January 16, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Cam Akers covers lot of ground in Rams’ playoff victory

One week ago, Cam Akers said he made an “immature” mistake by trying to extend the ball over the goal line, a mishap that resulted in a fumble.

In his first playoff game, he atoned for it by etching his name in the Rams’ history books.

In a 30-20 win in the NFC wild-card round against the Seattle Seahawks, the rookie running back accumulated 131 yards rushing in 28 carries and a touchdown, and added 45 yards receiving on two catches.

It’s the most yards rushing in a playoff game in coach Sean McVay’s four seasons, and Akers joins receiver Torry Holt, a Hall-of-Fame finalist, and running back Eric Dickerson, a Hall-of-Fame inductee, as the only rookies in franchise history to post 100 yards from scrimmage in a playoff game.

“We’re on the sideline getting rest, and he’s running rampant,” safety John Johnson said. “For a young guy, a rookie, to come in and just do his thing, it’s just unreal.”

Akers’ performance came amid a tough and uncertain stretch for the Rams offense. All week, McVay kept the decision on his starting quarterback shrouded in secrecy, with both Jared Goff, who recently underwent thumb surgery, and John Wolford active. Regardless of who was under center, the unit played inconsistently.

The Rams had not scored an offensive touchdown since a Dec. 20 loss to the New York Jets, the game in which Akers suffered a high ankle sprain. In their next six trips to the red zone, the Rams had fumbled twice (recovering one), committed a turnover on downs and kicked four field goals.

But in the first half against Seattle, McVay leaned on Akers, and his efforts sparked the Rams. He ran hard, keeping his legs churning and often not going down on first contact. His biggest plays came in the second quarter, which set up his score.

On third and nine, Goff — who replaced Wolford after he suffered a neck injury — stepped up in the pocket and threw a pass to Akers. He caught it, and turned upfield near the sideline and kept his balance on a tightrope near the boundary for a 44-yard gain.

Then, Akers darted through the left side on a handoff for 20 yards. On the next play, he walked into the end zone untouched for a five-yard touchdown. He finished the first half with 142 yards from scrimmage, a Rams rookie record.

Rams running back Cam Akers dives for extra yardage during the first half Saturday against the Seattle Seahawks.

(Stephen Brashear / Associated Press)

“He’s tough,” McVay said. “I thought he was really getting into a rhythm early on in the game and it was big. We were able to control the time of possession, able to just eat up yards a little bit at a time, and he’s a special player.

Since releasing Todd Gurley in the offseason, McVay featured a running-back-by-committee approach, using Akers, second-year pro Darrell Henderson and veteran Malcolm Brown.

But slowly Akers, a second-round pick in the draft last April, rose to the leading role, breaking off difference-making plays against Washington, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His true moment in the spotlight came on national television in December, when he rushed for 171 yards in a Thursday night win against the New England Patriots.

“That was really where he had his coming-out party,” Goff said. “But we’ve seen it progress all year. It’s been exciting for me to see — as a guy who has been here for a handful of years — and see a rookie’s trajectory grow and seeing the player he can become. It’s only the beginning for him.”

Akers, 21, also battled through separated rib cartilage near the beginning of the season.

Left tackle Andrew Whitworth, in his first game back from a knee injury he suffered against the Seahawks in November, also said he’s enjoyed seeing Akers’ development, and the Rams will need him to continue his ascent in the playoffs.

“You’re watching a guy grow up and learn how to play NFL football,” Whitworth said. “He’s a guy that has all the ability, all the talent and most importantly, the right stuff in his chest. He’s made of the right junk. His heart, his passion for the game is incredible.

“There’s nothing he needs to recreate. He just needs to be him and I got to help him be the best version of himself every week in anyway I can.”