LOS ANGELES — It is not that the Rams were supposed to get this far, but there was always a chance, given all the machinations and maneuvering to keep this season going until they were the last team standing.
There was no way Cam Akers was going to be able to come along for this ride.
This season wasn’t supposed to endure long enough for Akers, not after he ruptured his right Achilles tendon during a private workout in July prior to his second training camp with the Rams. The injury was devastating for a young running back, but he could make it all the way back to health. Just not this season. No, not that.
Flipping through the months and assessing the required recovery time made for an ominous reality. Even if the Rams were going to advance far into the playoffs, at least eight or nine months would have been required for Akers’ leg to be sound again, and he could not defy medical timelines. Write off 2021 and whatever came after the New Year and work to return to the field for the start of the 2022 campaign.
“I was so sick for him,’’ Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said.
The Rams had traded for Stafford in March 2021, but the former face of the Lions franchise handing the ball off to Akers was going to have to be a delayed pairing. That wait, as is turned out, was shorter than anyone had a right to expect it to be. The Rams will face the Bengals on Sunday in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium and Akers will be on the field.
Of all the players on both sides readying for the game of their lives, Akers is the one who might be the most grateful, because he defied the odds to be here.
“Any attention is good attention and I’d rather it be for scoring touchdowns,” Akers said. “But I’ll take it, you know? As long as it’s positive.”
Oh, it is positive, and also improbable.
Akers, a 2020 second-round draft pick, put together a solid rookie year with a team-high 625 rushing yards. He was all over the plans on offense in Year 2, but when he tore his right Achilles, the Rams, and practically everyone else, pushed him over into the bin marked “Next year.’’
What happened next was a rare medical, physical and perhaps spiritual confluence of expertise and determination. Akers routed the usual recovery time for this injury and returned for the Rams’ final regular-season game and the playoffs, all less than six months after his Achilles tendon snapped.
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Dr. Neal ElAttrache, a Los Angeles-based surgeon who lists Tom Brady and the late Kobe Bryant as his former patients, performed the surgery less than a week after the injury took place and Akers immediately began the rehab process.
“I don’t want to come off as this mad scientist magician,” ElAttrache, head physician for the Rams and Dodgers, told the Los Angeles Times earlier this season.
Akers, after the procedure, refused to offer any updates regarding his progress and dove into the work of getting his leg healed. After one month, he was in a walking boot. Less than two months after surgery, Akers was jogging and he was able to run a few months after that.
“I remember him telling me, ‘You guys make it to the playoffs and I’ll be back,’ ” Stafford said. “I just thought to myself, what a great mindset to have. There’s no chance in hell he’s going to be back helping us out.”
Akers said he did not think returning this season was possible until about three months into his rehab.
“There’s no reason to be down, depressed and upset,” Akers said. “Obviously, you have days where you feel sad and there’s no reason to stay like that. You’ve got to catch yourself and continue to work.”
He was cleared to practice a few days before Christmas. He was activated and played — sparingly — in the Rams’ regular-season finale against the 49ers: Five rushing attempts for 3 yards and three receptions for 10 yards.
“I didn’t want to come back half-stepping or limping,” Akers said. “I just wanted to make sure I was going to be better than I was before I got hurt.”
Akers has been a part of all three Rams’ playoff victories, starting the last two games. He is not yet all the way back, with 54 rushing attempts for 151 yards and five catches for 62 yards. He lost two fumbles in the Rams’ victory over the Buccaneers in Tampa. But he has given the Rams a lift by his mere presence.
“I think it happened the way it was supposed to happen,’’ Akers said. “God doesn’t make mistakes. That was a lesson for me. I learned a lot, I grew a lot. I came back at the perfect time and I’m just happy I’m able to contribute to the team.
“Not many people would even be dressing out or even be on the sideline. So I just feel blessed and highly favored.”