For the better part of three quarters, Todd Gurley was barely visible.
Then the two-time All-Pro running back showed up in a big way to carry the load when the Rams need him most. He ran for 64 of his 97 yards in the fourth quarter to help Los Angeles grind out a 30-27 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Gurley's carries were truncated late in the Rams' NFC championship season due to knee soreness, causing some question about his durability heading into 2019. And after Gurley gained just 8 yards on five carries in the first half, there was even more head scratching.
But Gurley seemed to catch his stride with a 25-yard burst in the third quarter. And with the Rams protecting a 3-point lead with 10 minutes remaining, Gurley carried four straight times, picking up 41 yards to set up a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Tyler Higbee — the difference on the scoreboard.
Gurley added a first down in the final two minutes, allowing the Rams to run out the clock.
"It was four-minute situation," Gurley said of his mindset. "Get a first down, get out of here and go back to L.A. with the win."
Prior to that, Malcolm Brown carried the vast majority of the load for the Rams (1-0) and finished with 53 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. Brown had just one touchdown rushing in his previous four seasons combined with the Rams.
Rams coach Sean McVay said it was great to see Gurley "close it out."
He said the running back situation — and Brown getting the goal-line carries — was a matter of rotating his running backs.
"He had some great runs, running through some arm tackles," McVay said of Gurley. "You could see the explosion once he gets to the second and third level. He made some great runs."
In all, the Rams ran for 166 yards on 32 carries.
"When you play an offense like this you've got to do a better job in the run game and we've got to get turnovers," said Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Goff threw for 186 yards and was picked off once and Cooper Kupp had seven catches for 46 yards in his return from a torn ACL last November.
It was a rough day for Panthers quarterback Newton, playing in his first regular-season game since Dec. 17, when a lingering shoulder injury forced him to the sideline.
Newton completed 25 of 38 passes for 239 yards, but had a costly backward pass that resulted in a fumble deep in Carolina territory leading to a Rams touchdown. He also had an interception with 5:55 left in the game and was held to a career-low minus-2 yards rushing.
"Cam is a readable guy," said Rams linebacker Cory Littleton, who finished with an impressive 14 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. "He gave me an opportunity and I read it perfectly."
Newton said he felt "a little rusty" and he and his teammates "weren't connected to the same Wi-Fi."
Newton didn't complete a pass of longer than 17 yards, but said he didn't even think about his surgically repaired shoulder during the game and simply took what the defense gave him.
McCAFFREY'S BIG DAY
Christian McCaffrey was the star of the day for the Panthers, racking up 209 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns on 29 touches, picking up where he left off last season.
Rams two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald said that was disappointing.
"I'm just not satisfied, I'm just not happy," Donald said. "That's just the way I played and there are things we can do better. ... But I'd rather build off of what we did wrong in a win than a loss."
Newton had a costly helmet malfunction on a third-and-7 play in the first quarter after the Panthers had returned to the field following a timeout. That resulted in a delay of game. The Panthers then lost a yard on a conservative draw play and undrafted rookie Joey Slye missed a 53-yard field goal.
Rams free safety Eric Weddle left the game in the second quarter with a head laceration after trying to tackle a leaping McCaffrey. The running back kneed Weddle in the head.
"When you lose somebody like him, it can be deflating," McVay said.
McCaffrey said he went to check on Weddle after the game.
IN THE BOOTH
Popular former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme began working as an analyst for Carolina's radio broadcast team.
Rams: host Saints on Sunday in rematch of NFC title game.
Panthers: have short turnaround before they host Buccaneers on Thursday night.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL