Rams outlast Cowboys, move on to NFC title game

It took a full 60 minutes of effort, but the Rams have secured their first playoff win since their return to Los Angeles.

The Rams defeated the Cowboys 30-22 on Saturday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Rams will face the winner of Sunday's Eagles-Saints clash at 3:05 p.m. ET on Jan. 20. Here's what we learned:

1. It is often said in order to deter a bully on the block, punch them in the mouth. In Saturday night's instance, the bully entering the game was the Cowboys' physical run defense. Dallas finished the regular season ranked fifth in the league against the run and came off a wild-card win during which the Cowboys held the Seahawks' top rushing attack to just 73 yards. The Rams decided to take it right to the Cowboys early and often, and totaled 273 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 48 carries. Todd Gurley rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown, while C.J. Anderson totaled 123 yards and two scores. Gurley and Anderson became the fourth set of teammates to each rush for 100-plus yards over the last 30 postseasons. The Cowboys simply had no answer for the Rams' punishing ground game, which flipped the tables on Big D by becoming the new bully on the block. Before Saturday night, the previous high the Cowboys allowed came in Week 15 when the Indianapolis Colts produced 178 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 39 carries.

2. With the running game firing on all cylinders, the Rams' potent passing game took a back seat. Still, quarterback Jared Goff turned in an efficient outing by completing 15 of 28 passes for 186 yards, and sealed the game with an 11-yard run. Goff distributed his passes among seven receivers, with Robert Woods leading the way with six catches for 69 yards. The offensive line, which deserves all the credit for opening gaping holes in the ground attack, also performed admirably in protecting Goff, who wasn't sacked on the night and was hit just one time. As a team, the Rams totaled an impressive 459 yards against the league's seventh-best defense.

3. The Rams' defense, which had been up and down during the regular season, turned in a stout performance against the league's 10th-best rushing offense. Running back Ezekiel Elliott, who won the 2018 rushing title with 1,434 yards, found the going very tough and finished with just 47 yards on 20 carries, averaging a paltry 2.4 yards per attempt. On the game, the Cowboys managed 50 yards on 22 carries, which placed the game squarely in quarterback Dak Prescott's hands. If the defense combined with a devastating rushing duo of Gurley and Anderson can repeat Saturday's performance in the NFC Championship Game, the Rams could very well be on the way to Atlanta.

4. Speaking of Prescott, his opportunity to carry his team by himself went by the wayside after the Rams made the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional. Sure, Prescott had a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but he needed to do more through the air than 266 yards passing (56 coming in the fourth quarter) with a touchdown. The Cowboys were 1 of 10 on third-down attempts, and some of Prescott's throws were off the mark in crucial situations. That said, Prescott and the Cowboys' offense will only get better despite the loss. The addition of wide receiver Amari Cooper, who scored on a 29-yard catch-and-run play in the first quarter, and maturation of rookie Michael Gallup provides plenty of optimism for 2019.

5. The officials effectively killed a Cowboys' drive late in the first half. Down 20-7 and facing a third-and-7 at the Rams' 36-yard line, Dallas was already in field goal range. Prescott dropped back to pass and was flushed from the pocket before bumping into offensive tackle La'el Collins, who grabbed his quarterback around the waist as Rams outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. was closing in. A whistle blew and the official ruled Prescott was in the grasp, resulting in an 8-yard sack. There was a big problem, though, as Prescott was clearly in Collins' grasp and not Fowler's. The call drew bewildered looks from the Cowboys' sideline and instant criticism on social media. The resulting sack pushed Dallas back 8 yards and out of field goal range, forcing a punt on fourth down.

6. The Cowboys' defense, basically the bread and butter of the team the entire 2018 season, picked a bad time to come up small. It wasn't necessarily that they lost, but more so how they lost. Allowing two running backs to top 100 yards rushing was bad enough, but Dallas also allowed the Rams to score on their first four possessions. On the game, the Rams put points on the board on six of nine possessions against a Cowboys unit that finished the regular season ranked sixth in scoring defense (20.2 points allowed per game). OK, the Rams owned the second-highest scoring offense in the league, but Dallas' inability to match the Rams' physicality was disappointing in the loss.