The Rams' presence in these playoffs was a testament to the development of Jared Goff. The game itself became a reminder of how far he still has to go.
The second-year quarterback and the league-leading offense under his command vanished Saturday night, managing only a touchdown and two field goals in a 26-13 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons at the Coliseum that ended their season.
Goff was offered an education on how football in January is nothing like football in the preceding four months.
The field was a wreck. The stakes were higher, the emotions more intense. There were fewer openings and less time to throw. And Goff didn't have access to his greatest weapon, as the Falcons were determined to neutralize Todd Gurley.
The stage required Goff to be more than what he was in the regular season.
Goff was ready to get the Rams to this point. He wasn't ready to get them past it.
"We didn't do enough to win," Goff said.
As much as the Rams claimed their inexperience wouldn't be a factor here, Goff performed how a 23-year-old is expected to perform in a game of this magnitude.
Goff completed 62% of his passes in the regular season, but only 53% on this night, misfiring on 21 of his 45 throws. His completion percentage was under 50% for a majority of the game.
Of his 259 yards, 102 came in the Rams' final two possessions, after the Falcons scored a final touchdown that put the game out of reach.
Gurley's three longest runs accounted for the 73 of the most-valuable-player candidate's yards. His 11 other carries resulted in only 28 yards.
Goff failed to make up for that.
"We came in talking about tackling," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Although they're prolific in throwing it, the run game has been a factor for them as well."
The Rams went three and out on their first two possessions, as Goff was sacked twice in the first four minutes of the game.
They played nearly eight minutes before finally registering a first down, predictably, on a run by a Gurley. But after three more pass attempts by Goff, the Rams had to punt again.
The Rams, who averaged 29.9 points per game in the regular season, were blanked in the opening quarter. Goff completed only one of five passes for three yards in the period.
"I think it took a little longer than usual to settle in," Goff said.
Gurley ran the ball only three times and didn’t catch any passes in the first quarter, a sign of how the Falcons were focused on preventing Goff from linking up with the team’s best player.
"They've got really athletic defensive players," Goff said. "Really fast, really athletic linebackers, and I think that can stop that a little bit."
The Rams were kept in the game by their defense, which limited the Falcons to six points in the first quarter. The Falcons had a 13-0 advantage at one point, but it could have been worse.
"That game could have gotten out of hand really quickly," Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said.
The Rams turned over the football on punt and kickoff returns.
“But when we got it, we didn’t seem able to find a way to get that first down to get us rolling,” Whitworth said.
The Rams narrowed the deficit to 13-7 with 2 minutes 40 seconds remaining in the first half, when Goff delivered a perfectly weighted 14-yard pass to Cooper Kupp in the back-left corner of the end zone.
Goff displayed his quality again when he connected with Robert Woods on a 38-yard pass later in the quarter. The deep ball positioned the Rams to add three points in the final seconds of the half and move to within 13-10.
"Had a little bit of momentum and came into halftime feeling good," Goff said.
But the Rams never completed the comeback. In fact, they barely touched the football.
The Falcons possessed the football for more than 13 minutes of the third quarter. Goff and the Rams had the football in their hands for fewer than two minutes.
"I'm sure that was part of their plan," Goff said. "They were running the ball well and they kept doing it."
And in the rare instances the Rams had the ball in the second half, Goff couldn’t move it.
"I think you attribute it to what Atlanta did defensively," Goff said.
None of this should take away from what Goff accomplished this season. He overcame a horrific rookie season and proved he was worthy of the investment the Rams made when they traded for the top overall pick of the 2016 draft to select him.
If Goff isn't already the face of the franchise, he will be soon. But he has to be more than that. He has to become a quarterback who can win the kind of game he lost Saturday night.