Rams To Host Arizona In Finale Sunday
December 29, 2016
By Fred Altieri
It's not a bad losing streak anymore... it's more like the plague. Thankfully for the Los Angeles Rams and their faithful there's only one game remaining in the 2016 season.
Their on-field performance has been a literal disaster in sharp contrast to the organization's success in re-establishing its local roots during the past year.
The Rams elevated the art of losing to a whole new level on Christmas Eve. The much-maligned San Francisco 49ers, under besieged quarterback Colin Kaepernick, overcame a two-touchdown fourth-quarter deficit to further demoralize the Rams, 22-21.
It was another cruel slap in the face of a win-starved fanbase weathering cool temperatures in the L.A. Coliseum.
"Clearly a tough loss. Seemed like it's a little bit more of the same and I feel bad for our players that really work hard during the week and commit to each other to keep the season going and to fight hard. It's tough to know what to say after the game when you've got a two-score lead when it's six minutes left in the game," stated Ram interim head coach John Fassel.
"Kind of a replica of the Miami game where we just couldn't convert third downs into first downs on offense and then just couldn't get off the field in critical situations on defense."
Fassel's brief coaching stint now stands at 0-2 with a season-ending New Years Day 2017 game hosting the Arizona Cardinals this Sunday.
Once again the Rams' demise was determined by their hyper-anemic offense and a late-game tiring defense. The team gained 177 total net yards offensively: 77 passing and 90 rushing. Two of the measly 13 first downs made were the result of penalties.
Rookie quarterback Jared Goff threw one touchdown... and two interceptions. Goff's 11 completions were the least amount he's thrown in six winless starts as a pro.
He was also sacked four times, which is becoming the norm. His NFL season passer rating is fourth worst among starting quarterbacks.
The 49ers started with an 18-yard pass from Kaepernick to running back Carlos Hyde for a 7-0 lead. Ram rookie Pharoh Cooper responded with a 51-yard kickoff return to the L.A. 48-yard line. Nine plays later Goff handed off to running back Todd Gurley for one yard to tie the score at 7-7.
Goff: "When we get him (Gurley) going, it obviously helps and it did early when we had him running the ball. I thought Todd did a good job today and I thought our O-line blocked pretty well."
Three plays later Ram defensive back Cody Davis intercepted Kaepernick and returned it to the 49er 30-yard line. On the next play wide receiver Tavon Austin took the ball around the left end to score his first touchdown for the Rams and a 14-7 lead.
"Yeah, it felt good to finally score my first one at home. I had some great blocks. It was a great play at the right time. I saw the lane, and just used it," said Austin.
Unfortunately for the fans and viewing public the ball stopped moving in either direction from that point onward. The drought lasted two and a half quarters. Both teams combined to punt the ball for 13 consecutive drives during that time.
One bright note: Ram punter Johnny Hekker established a new NFL single-season record for punts placed inside opponents' 20-yard line with 50 this season. The previous record of 46 was held by Dave Zastudil, who set the mark in 2012 for the Cardinals.
Fast-forward to the fourth quarter following a fumble recovery by rookie defensive end Morgan Fox to give the Rams the ball at the Niner's 25-yard line. Four plays later Goff threw a two-yard touchdown to rookie tight end Tyler Higbee. His first career touchdown catch gave the Rams a 21-7 lead with 10 1/2 minutes to go.
Fassel: "I even looked at the scoreboard and said, 'we got a two-score lead, our defense is playing good, got a little momentum scoring a touchdown, let's finish it.' We kept life in them at the end of the game by not getting a couple extra first downs and burning more minutes or burning their timeouts. They scored two touchdowns. It flips quick."
The flip began with a 49er 13-play touchdown drive capped off by a Kaepernick 13-yard scramble and a 21-14 deficit with five minutes remaining. The Rams went three-and-out to set up the Niners' winning drive. 73 yards and 14 plays later, Kaepernick threw a 10-yard touchdown to Rod Streeter with 31 seconds on the clock. An extra-point kick would have tied the game.
But first-year 49er Head Coach Chip Kelly chose the two-point conversion attempt. To no one's surprise, Kaepernick faked a handoff, scrambled right and dived into the end zone for the two-point conversion, sending the Rams writhing to their sixth consecutive loss and 10 in the last 11 games.
Fittingly, the 49ers' only other win came in Week 1, a 28-0 shutout of the Rams.
Austin summed it up: "We had the game. We were up by 14 in the fourth and we gave it away. That's where we're at right now... Basically, just making dumb mistakes like we've been doing previously. Not making the big play when we need to. Basically, just losing focus. I think we probably gave it up and thought the game was over. But, it wasn't."
For the 4-11 Rams, Sunday's final game of the season against the Cardinals (6-8-1) is simply a formality. The 17-13 victory at Arizona in Week 4 was the pinnacle point of the season when Los Angeles was 3-1 and tied for the NFC West lead. With Arizona also out of the playoff picture, pride and not much else is on the line. The fans expected and deserved a much better finale.
Fassel, following Tuesday's practice: "So, the guys that are healthy or could play will play. I talked to them Monday. I asked the guys in the meeting room, I said, 'How many guys have six weeks of football left in them?' And the whole team raised their hand... If we can get our mindset prepared for playing six more weeks or playing for a title in the division this Sunday, that's how we have to treat it."
That basically says it all. This is not the kind of scenario the fans envisioned ever since they've committed to the team from Day One. For the organization and its supporters, the 2016 NFL season cannot disappear fast enough.