After first playoff win, Rams’ Whitworth hoping for more

LOS ANGELES RAMS OFFENSIVE TACKLE Andrew Whitworth looks like he’d be employee of the month — every month — at the feed store. Everyone would just stand around and marvel as he heaved bales and emptied pallets, and they’d tell stories about him years after he moved on. Remember that time Andrew carried four 50-pound bags of chicken feed with one arm? They’d probably frame his picture and hang it on the wall.

Whitworth is an enormous man amid enormous men, a refrigerator sitting atop relatively skinny legs and quick feet. He is 6-foot-7 and 335 pounds, and somehow seems bigger. Football has a weird way of making the small guys seem smaller in person and the large guys even larger.

Until Los Angeles‘ divisional win Saturday night over the Dallas Cowboys, Whitfield, 37, hadn’t been on a team that won a playoff game in his 13 years in the NFL. He was the only player in NFL history to have lost all seven of his playoff games (though it’s probably unfair to blame them all on him, given that six of them came when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals). After Saturday’s victory, Whitworth did a couple of interviews on the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum field and immediately jogged off to find his two young sons, Michael and Drew, who bounded toward their dad, hugged his shins and followed him up the tunnel to the Rams’ locker room.

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“It’s great to get the win, but you know what?” Whitworth said. “I think this team has the potential for more than that. I’m happy to have it, but I didn’t try to get to the playoffs to win a playoff game, but to win a Super Bowl.”

Asked what it meant to see Whitworth finally win in the postseason, Rams guard Rodger Saffold, who plays next to Whitworth, said, “Name a guy who deserves it more.” His tone indicated he was not expecting an answer.

There’s more to it than just friendship, pity or a bunch of guys — Whitworth primary among them — tired of being asked the same question. Whitworth is the team’s conscience, regularly injecting a dose of maturity and perspective. He organized the team’s responses, both in charity and compassion, to the Los Angeles-area tragedies that were the Borderline Bar and Grill mass shooting and the Woolsey and Malibu fires. He is the oldest offensive lineman in the NFL — and he’s five years older than Rams head coach Sean McVay, which means Whitworth’s commitment to the program can be persuasive in the locker room.

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Even more rare: In the NFL postseason, when the hyperfocus on quarterbacks threatens to become pathological, Whitworth became the most-heralded player on the field.

On Saturday, the Rams repeatedly clobbered the Cowboys with running plays that began on the Whitworth-Saffold side of the line. They ran for 273 yards, including 123 from C.J. Anderson and 115 from Todd Gurley II. The holes were so big, even the running backs seemed surprised. On several occasions, Anderson headed toward the line with both hands wrapped around the ball, expecting to be hit, only to discover he had eight or nine yards to run before he had to worry about a Cowboy impeding his path.

“You see Whitworth taking over his blocks and you anticipate nice holes, but you don’t see them until after,” Saffold said. “The hole Gurley ran through on the [35-yard] touchdown? I didn’t see that until the replay, and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.'”

Every drive had three or four examples. On an 18-yard run by Gurley early in the third quarter, Whitworth took out three Cowboys, the last being Leighton Vander Esch, who got turned around and couldn’t find his way back. It looked like the rookie linebacker got tumbled by a wave and couldn’t tell which way was up.

It wasn’t just Vander Esch. Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory was engulfed by Whitworth on nearly every play. Gregory is a 6-foot-5, 242-pound man — light for a defensive end, but still a large human — and yet he looked like he was trying to push a car out of a ditch all night. Gregory’s speed advantage, no doubt obvious in a straight footrace, didn’t help him shake Whitworth, who squared him up and moved him around on pass plays as if Gregory was blindfolded.

Whitworth handled Gregory so thoroughly, the lineman often found himself with enough spare time — and body — to take another Cowboy with him. There were times when Whitworth seemed to get bored dominating one man, so he slid off the block to dominate one or two more.

The Rams were motivated in part by injudicious comments made all week by the Cowboys. There were threats of harm and even existential damage — “I go in every week wanting to take a quarterback’s soul,” Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said.

Lawrence’s goal went woefully unfulfilled. Jared Goff was not sacked and was hit just once — and if any souls were removed over the course of the game, they didn’t belong to the Rams.

“I don’t care what the league evolves into, running at people just seems to be demoralizing,” Whitworth said. “It’s the one thing that takes the sail out of teams. It got their heads down.”

It’s a game of speed: Quarterbacks who see the entire field in a glance, receivers who cut across the field like lines on a screen, all of them working to realize the visions that flit through the computer-quick brains of their coaches. But there are times when everybody needs to slow down a bit, take a deep breath and put the game in the hands of an enormous guy with gray in his beard, just to let him teach one more lesson.