The Rams aren’t ready.
They’re not ready for the bright lights, the big stage, the blinding pressure.
They may be having the most surprising season in the NFL, but that season has reached the final exhaustive weeks, and greatness beckons, and they’re … just … not … quite … ready.
That’s the only explanation for Sunday at the raucous Coliseum in a game during which the Rams knocked out the league’s best player, knocked down the conference’s best team, knocked off a two-touchdown deficit … and still ended the afternoon on their backs.
The mighty Philadelphia Eagles were sitting ducks, and yet the Rams let them soar out of the Coliseum with a 43-35 victory that could have been so much different.
“We’ve got to win those games,’’ center John Sullivan said.
It indeed should have been the Rams celebrating with their loudest crowd of the season after taking a fourth-quarter lead with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in the locker room after suffering an apparently serious knee injury.
Instead, it was the Eagles jumping into the Coliseum stands and hugging their screaming green-shirted fans after mounting a late comeback when Nick Foles outplayed the Rams’ Jared Goff in an upside-down fourth quarter.
Yeah, that’s right, the celebrated duel between No. 1 overall pick Goff and No. 2 Wentz ended with Goff going against the Eagles’ backup. And for Goff, it didn’t end well. While Foles led three mistake-free drives, Goff was stripped of the ball by former Ram Chris Long and lost a fumble that led to a field goal that clinched the loss.
Wentz threw for four touchdowns, two more than Goff, and accumulated nearly 100 more passing yards in a most powerful and mature performance. But late in the third quarter, Wentz limped into the Coliseum tunnel with a towel over his head after being crushed by defenders in a hit loud enough to be heard in the press box.
Wentz amazingly stayed in after the hit to throw a two-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. But he could no longer stand strong, and now the Eagles championship hopes likely rest on the severity of an injury that initial reports claim as pretty awful.
So, really, Goff versus Wentz ended in a nasty draw.
“Well, it’s good and bad,’’ Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said of the game and the injury.
For the Rams, it was all bad. They should be sharing the best record in the NFC today with serious hopes of gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Instead, it is the Eagles who are 11-2 and empowered enough to run through the end zone flapping their arms after touchdowns while running around the field afterward as if they owned it.
“It just feels good the way we won it,’’ said defensive end Brandon Graham, who finalized the score on a 16-yard fumble return on the last play of the game. “[We] could’ve easily gave up, but we didn’t.’’
The Rams (9-4) are facing a must-win game in nobody-wins-there Seattle next week to keep their playoff hopes strong. They could learn a thing or two from the Eagles.
‘When you are in these types of games with a playoff atmosphere and your backs a little bit against the wall, you need guys to step up, players to make plays,’’ Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. ‘’It’s a gut check.’’
The Eagles checked that box with two fourth-quarter field goals and a time-killing final drive to steal the win. The Rams need to check themselves after Goff lost the ball with a fumble that led to the winning 33-yard field goal by Jake Elliott on an Eagles drive extended by a leverage penalty that cost the Rams a precious two minutes on the clock.
“There’s a handful of things that took place in that game that we will learn from,’’ coach Sean McVay said. “We’ll learn from our mistakes, including me, starting with me.’’
It wasn’t McVay who committed 102 yards of penalties, including dumb mistakes that led directly to three touchdowns. It wasn’t McVay who allowed Foles, a guy who had thrown four passes all season, to complete a nine-yard pass to a diving Nelson Agholor on third down to extend the Eagles’ final drive that lasted long enough to give the Rams only one final chance with one second remaining.
It wasn’t McVay who gave up 455 yards in a defensive effort that led to the Rams running an amazing 40 fewer plays than the Eagles — 85-45 — while possessing the ball for nearly 19 fewer minutes.
But give McVay credit for his honesty and accountability, because it was the coach who called the pass play that led to the strip of Goff midway through the fourth quarter with the Rams nursing a one-point lead.
It was first down. They were on their 35-yard line. They have one of the game’s best running backs in Todd Gurley, who had already run for nearly 100 yards. Why put Goff in that risky position? Why pass?
Afterward, McVay was honorably asking that himself, as he said, “Certainly, not a great play selection by me. I’ve got to do a better job of putting our ofense in better situations, be smart, have a little bit of situational awareness there and that’s a mistake on my part.’’
When asked about the quote, Goff said, “He told me the same thing. He shouldn’t do that. He’s been doing a great job all year calling plays. Once the play comes in, it’s my job to execute it and unfortunately we didn’t.’’
Gurley, who only finished with 13 carries, didn’t really want to address the Rams’ questionable fourth-quarter philosophy, saying, ‘’I don’t know, man, I’m not a coach, I can’t really tell you. … So much going on out there, it’s crazy.’’
What’s not crazy is McVay’s honesty and transparency. He might be the youngest coach in the league at 31, but he handled his error like a true pro. By hearing their leader admit a mistake, the Rams and their fans can trust that he will learn from it.
The Rams aren’t ready. But at least they know it. And there’s still time — albeit precious little time — to fix it.