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Top 20 Games of 2015: No. 20 -- Rams at Cardinals

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Final score: Rams 24, Cardinals 22

The celebration of the day went to Stedman Bailey. Don't sleep on it.

Catch of the game? Janoris Jenkins went all Tyree on us.

Yet, the best player on the football field in our 20th Top Game of 2015 was a rookie. Making his first start, no less. Rams at Cardinals, Week 4, was Todd Gurley's coming out party -- and it was worth partying over.

Gurley sprinted around the edge. He gashed a top defense. And perhaps most of all, he moved with a sense of urgency while maintaining a graceful gait. On this day, an afternoon in which the lowly Rams upset an undefeated Arizona team, Gurley looked like the lovechild of Eric Dickerson and Eddie George.

Oh the stats were all there. But we're talking passing the eyeball test. Here was a guy who missed all of the ramp up time in the offseason rehabilitating his knee, then the preseason, then the first two games of the regular season. In Week 3 he finally suited up, rushing five times in limited let's-see-what-the-kid-can-do duty against the Steelers.

So when it was time to test him out versus the premier ballclub in the Rams division, what happened? Freaking domination ... 19 rushes for 146 yards at 7.7 yards per pop against the sixth-best run defense in the NFL; a group that didn't even allow four yards per carry last season.

Don't mistake this as a blowout. Rams at Cardinals had everything. Jeff Fisher's group forced two big takeaways on a Jenkins pick and Rodney McCleod forced fumble, keeping Arizona on its heels. But there was Carson Palmer answering, even on a day where he wasn't quite himself, leading the Cards 80 yards in eight plays to climb within two points. More on that later.

The here and the now is that Gurley is already considered a top-five back in the league RIGHT NOW, and we knew it from his first foray into being a team workhorse. After a special teams miscue set up the Rams first touchdown, Gurley set the table for the second, rushing four times for 30 yards prior to Bailey's score. The beaut of the day, though, came in the fourth quarter.

On a first and 10 from his own 32, Gurley scampered towards a hole off his left guard ... before exploding upright through the seam like a certain Rams tailback did before him -- Dickerson. Next thing you know, Gurley was 10 yards downfield making the sweetest subtle side step you'll ever see. Call it Marcus Allen-esque, well at least until the burst outside which screamed like a Dickerson home run straight out of 1983. By the time Tyrann Mathieu ran him down, it was 52 yards later, with Gurley popping up to let the "Honey Badger" know that you can mess with a honey badger.

Awesome.

More impressive might be the power with which he is capable of running, or his complete lack of intimidation on the big stage. At 6-foot-1, you see the shades of George, despite Gurley's sleeker frame. Yet, your mind says he's a long-legged gazelle itching for a sprint, not a bulldozer. He's not, but his production in Week 4 bulldozed a premier team at their place.

We were all made aware of who the premier talent on the field was.

Play (Sequence) of the Game

With the score Rams 24, Cardinals 22, Patrick Peterson broke up a Nick Foles pass, forcing the Rams to punt with 3:03 to go.

Arizona advanced to the Ram 43-yard line, where it seemed Palmer would get the Cardinals in range for a Chandler Catanzaro game-winner. Yet after two incompletions (including a drop by Jaron Brown), the Arizona offense was facing fourth-and-2.

Every game, all season

Palmer got the matchup he wanted on the left side of the formation, a pick play to free rookie David Johnson, matched up on linebacker Akeem Ayers. Ayers got knocked off by Michael Floyd, and ended up trailing Johnson by several steps. Palmer had his man open for the first down and more, certainly in Catanzaro's range.

Incomplete. Palmer overshot it. Rams football.

Bruce Arians had all three timeouts, but that went out the window when Gurley exploded for 20 yards on the first play, then 30 yards three plays later.

Historical Symmetry

Gurley joins an impressive stable of running backs in pro football history that hail from the University of Georgia, including Terrell Davis, who narrowly missed the cut for the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month.

Here's a rundown of the top Georgia Bulldog RBs in NFL history:
  » Herschel Walker: 8,225 career rushing yards. The all-time Bulldog rusher might be the best college running back ever. He amassed a staggering 25,000 all-purpose yards if you count USFL seasons and was the main piece of the infamous "trade."
  » Garrison Hearst: 7,966 career rushing yards. The third overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft, Hearst rushed for over 1,000 yards four times, and was named AP Comeback Player of the Year in 2001.
  » Terrell Davis: 7,607 career rushing yards. Davis averaged a gaudy 142.5 rush yards per game in the postseason. He was named Super Bowl XXXII MVP, and NFL MVP in 1998 after rushing for over 2,000 yards.
  » Rodney Hampton: 6,897 career rushing yards. Hampton was a plodding runner who churned his way to five straight 1,000-yard seasons from 1991-1995. He won a ring in Super Bowl XXV.
  » Knowshon Moreno: 3,616 career rushing yards. Moreno's injury-plagued career lasted six seasons. He rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2013 for the AFC champion Broncos.
  » Charlie Trippi: 3,606 career rushing yards. The oldest living member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Trippi turned 95 in December. Amassed 206 yards in the 1947 NFL Championship game versus the Eagles, the last time the Cardinals won a title. (Your friendly author has a program from that game signed by Mr. Trippi that he is very proud of.)

From the Box Score

He might not be Gurley, and he might not be from a football factory like Georgia, but did anyone notice the numbers Johnson put up last season? The big rookie from Northern Iowa, who like Gurley, stands over 6 feet tall -- an anomaly for a modern running back -- gained over 1,000 yards from scrimmage with 13 total touchdowns. That's obviously a heckuva rookie campaign.

Against the Rams, the second best rookie running back in pro football only rushed three times. Yet, he caught four balls for over 60 yards and a score, flashing the versatility, and big-play ability, that might make his future as bright as the more heralded Gurley's.

Why This Game is No. 20

Every couple of years there seems to be a spectacular showing for the NFL's most dynamic newcomer -- who could forget Cam Newton's incredible debut versus these same Cardinals in 2011?

Gurley's coming out party in Arizona represented the best of all the rookies, which featured strong newcomers such as Marcus Peters, Amari Cooper, and Jeremy Langford. Yet, Gurley's nearly 150 yards on the ground came against the top team in his division, on the road, in his first career start. Not only that, but without his performance the Rams couldn't have even thought about winning this football game.

Visit NFL Game Center for more highlights and analysis from Rams at Cardinals, Week 4.

-- by Elliot Harrison. Follow Elliot on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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