Culver City Observer -

By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

An Abrupt End To The Rams' Surprising Season

 

January 11, 2018

Jevone Moore

Quarterback Jared Goff (16) and the Ram offense struggled against the Falcon defense

It was a heck of a run. The 2017 Los Angeles Rams surprising and captivating season came to an abrupt end at the Coliseum last Saturday night. The Rams were taken to task by the reigning NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, 26-13, in the NFL Wild Card round matchup before a large and highly partisan home crowd that finally showed up.

Behind quarterback Matt Ryan the Falcons jumped out to a13-0 lead, survived a second-quarter Ram response, ate up the clock for much of the third quarter and polished the game off with a five-minute 83-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter.

Remarkably, the Rams were still very much in the game with minutes to go. Notable were their fans faithfully remaining to the bitter end.

"Certainly we're not content with the way that this season ended, but it doesn't take away the fact that our players and our group of coaches accomplished a lot of things where we feel like we're building a foundation where that trajectory is pointing upward for the Rams," said a visibly disappointed Rams head coach Sean McVay, trying to put a positive spin on the outcome.

"Congratulations to Coach (Dan, Falcons head coach) Quinn, did a great job today and we didn't do enough and it starts with me... We had a lot of respect for the Falcons, but our anticipation and expectation was try to win the football game. Certainly I know that we're disappointed, our players and coaches alike and we didn't do enough to get it done tonight."

Experience, execution and time of possession were the determining factors as the six-point underdog veteran Falcons pressured all three phases of the Rams younger squad. Quinn matched McVay possession for possession in the second half while his defense held the NFL's highest scoring offense to 13 points. How McVay kept the Rams in the game until the end was a minor miracle.

For the Rams the tide turned ugly five minutes into the game. Following a second three-and-out by Atlanta to start the game, their fourth-down punt hit Ram special teams player Brian Countess' right foot causing a lost fumble. Not only did it give Atlanta great field position and a 3-0 lead with Matt Bryant's 47-yard field goal, it completely turned the momentum around and the overwhelming crowd support down.

The Rams special teams again turned the ball over when punt returner Pharoh Cooper fumbled a kick at the Ram 32-yard line, setting up the Falcon's first touchdown early in the second quarter and a 13-0 lead. The crowd grew quiet and uneasy. Late in the second quarter Goff moved the Rams 79 yards on seven plays, capping it off with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp.

Rams wide receiver Robert Woods: "Just slow start. You've got to start drives fast, starting off on first and second down. We had a couple three-and-outs and field position where they were able to capitalize, but we've just got to start early on offense." Woods led all receivers with nine catches for 142 yards. Kupp caught eight passes for 69 yards and one touchdown.

Ram kicker Sam Ficken continued his short reliable kicking with a 35-yard field goal seconds before the half. The crowd felt relieved with the Rams down only 13-10 with 30 minutes to play. But Ryan and the Falcons put the Rams in a hole at the beginning of the third quarter they never recovered from. A 16-play, 83-yard that took up 8:15 minutes and resulted in a 25-yard Bryant field goal put the Rams permanently behind the eight-ball.

"Then offensively, to end with a time of possession over 37 minutes, that's hard to do in our league," said Falcon head coach Quinn. "As I thought it especially starting off when there's a nine-minute drive to start the second half. I thought that really set the tone for the second half."

Ryan, last season's league MVP, directed a ball-controlled offense that kept the Rams defense on the field for long periods of time. The Ram offense under second-year quarterback Jared Goff got off to a sluggish start, played catch-up all night and lacked consistency. The Rams actually outgained the Falcons in total offensive net yardage: 361 to 322 and passing yardage: 246 to 198.

One of the lingering questions was the decision to rest many of the Ram starters the previous week against the San Francisco 49ers with the NFC West Division already wrapped up. The rest seemed to affect the Rams as they came out flat in the first two drives. It was crucial as the entire stadium was primed and rocking with emotion while the Ram defense was smothering the Falcon offense near their own goal line. A score would have put Atlanta in an early difficult position.

Goff acknowledged the slow start. "I think it took a little bit longer than usual to settle in this week for whatever reason. They did a great job defensively. I think that's what you mainly attribute it to is what Atlanta did defensively. Again, like I said, ultimately, myself and all of us didn't do enough to win."

The Falcons led in time of possession roughly 32 minutes to 13 for the Rams going into the fourth quarter. It finally took its toll on the L.A. defense during Atlanta's drive in the fourth quarter after a 32-yard Ficken field goal cut the lead to six. Ryan marched the Falcons 83 yards in eight plays ending with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones.

Yet the Rams still gave the 70,000-plus audience something to hope for with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Goff threw an apparent 5-yard touchdown to tight end Tyler Higbee with 2:11 on the clock. The subsequent official review ruled that the pass was incomplete, negating the touchdown and 6-point deficit. Goff threw an incomplete pass to wide receiver Sammy Watkins on fourth down, sealing the Rams fate for the 2017 season.

The Coliseum has not been kind to the Rams since they moved back to Los Angeles. The loss marked the first time all season the team lost back-to-back games. Compounding the issue is both losses came at home. The team only lost one game on the road and five games total at home, a situation that needs to be addressed if the McVay and the Rams expect to advance in the playoffs in years to come.

Jevone Moore

Quarterback Matt Ryan (2) kept the Rams defense off-balance throughout the game

McVay had a chance to reflect the following day: "What a great atmosphere it was yesterday. The crowd showed up, the fans were outstanding and we're very thankful and appreciative... one of the things that we've got to do a good job of and that will be a focal point is making sure that you take care of your home games."

"I'm very happy and bittersweet for the fans, because I know today was a special day for them. We didn't get it done and wanted to for them. It was rocking today," said Goff.

"I think we are young and anytime you can get in a big game, like I said, it's all experience added for everybody... We look to come back even stronger next year. It sucks that we're going to have to take some time off now, but whenever that time does come to get back to work I think we'll be ready to go."

 

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