The last time the Atlanta Falcons visited the Coliseum, they routed the Rams so badly the coach lost his job the next day.
Much has changed in the year since.
The Rams, under first-year coach Sean McVay, historically went from the NFL’s lowest-scoring team to its highest-scoring unit and won the NFC West.
Many of the star players and starters who helped make that happen were safely ensconced on the Coliseum sideline during Sunday’s 34-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the regular-season finale.
Despite the defeat before an estimated crowd of 55,000, the Rams held on to the No. 3 seed and will play host to the Falcons on Saturday at the Coliseum in the franchise’s first playoff game since 2004.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” McVay said, shortly after learning his team’s opponent, “but one that our guys will be extremely excited for, and can’t wait to get to work on the preparation for that one.”
That preparation was expected to begin Sunday night.
After all, it will be a short week — and the Falcons are the defending NFC champions. They were routing the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl before an epic collapse.
“They’re a good football team that’s been there and has been through it,” said offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, who signed with the Rams as a free agent and is one of six players with playoff experience.
Now the Falcons return with quarterback Matt Ryan, the 2016 NFL most valuable player, receiver Julio Jones and many of the same players who demolished the Rams 42-14 in what proved to be former coach Jeff Fisher’s final game in a dismal 4-12 season.
“They’re a completely different team, and we’re a completely different team,” safety Lamarcus Joyner said when asked about last season’s game. “So I really wouldn’t want to get into remembering what happened last year.
“That’s so far out of the cycle.”
Had McVay not rested Whitworth, quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, defensive lineman Aaron Donald and others against the 49ers, Sunday’s game might have provided a glimpse of what is expected to be a renewed rivalry between franchises battling for NFC West supremacy.
Instead, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, acquired from the New England Patriots in a late October trade, led his team to its fifth consecutive victory as the 49ers finished 6-10 under first-year coach Kyle Shanahan.
The loss dropped the Rams to 11-5 — the franchise’s best record since 2004 — but players were just happy that they finally were able to look ahead to the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Eagles are seeded No. 1, the Minnesota Vikings No. 2.
“Ultimately, we held the three seed,” Goff said, “and it’s a good spot to be.”
Goff was in uniform Sunday in case Sean Mannion had to come out of the game, but it was essentially the end of a week of rest for the second-year pro and other starters, who were outfitted in hooded white sweatsuits that all but screamed, “CAUTION.”
Receiver Sammy Watkins said he and other receivers who were held out got plenty of work Sunday morning when Goff delivered 40 to 50 passes to them.
“I feel like it’s pretty much even teams,” Watkins said of the matchup against the Falcons. “They got great receivers, we got great receivers.
“They got a great quarterback, we got a great quarterback. … I can’t wait to play those guys.”
Said receiver Robert Woods: “It kind of worked in our favor. We ended up getting a lot of guys healthy, a lot of guys able to rest.”
Gurley was among the players who figured to benefit — and lose — the most from resting Sunday.
An MVP candidate, Gurley was eclipsed by Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt for the NFL rushing title but finished as the league leader with 19 touchdowns.
Asked about the matchup against the Falcons, Gurley said, “It don’t really matter who you play right now.”
Defensive tackle Michael Brockers noted the Falcons’ offensive firepower and said he was “excited for the challenge.”
But after waiting six seasons to play in the postseason, Brockers said the opponent is irrelevant.
“I don’t really care who it is,” he said. “I’m excited, so I’m ready to go!”
So is offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, the longest-tenured Rams player.
Saffold has been with the Rams since 2010.