Rams Need a Win in Seattle to Stay in Division Race
December 24, 2020
There have been only four NFL teams to record winless seasons during the Super Bowl era starting in 1966. The 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16) were the last team to accomplish that feat, joining the 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16), the 1982 Baltimore Colts (0-8, shortened season due to strike), and the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14). The 2020 New York Jets (1-13), 17-point underdogs, averted that club membership by defeating the title-contending Los Angeles Rams, 23-20, last Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium.
The loss was the second in the last three home games for the Rams after having won their first four contests during this inaugural season at SoFi Stadium. It came 10 days after the Rams had defeated the New England Patriots, 24-3, on Thursday Night Football at SoFi, their best performance of the season. With plenty of rest, a solid week of preparation and an opportunity to clinch their third playoff spot in the last four years... the Rams laid an egg.
"I thought we had a good week of preparation, but offensively, just unbelievably poor to start the game, penalties shot ourselves in the foot, dug ourselves in too deep of a hole," said head coach Sean McVay, whose team also dropped into second place in the NFC West behind the Seattle Seahawks. Not so coincidentally, the Rams (9-5) travel up to Seattle (10-4) this coming weekend for a chance to redeem themselves and retake the Division lead as well as a playoff berth.
They will be facing quarterback Russell Wilson and a Seahawk team that demolished the Jets, 40-3, the previous week, and moved back into first place on Sunday by defeating the Washington Football Team, 20-15. After a very fast start to the season, Wilson has leveled off a bit but still ranks sixth overall among starting quarterbacks. He has thrown 3,806 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. The Rams beat the Seahawks, 23-16, at SoFi Stadium in Week 10 as they sacked Wilson six times.
The inconsistent play of quarterback Jared Goff is the greatest impediment in the team's quest to return to the Super Bowl for the second time in three years. Goff has been inconsistent for the past two seasons since the Rams lost Super Bowl LIII to the Patriots, 13-3. Goff improved steadily during the first two seasons under McVay, guiding the Rams to 11-5 in 2017 and 13-3 in 2018. Last season, with physically compromised running back Todd Gurley unable to carry the offensive load, Goff and the offense regressed, and the team finished out of the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
"Bottom line, we didn't execute up to our standards offensively in the first half. I thought in the second half we bounced back and played a lot better, but it was too little, too late obviously," said Goff. "We have a game coming up next week that we were going to have to win... obviously we're disappointed with how today went and embarrassed."
Against the Jets, the offense started off poorly with three series of three-and-outs. Rams punter Johnny Hekker's kick was blocked on the third series. Goff was intercepted on the team's fourth possession. Both led to Jet scores. The Rams went three and out on their fifth possession. They finally manufactured a drive from their 29-yard line, resulting in kicker Matt Gay's 45-yard field goal as time ran out in the first half. The 13-3, 10-point deficit loomed larger due to the Rams offensive inefficiency.
This season the team has succeeded by having the best defense in the league led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Aside from Hekker, the special teams including the field goal and coverage squads have suffered. However, the recent emergence of Matt Gay has calmed the waters. Against the Jets the defense was less effective. Former USC quarterback Sam Darnold led three scoring drives for 17 points while gaining 289 total yards.
The Jets covered the spread by converting two field goals in the second quarter off of turnovers, giving them a 13-0 lead at the time. Former Rams kicker Sam Ficken converted a 39-yard field goal after Hekker had his punt blocked and recovered at the Rams 27-yard line. Five minutes later, Ficken kicked a 25-yard field goal after Goff's intended pass for wide receiver Robert Woods was intercepted and returned to the Rams 22-yard line by cornerback Bryce Hall. Ficken's 21-yard field goal late in the third quarter was the margin of victory.
The Rams defense and a fine 34-yard punt return by Nsimba Webster gave Goff and the Rams offense a golden opportunity at the Jets 43-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Facing third-and-four, Goff threw a deep incomplete pass intended for running back Cam Akers down the left sideline. On fourth-and-four Goff threw a deep incomplete pass intended for tight end Gerald Everett along the right sideline near the goal line. That was the game as the Jets used running back Frank Gore to secure a first down, allowing Darnold victory formation for the final three plays.
"The first one to Cam, I would have liked to give him a little bit more of a chance there or maybe progress through the play. Didn't love where I put it," said Goff. "The second one, yeah, I got everything we wanted, threw a ball out there and Maye (Marcus, Jets safety) made a good play." Goff responded "No," when asked about going shorter in that situation.
McVay: "Really on the third-down, we had some looks that we felt like we had a good isolation, but clearly, we have to be able to progress there. And then on the fourth down, had Gerald Everett in a man-to-man situation, and then Cooper (Kupp, wide receiver) on an underneath route, where, if we didn't love that, kind of a little high low. Ultimately, we didn't make those plays, but we got the coverage and the looks that we were looking for there.
"This loss will demoralize us only as much as we allow it to. It's going to be embarrassing, sick to your stomach about it, but we do have two games left and we have to find a way to respond and rebound... as we get ready for the Seahawks."
On a somber note, the Los Angeles Rams released a statement on Monday following the passing of 58-year old Hall of Famer linebacker and defensive lineman Kevin Greene. He played the first eight of his 15 years in the league with the Los Angeles Rams from 1985-1992. Greene made First Team All-Pro team two times: 1994 and 1996. He also played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers.
Greene was a fifth-round draft pick and 113th overall by the Rams in 1985. He started his college career as a walk-on at Auburn University under head coach Pat Dye. He is third on the NFL's career sack leaders list with 160 quarterback sacks, only behind NFL greats Bruce Smith and Reggie White. He was inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
"The Rams family and the NFL lost a game changer today. We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Hall of Famer Kevin Greene, who left an indelible mark on the Rams franchise with his passion for greatness and his love for teammates and coaches. He defined what it means to be a Los Angeles Ram, on and off the field, elevating everyone around him through his extraordinary leadership and commitment to serving others. Our thoughts are with the Greene family, his friends, and the countless people he inspired throughout his life."
Hall of Fame President & CEO David Baker also released a statement: "The entire Pro Football Hall of Fame family mourns the passing of Kevin Greene. I regarded him as a personal friend and a true Hall of Famer in every sense. He possessed the most incredible can-do attitude of anyone I ever met. He was a great player, but more than that, he was a great man. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kevin's wife, Tara, and their entire family. We will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration for future generations. The Hall of Fame flag will be flown at half-staff in Kevin's memory.