The Rams’ only losses came at New Orleans and Chicago, against division-leading teams they could see again in the playoffs.
Does the prospect of possibly returning to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome or Soldier Field make securing home-field advantage for the playoffs more of a priority?
Not necessarily, Rams coach Sean McVay said Monday, less than 24 hours after his team’s 15-6 defeat by the Bears.
“To say that you wouldn’t want to have the ability to stay at home and play, that wouldn’t be accurate,” McVay said at the team’s practice facility in Thousand Oaks. “But we know that what’s important for us is that to even have those types of conversations, for that to even be a potential possibility for us, we’ve got to go take care of business with what we can control, and that’s getting ready for the Philadelphia Eagles.”
The Rams are 11-2 heading into a Sunday’s game at the Coliseum against the Eagles (6-7), last season’s Super Bowl champions who are fighting to get back to the postseason.
The NFC West-champion Rams can clinch a bye through the wild-card round if they beat the Eagles. But their loss in Chicago, coupled with the Saints’ victory over Tampa Bay, knocked the Rams out of the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Rams’ remaining games are at Arizona and against the San Francisco 49ers. The Saints (11-2) play Sunday at Carolina and at home against Pittsburgh and the Panthers.
If the Rams and Saints finish tied for the NFC’s best record, the Saints would earn home-field advantage because they defeated the Rams 45-35 in Week 9. The Bears (9-4), by virtue of Sunday’s victory, also would earn home field if they finish tied with the Rams atop the NFC.
The Bears put the Rams in that position by harassing quarterback Jared Goff into four interceptions and shutting down running back Todd Gurley.
Gurley, who entered the game as the NFL’s leader in yards rushing, said afterward that he “looked like a skunk” and the whole team gave a “sorry” performance on a night when temperatures dipped into the 20s.
Gurley had only 14 touches (11 carries for 28 yards and three catches), well below his average in victories. McVay said the Rams did not have a lot of plays — they ran only eight in the first quarter — and never established a rhythm or continuity against a stout Bears defense.
Asked about the limited touches for Gurley, McVay said, “Certainly, I would have some decisions back and make sure that you try to be more cognizant of that based on what they were doing.”
The Rams clearly are better when Gurley is getting closer to 25 touches. In 2017, McVay’s first season as coach, Gurley averaged 25 touches (20 carries, five catches) in 11 regular-season victories. In the Rams’ four losses, he averaged 17.3 touches (14.5 carries, 2.8 catches).
In victories this season, he has averaged nearly 24 touches (20 carries, 3.68 catches). On a chilly day in Week 6 at Denver, he carried the ball 28 times for a career-best 208 yards, and also caught two passes.
In the Rams’ two losses, Gurley averaged 16.5 touches (12 carries, 4.5 catches).
Asked if he approaches cold-weather games feeling as if his team needs to run the ball more, McVay said no.
“Certainly when the ball is in Todd's hands, good things happen,” McVay said. “That’s something that in hindsight I certainly wish I would’ve made a lot of different selections” Sunday.
Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth was among the players looking forward.
“Losses are inevitable in this league,” he said. “The response is what really changes who a team is, and what they’re about, so it will be about our response from here forward.”
Bears players and coaches also sounded as if they expected the Rams to bounce back.
“We completely know how good of a team the Rams are,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said, “that they’re going to be there in the end.”