Rams show playoff toughness, beat Dallas Cowboys to advance to NFC title game

  • Running back C.J. Anderson #35 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for a first down as defensive tackle Antwaun Woods #99 of the Dallas Cowboys makes the tackle in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back C.J. Anderson #35 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for a first down at the goal line against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

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  • Wide receiver Robert Woods #17 of the Los Angeles Rams reacts after a first down catch against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams prepares to to pass against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams looks on against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Inside linebacker Cory Littleton #58 of the Los Angeles Rams tackles running back Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Inside linebacker Cory Littleton #58 of the Los Angeles Rams tackles running back Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for yardage against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • lin the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams calls a ply against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams leaps for yardage against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Dallas Cowboys fan looks toward the scoreboard against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Tight end Tyler Higbee #89 of the Los Angeles Rams can’t hold a pass in the end zone against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys runs fora first down against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Ezekiel Elliott #21 of the Dallas Cowboys runs fora first down against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Todd Gurley of the Rams mocks running back Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys (not pictured) after running for touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Todd Gurley #30 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams prepares to pass against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back C.J. Anderson #35 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for a first down as defensive tackle Antwaun Woods #99 of the Dallas Cowboys makes the tackle in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver Amari Cooper #19 of the Dallas Cowboys can’t hold onto a pass in front of inside linebacker Mark Barron #26 of the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back C.J. Anderson #35 of the Los Angeles Rams rects after running for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back C.J. Anderson #35 of the Los Angeles Rams dives for the touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half of a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams General Manager Les Snead enters the field prior to a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver Cole Beasley #11 of the Dallas Cowboys enters the field prior to a NFL playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell poses for pictures with fans prior to a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams fan wearing a watermelon prior to a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • prior to a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, left, with Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kronke prior to a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver Brandin Cooks of the Rams takes a moment before running onto the field prior to a NFL playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams prior to a NFL playoff football game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, January 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

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LOS ANGELES – Dallas had a good game plan, a winning one. So the Rams co-opted it, improved it, rolled it up and smacked the Cowboys around with it Saturday night.

Run the ball, control time of possession and play stout run defense. The Rams, flashy and splashy for two seasons under Coach Sean McVay, played old-school January football and finally got their coveted playoff win. The Rams took a physical game to the Cowboys and earned a 30-22 victory Saturday at the Coliseum.

The Rams won a playoff game for the first time since 2004 and advanced to the NFC championship game for the first time since 2001. Next Sunday, the Rams will either play at New Orleans or host Philadelphia, depending on the result of the Saints-Eagles divisional-round game on Sunday.

The Rams had invited questions about themselves because of questionable play on both sides of the ball since their late-November bye week, but from the start Saturday, they looked like the Rams of old. That started with a dominant offensive line, led by tackle Andrew Whitworth, guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan.

Running back Todd Gurley returned from a two-game absence because of a knee injury, and somehow, last year’s NFL offensive player of the year became a complement to C.J. Anderson, who was unemployed last month. The Cowboys had no answer for one of the least-likely one-two punches in playoff history.

Anderson bruised the Cowboys for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, while Gurley looked just fine, as he gained 115 yards on 16 carries and burst for a 35-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.

Gurley’s touchdown put an exclamation point on a first half that the Rams dominated in the trenches. No team this season rushed for more than 178 yards against Dallas in a full game. The Rams were at 170 yards by halftime, then topped 200 yards on their first drive of the third quarter, and finished with 273.

That success came against a Dallas run defense that allowed only 3.8 yards per carry in the regular season, then completed stifled Seattle’s run game in last weeks’ wild-card-round playoff victory.

The Rams’ veteran offensive line was stellar, not only in the run game but also in protecting quarterback Jared Goff, who looked poised in the pocket and stepped into throws. Goff wasn’t perfect, particularly with his accuracy, but he avoided mistakes and completed 15 of 28 attempts for 186 yards. He also tucked the ball in on a keep for an 11-yard gain and a first down with 1:51 to play.

Run defense, an oft-discussed issue for the Rams this season, turned into a strength. Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s leading rusher in the regular season, totaled 47 yards on 20 carries.

The Rams’ defense seemed set upon making a statement early, as Elliott was stuffed for 3 yards on his first 3 carries. Dallas’ offense became increasingly dependent on quarterback Dak Prescott, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Prescott passed for 266 yards.

In the end, though, Dallas just couldn’t keep the Rams’ offense off the field.

From their first possession, the Rams had good run-pass balance and moved the ball, at least until they got into the Dallas red zone. Their first two drives stalled inside the Cowboys’ 10-yard line and they had to settle for two short field goals, which allowed Dallas to maintain a 7-6 lead after the first quarter.

The second quarter tilted heavily in the Rams’ favor, as they outgained the Cowboys 179-63 and scored 17 consecutive points to take a 20-7 halftime lead.

More to come on this story.

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