Culver City Observer -

By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

Here We Go: Rams Enter The Playoffs

 

January 4, 2018

Jevone Moore

Los Angeles Rams pregame introduction

The last game of the 2017 NFL regular season, a 34-13 loss to the visiting San Francisco 49ers was inconsequential to the Los Angeles Rams.

What mattered was the team being able to rest most of its starters in preparation for Saturday night's NFC Wild Card Playoff matchup. The third-seeded Rams will host the wild card Atlanta Falcons starting at 5:15 PST in the Coliseum.

Six roster moves and 17 lineup changes by the Rams (11-5) were no match for the 49ers (6-10) and quarterback Jimmy Garappolo, enjoying a five-game winning streak to end the season. Garappolo threw two touchdown passes and 292 yards passing as the Niners' offense outgained the Rams 463-251 in total yards. 49er running back Carlos Hyde also ran for 90 yards and two touchdowns.

The announced paid attendance of 66,125 deserved a better contest. The Ram fans had little to cheer about but seemed to understand the precautionary route taken by Rams Head Coach Sean McVay and his staff. Regardless, they'll certainly expect the team to be hitting on all cylinders against the Falcons on Saturday night.

"I think anytime you go into a football game, you're certainly going to try to win the game," said McVay. "But, I do think when you look at the way we approached it, we feel good about being able to allow some of our players to get some rest, a little bit of recovery time that I think is much needed for some of those guys and then you keep a couple guys out of harm's way."

The Rams were behind the 8-ball throughout as they trailed 20-6 by halftime. San Francisco started off with a field goal and a touchdown in the first quarter. The Rams kicked a field goal. The pattern repeated itself in the second quarter. The Niners added a touchdown in the third and fourth quarters. The Rams ended the scoring with a touchdown drive.

Quarterback Sean Mannion made the first start of his NFL career replacing Jared Goff. He completed 20/34 passes for 169 yards while throwing no touchdowns or interceptions. He directed a 15-play 72-yard touchdown drive that ate up 8:14 minutes in the fourth quarter. Running back Lance Dunbar scored on an 8-yard run, his first touchdown as a Ram and the second of his career.

Critical for Los Angeles leading into the playoffs was kicker Sam Ficken looking much steadier in the second game of his career. Ficken converted a 23-yard field goal, a 21-yard field goal and an extra-point with relative ease. Notable, he also placed all three kickoffs into the end zone for no return.

McVay: "I think for him to be able to come in here, definitely improving from the previous week and kind of finished on the same note that he finished off the Tennessee game, so pleased with Sam today."

The Rams had few highlights defensively. Cornerback Kevin Peterson had two interceptions playing in place of Trumaine Johnson. His first interception in the first quarter set up Ficken's first field goal. His second interception with 9 seconds remaining in the first half set up Ficken's second field goal.

The last time the Rams hosted a playoff game in the Coliseum was on January 7, 1979 when they lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 24-0, in the NFC Championship game. Their last playoff win in the Coliseum occurred the previous week when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 34-10. Their last playoff win in Southern California was on January 4, 1986 when they shut

out the Cowboys, 20-0, in Anaheim Stadium.

With only six players with playoff experience the Rams arguably have the toughest road to advance to Super Bowl LII on February 4. On the other side of the coin the Atlanta Falcons were minutes away from winning last year's Super Bowl against the New England Patriots. The Falcons blew an early 28-3 lead and a 28-20 lead with two minutes in the ballgame.

"We take our same process and our same approach. We certainly don't shy away from what a great opportunity it is to be able to play on Saturday night, primetime," said McVay. "I think it's something that our guys will be excited about, going against the defending NFC Champs."

The Falcons started the season with three wins before losing four of their next five games. They won seven of their last nine games including the last NFC Wild Card clincher with a 22-10 win over the Carolina Panthers last Sunday. Last year's NFL Most Valuable Player, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan threw for only 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season compared to 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in 2016.

"I love the resiliency and the toughness of this team. When you've been through some of the fire together and you come out the other side stronger as a brotherhood," said Atlanta Head Coach Dan Quinn. "We're certainly improved on the defensive side, our tackling is better, we're playing better in the red zone and on third downs, so that's probably the biggest change that we've had.

Jevone Moore

Rams Head Coach Sean McVay

Adding to the matchup McVay's Offensive Coordinator Matt LaFleur will be matching wits against his former team. LaFleur was the Falcon's quarterback coach the past two season's under current 49er head coach, Kyle Shanahan, who was then offensive coordinator for the Falcons during the same time period.

"A lot of the things that we've kind of implemented into our schedule, or our weekly or our daily rhythm, is from some of the things that Coach Quinn did based on Matt's recommendations and how good he thought that experience was," added McVay.

"Jared (Goff) is fearless and I think he looks at it as a great opportunity and we trust that he's going to make good decisions, he'll have an ownership on the game plan and what we're trying to get accomplished and I think if the way that he's played this season is any indicator of what we expect against a very good Atlanta Falcons defense."

 

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