Culver City Observer -

By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

Rams Upset by 49ers at Home

Suffer First Loss at SoFi Stadium

 

December 3, 2020

Photo/LA Rams

Defensive back Troy Hill of the Rams returns a fumble for a touchdown against San Francisco last Sunday. The 7-4 Rams travel to Arizona on Sunday to play the 6-5 Cardinals in a battle for second place in the NFC West.

The Los Angeles Rams offense under fifth-year quarterback Jared Goff failed to show up for second time in the last four games, losing to a team it had no business losing to. The 23-20 frustrating loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon was also the first time the Rams suffered a defeat at SoFi Stadium. The Stadium deserved better. The Rams defense and special teams deserved better. And the Rams fans deserved better.

Yet, falling out of first place in the NFC West, the Rams still control their own destiny for the Division title with five games remaining, three of them Division matchups. But even if they run the table, the chance to earn home-field advantage throughout the Western Conference Playoffs is fading. Riding on the shoulders of Goff for the postseason is not a comforting thought unless he can change his propensity to commit turnovers and neglect to protect the ball.

"We're not taking good enough care of the football and that's something that's got to change. Otherwise, I'm going to continue to sit up here and say this week in and week out. It just can't continue to happen," said Rams head coach Sean McVay, implicating his quarterback. "While I'm challenging and I'm hard on the quarterback... it's not all about him. There's other 10 guys that have a role and a responsibility to help to the greater good."

The Rams travel to Arizona this weekend to take on the Cardinals, a team inspired earlier this season but suddenly losing three of their last four games. The Cards lost another close game on Sunday to the New England Patriots, 20-17. Coincidentally, the game was decided by a Nick Folk 50-yard field goal on the last play of the game, similar to 49ers kicker Robbie Gould's 42-yard field goal that sealed the Rams fate on Sunday as time expired.

Arizona (6-5) is one game behind the Rams (7-4) and two games behind the Seattle Seahawks (8-3) in the NFC West race. The Rams host the Cards on the final week of the season at SoFi and are scheduled to play at Seattle the previous week that will likely decide the Division title. Arizona host the 49ers in Week 16 while the Seahawks host the 49ers on the last week of the season. Arizona is 2-1 in Division play with Seattle at 2-2 and the Rams at 1-2 (both losses to the 49ers).

Cardinals starting quarterback Kyler Murray numbers (95.9) have dropped recently as he's now rated 16th among NFL starting QB's. Murray was 23 of 34 for 170 yards in the loss to the Pats. He has a 68.2 completion ration with 2814 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions for the season. In comparison, Goff's rating (92.3) has regressed to 26th. He completed 19 of 31 passes for 198 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions, one fumble loss and was sacked twice against the Niners.

The Rams offense was mostly inept in Sunday's loss as they only scored on three of their 15 total drives. They didn't score their only offensive touchdown until the last minute of the third quarter. Goff and company had the ball twice in the crucial fourth quarter and managed a mere 34 total yards on 10 offensive plays, both ending with punts. They had four three-and-outs and turned over the ball each time after drives of four, six and three plays.

Goff repeated a mantra from games past: "We've got another game next week. Just get after it starting tomorrow. I've had to bounce back from various things before this is just another one of those hurdles. I don't wish to have too many more hurdles for the rest of the year, but this is another one I have to bounce back from."

"I don't think they (49ers) were doing anything that we can't overcome, that I can't overcome. Just like I said, take care of the ball, be a lot better with the football in my hands and we should have better results."

Once again, it was Aaron Donald and the defense that stepped up and almost pulled another win out of the hat. Donald's pressure allowed safety Jordan Fuller to intercept Niners quarterback Nick Mullins in Rams territory in the first quarter. He forced a fumble by Niners running back Raheem Mostert that resulted in cornerback Troy Hill recovering and returning the ball 20 yards for a touchdown, reducing the deficit to 17-13 late in the third quarter.

Donald sacked Mullens in next series that resulted in a punt and the only touchdown drive by the Rams offense, giving them a temporary 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the Rams defense was unable to protect the lead, allowing two Gould field goals in the fourth quarter. It was the second time this season that the defense allowed a game-winning drive after the team had rallied to take the lead.

And yet it was the inability of Goff to move the Rams into scoring position twice in the fourth quarter to secure the win. Goff was sacked for a 7-yard loss on third down in the first drive on third-and-four. Taking over with 3:11 remaining in ideal conditions, he threw two incomplete passes to end the second drive. The last one was a long futile attempt to wide receiver Cooper Kupp on third-and-five. That's all Mullins and the 49ers needed as they took over with 2:10 on the clock.

A silver lining in the loss was kicker Matt Gay solidifying the field goal and kickoff duties in only his second game with the team. Gay connected on both field goal attempts: a 48-yarder on the team's opening drive and 41-yarder late in the third quarter that initiated the rally. Only a few weeks ago, the Rams had some of the worst field goal and kickoff numbers in the league this season. This is a considerable development if the team expects to advance to and into postseason.

McVay: "He did a great job on kickoffs. Did a great job with the field goals and extra points. It was a real bright spot for us. I think we've found a guy that we feel really good about as we move forward." Punter Johnny Hekker reinforced his status as the league's best, launching seven punts for a 49.0 average. He had a punt of 62 yards and two points of 57 and 56 yards in the fourth quarter.

McVay is now 3-5 lifetime against Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan. The Niners have won the last four contests between the two teams, including two last season that cost the Rams a Playoff spot. A positive sign going into this Sunday for a 1:05 p.m. match at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona is that Sean McVay's Rams have never lost to the Cardinals, riding a 6-game winning streak.

Offensively, the Cards are led by running back Kenyan Drake who has 719 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Remarkably, Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray is close behind with 650 yards on 97 carries and one rushing touchdown. All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins poses one of the biggest threats in the league with 77 catches for 967 yards and four touchdowns. Future Hall-of-Famer Larry Fitzgerald has 43 receptions for 336 yards while Dan Arnold has 25 catches for 225 yards and one touchdown.

Photo/LA Rams

Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald sacks 49er quarterback Nick Mullens last Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

"The most important thing for Mondays is kind of putting our previous game away, cleaning up anything and then getting a jumpstart on what's next," said McVay on preparing for Arizona. "I do think our guys do a great job of trying to address and attack. That's exactly what we'll try to do this week as we reflect on some of the things that forced us to fall short yesterday."

 

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