Same season-ending opponent. Completely different situation.
In 2017, the Rams went into a Week 17 finale against the San Francisco 49ers at the Coliseum with a playoff spot secured but no chance for a bye through the wild-card round of the playoffs. Coach Sean McVay rested nearly every starter, the Rams lost, and then they came out flat and, in some cases, nervous the next week in a defeat by the Atlanta Falcons.
On Sunday, the NFC West champion Rams can secure the No. 2 seed in the conference and a wild-card round bye, if they defeat the 49ers.
Star running back Todd Gurley and safety Lamarcus Joyner will not play because of injuries, but every other starter will be in the lineup.
“I like this situation a lot better than last year,” McVay said, citing “the natural edge, the urgency” that his players must maintain, rather than relaxing.
The Rams will earn opportunity for extra rest and healing if they defeat an injury-ravaged 49ers team that is 4-11 but has continued to play hard.
The Rams are coming off a 31-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, a win that ended a two-game losing streak.
So starters are embracing the opportunity to play Sunday.
“We gained some momentum last week,” offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said. “We can continue to do it this week and you want to carry that confidence into the playoffs. This is just as important as a playoff game.”
Said safety John Johnson: “It’s a must win, so it’s good that the starters have to go out there and play.”
Veteran C.J. Anderson will start again in place of Gurley, who is still experiencing soreness in his left knee.
Five days after he signed with the Rams, Anderson rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown in 20 carries against the Cardinals. It was his first full game since 2017, when he rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the Denver Broncos.
“It was a shock to my body for sure,” he said of the aftermath. “It’s like I woke up the next day like, ‘What did you just do to yourself?’
“Being six years in and having a routine, just got on the routine. My body recovered and my body was fine Thursday and I’ll be ready to play on Sunday.”
Quarterback Jared Goff is aiming to continue the efficiency he regained against the Cardinals after struggling in the previous three games.
Goff completed 19 of 24 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for a touchdown.
Goff has completed 65% of his passes for 4,489 yards and 28 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. He is 341 yards shy of tying the Rams season passing-yardage record set in 2001 by Hall of Famer Kurt Warner.
But Goff has more modest goals.
“Just to continue on that roll that we were able to display last week to get back on track,” he said, “and do what we feel like we should do every week.
“Just get back to who we are as a team, not only offensively, but defensively, special teams, everything and get back to who we are.”
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald also is chasing history.
With 19 ½ sacks, he has established an NFL record for most sacks by an interior lineman. But he is three shy of tying the league record set by former end Michael Strahan of the New York Giants.
Donald recorded four sacks against the 49ers in the Rams’ 39-10 victory in Week 7.
Can he do it again?
“You never know what can happen,” Donald said. “We going to play the game and when plays present themselves, try to take advantage of it and just try to help my team to win.”
With Joyner sidelined because of an ankle injury, Blake Countess and Marqui Christian will split time in his place.
Countess also was in the lineup for the 34-13 loss to the 49ers last season when starters rested.
“I don’t like how things went last year, and I know coach McVay doesn’t like how things went last year,” he said. “Everybody would agree that ultimately we didn’t get it done in the playoffs, and, as best as we can do to change that this year, that’s what we’re trying to do.