The Rams were a feel-good story this season; next year there's no telling

While the Rams and the Atlanta Falcons were fighting for the chance to advance in the NFL playoffs, the once Los Angeles, currently Oakland and soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders sent out a tweet that should’ve sent shivers down the spine of Sean McVay and everyone at the Coliseum on Saturday night.

The Raiders had officially hired Jon Gruden — a reminder that one year after being one of the hot NFL teams on the rise, the Raiders had fallen so low, they canned their previous head coach in the guts of StubHub Center just a week ago.

In the moments after the Rams’ 26-13 defeat, reporters filed in and out of press conferences and the locker rooms, asking so many questions about the young team’s growth.

Certainly, even in defeat, they’d accomplished a lot.

“I think you’re seeing a lot of things that went in the right direction,” Rams coach Sean McVay said on his postgame hunt for a silver lining. “We’re able to look back on this year and take some positive examples of things we can draw upon moving forward.”

But even the youngest coach in modern NFL history knows that too many lessons learned like this get you fired in this league.

While there are reasons to be excited about the Rams’ future, no one was Saturday night. The players who play, the coaches who coach should know there’s no league where things change faster than the NFL.

After all, last year the Rams had the third worst record in the NFC. A coaching change and some shrewd personnel moves helped the team finish 2017 with the third best record in the conference.

Things, they change quickly.

“This team was good enough, really, to compete with anyone,” veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said.

And next year’s team? Who knows?

The Oakland Raiders entered this season with a lot of people believing they were good enough, really, to compete with anyone. They weren’t. The Dallas Cowboys thought they were good enough too. The suspension of Ezekiel Elliott, among other things, changed that thinking awfully quick.

A wrong step or a bad fall, that can change everything too. The Miami Dolphins lost their quarterback in the summer, and with him, their chances for making the postseason were seriously injured as well. Same for the Green Bay Packers, who lost Aaron Rodgers because of a broken collarbone.

In total, eight teams that made the playoffs last season didn’t make them this year. And of those eight, three teams axed their coaches after 2017’s failures.

But Saturday wasn’t the time to think about that. If players were going to dwell on anything other than loss on the field, it would be the hope this past season provides for the future.

“Yeah for sure,” Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. “…We don’t quit. Everyone was still fighting, and we’re trying to find a way to try and pull out a game and win no matter what — a big improvement from past years, a different type of mindset with this coaching staff and with these players in this locker room.

“So, it’s something great to build on.”

Very few people outside of the Rams organization — and maybe just a few inside of it — believed the Rams could contend for a championship this season.

But here they were Saturday night with a chance to take a step in that direction. And like so many people on the mangled Coliseum turf, they fell right on their rump.

After the game, even in the fog of defeat, McVay seemed ready for the next step in his offseason.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to look at myself critically and see are we really putting our offensive players in good situations to have success,” he said. “…We didn’t do enough and it starts with me.”

McVay will have to be better. Jared Goff will have to be better. The Rams have to be better — because so many other teams will be too.

Maybe the San Francisco 49ers will be next year’s feel-good story. Maybe it’ll be the Chicago Bears or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s a lock it’ll be someone.

The NFL’s greatest strength might be how quickly the standings can be reversed.

McVay knows.

After talking about the lessons his team could learn, he quickly veered back into his disappointment.

“Anytime you come upon a game, you always have the expectation to try and win. And we felt very confident. We had a lot of respect for the Falcons but our anticipation and expectation was to try to win the football game,” he said. “Certainly, I know we’re disappointed, our players and coaches alike. We didn’t [do] enough to get it done tonight.”

And in the NFL, there’s no promise you’ll get another chance tomorrow.

dan.woike@latimes.com

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports

Copyright © 2018, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
67°