four NFL seasons. But for the first time, he might be named Defensive Player of the Year.

Re-signing Donald is going to be a top priority, but the Rams already picked up his fifth-year option so he’s not going anywhere for now. And that leaves much more havoc to be wreaked in Los Angeles.

LION KING CELEBRATION!

The Rams gave us one of the year’s best touchdown celebrations in a win over the Saints:

And they should be singing “Hakuna Matata” after their major turnaround this season. This Rams team was a blast. It’s a bummer they got bounced from the playoffs early, but the future couldn’t be brighter in LA. Unless something goes horribly wrong, they should right back here in 2018.

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