Sunday’s 24-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in front of 66,809 at noisy U.S. Bank Stadium left players and coaches disappointed but resolute.
“It definitely feels weird,” running back Todd Gurley said after the Rams’ winning streak ended at four games.
“Can’t stand the feeling,” linebacker Mark Barron said, “but it’s on us.”
Coach Sean McVay summed it up.
“We definitely got humbled,” he said.
Former Rams quarterback Case Keenum passed for a touchdown and the Vikings defense lived up to its billing while handing the Rams their first loss in six games they have played away from the Coliseum.
The Rams had been riding high after victories over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants and Houston Texans. They were the darlings of the league, and mentioned in talk about the Super Bowl, which will be played in Minneapolis in February
But the NFC North-leading Vikings posed a daunting challenge that was too much for the Rams to overcome.
“They’re a great team, we’re a great team,” Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. “It just wasn’t our day.”
The Rams, with the league’s highest-scoring offense, started fast and then stalled. Plus, a defense that led the league in turnovers could not force any. And a team that avoided mistakes and blew open a close game the previous week could not do it again.
The Rams failed to take advantage of two missed field-goal attempts, and receiver Cooper Kupp lost a crucial fumble one yard from the end zone .
Quarterback Jared Goff, who supplanted Keenum as the Rams’ starter for the final seven games last season, passed for 225 yards without an interception. But the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft was held without a touchdown pass for the first time since a Week 5 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Rams had only 254 yards and 15 first downs.
Keenum took full advantage.
He completed 27 of 38 passes for 280 yards, consistently slipped tackles in the backfield, and played error free while leading the Vikings to their sixth victory in a row.
On one play, he looked like a modern-day Fran Tarkenton, avoiding a strip by linebacker Robert Quinn and a sack by linebacker Connor Barwin before completing a pass to receiver Adam Thielen to set up a touchdown.
“He played his tail off,” Goff said of Keenum. “I was sitting on the sideline, you know like, ‘Come on, throw it to us. Throw it to us.’ And he wouldn’t do it.
“He played really, really well. He deserves everything coming to him.”
Said Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald: “Case did a good job of making plays with his feet to help the offensive line, because we was beating ’em.”
The Vikings ended a 7-7 tie in the fourth quarter on Latavius Murray’s second touchdown run, and then sealed the victory with a 65-yard touchdown pass play from Keenum to Thielen.
McVay blamed himself.
“I never really gave us a chance to get into that flow and rhythm,” he said. “You have to look critically at yourself and find a way to get it fixed moving forward.”
The Rams’ disappointment about the defeat was tempered by the confidence and experience they said they gained from playing in a meaningful game in a playoff-type atmosphere.
The Rams entered the game atop the NFC West and with an eye toward their first playoff berth since 2004.
Their next game is against the surging New Orleans Saints, and they also have upcoming matchups against playoff-contending teams such as the Philadelphia Eagles and Seahawks.
Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth played for playoff teams in Cincinnati before signing with the Rams. Sunday’s loss, he said, had value.
“It’s frustrating but the reality is we need it, we need some adversity,” Whitworth said, adding that the Rams’ ability to compete in a tough game “shows you that we’re legit and we’re the real deal.
“And if we get this opportunity again in the playoffs — and get a chance to get in — then we’ll be prepared for it. ...This is the atmosphere you’re going to have to learn to play and win in.”
Barron echoed Whitworth.
“Probably one of the lessons we can take from it is being able to perform in these types of environments, an intense game where every play counts, every snap counts,” he said.
Goff doesn’t doubt the Rams will bounce back.
“We’ve responded to every bit of adversity we’ve faced so far,” he said, “and I expect no different.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein