ATLANTA — Austin Blythe said coaches needed just four words for him.
“You’re staying in there,” the Rams right guard remembers hearing after a 34-0 Week 2 shutout of the Arizona Cardinals.
Blythe was excited.
The Williamsburg, Iowa, native had snagged the job after a season of spotting at center with the Colts in 2016 followed by tagging in for 20 percent of Rams snaps in 2017. Then came a two-game suspension for Rams right guard Jamon Brown. Brown had pleaded guilt to speedy and aggravated DUI in a February 2017 arrest. Blythe played so well filling in that he never relinquished his post.
“I was happy,” he said while preparing for Sunday's Super Bowl against the Patriots. “I continued with the mindset that that was my job to lose and no one was going to take it from me.”
Forget starts. No other Rams player took even a snap during the season from Blythe, who stayed healthy and intact enough to suit up for all 1,100 plays in the regular season and 148 more so far in playoffs. The consistency was key to a Los Angeles line that maintained its five starters through the season. Blythe, left tackle Andrew Whitworth, left guard Rodger Saffold, center John Sullivan and right tackle Rob Havenstein were each on the field at least 94 percent of snaps.
So much pro playing time was new for Blythe, who manned the offensive line at the University of Iowa. But the technique, he says, was familiar.
The owner of three state wrestling titles in Iowa, Blythe says he was already working on leverage at 6 years old.
“Everything in wrestling translates to football,” he said. “Hand placement, leverage, keeping your elbows in, bending at the knees not the hips. All that stuff translates directly to offensive-line play.
“Ultimately, wrestling teaches you all about life. It’s you. There’s no excuses.”
No excuses for lapses on the field, Blythe preached, as he allowed zero sacks all season. No excuses when facing the league’s sixth-best run defense in divisional-round opponent Dallas. The Rams offensive line powered running backs Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson each to 100-yard games, Anderson gashing Dallas for 123 yards and two touchdowns after ripping off 167- and 132-yard performances as soon as he signed with Los Angeles to spell Gurley in December.
“They’ve been doing a hell of a job up front,” Anderson said. “They played with each other very snap, haven’t missed a snap, which is unheard of at the offensive-line position in the trenches. We go back and forth how we see things, try to see the game the right way, try to see cuts the right way.
“They don’t tell us how to run. We don’t tell them how to block.”
Blythe did make headlines telling fellow linemen how to block the Cowboys, when he said he’d identified Cowboys D-line tendencies well enough to predict “plus-90 percent” of Dallas play calls based on defensive tackles’ pre-snap movements and alignment.
A week later, after the Rams’ overtime win against the Saints, he became an NFC champion.
He thought back to the four words and the 1,248 subsequent snaps on his journey from NFL backup to right-guard stalwart for the best team in the NFC.
Then Blythe glanced down at his phone where a video message from his cheering 2-year-old son, Reed, waited.
This time, the message took six words: We’re going to the Super Bowl.