Rams, fighting for playoff positioning, feel increased urgency coming off back-to-back losses
As with most of his Rams teammates, cornerback Aqib Talib is a creature of habit.
But when something unusual happens — in this case two losses in a row — a sense of urgency triggers minor changes.
For example, Talib said, his wife gave him vitamins to take this week.
“So,” Talib said, “everybody changes.”
The Rams, coming off losses to the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles, will try to get back on track Sunday when they play the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.
The NFC West-champion Rams are 11-3. If they defeat the 3-11 Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers beat the Bears, the Rams will clinch a bye through the wild-card round of the playoffs.
If the Rams and the Bears win, the Rams can clinch the bye with a victory over the 49ers next week in the season finale at the Coliseum or a Bears loss at Minnesota.
“We’re still under control of everything and we know that,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “Have to focus and get it done this week.”
After the Rams’ 30-23 loss to the Eagles, coach Sean McVay said his team needed to figure what was going wrong, “and figure it out fast.”
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said this week that “the sky is not falling.” But McVay reiterated there was an increased urgency.
“You feel that,” Goff said.
Motivation still might be a challenge for the Rams against a Cardinals team that is struggling under first-year coach Steve Wilks.
The Rams shut out the Cardinals, 34-0, in Week 2. And despite losing consecutive regular-season games under McVay for the first time, the Rams are two touchdown favorites.
They also, however, are dealing with several problematic issues, most notably the physical condition of star running back Todd Gurley.
The fourth-year pro, who signed a $60-million extension before the season, played through a left knee issue against the Eagles. He did not practice this week because of what the Rams described as inflammation, and McVay said the NFL touchdown leader’s status would be a game-time decision.
The Rams on Tuesday signed veteran C.J. Anderson to augment depth — second-year pro Justin Davis did not practice this week because of a shoulder injury — and Anderson could start against the Cardinals.
Anderson rushed for 1,007 yards for the Denver Broncos in 2017. He began this season with the Carolina Panthers , but he has not carried the ball since Week 9.
Goff aims to reestablish the early-season efficiency that has dropped off markedly in the last three games.
The third-year pro has passed for one touchdown, with six interceptions, since he accounted for five touchdowns in a 54-51 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs before the Rams’ scheduled week off.
Goff played better in the fourth quarter against the Eagles, but the Rams came up short.
“Towards the end of that game in the second half, I felt like we moved the ball really well and we were able to build off some things there and able to kind of take what the defense was giving us,” he said. “I felt like I learned a lot in the last game and was able to grow.”
Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, surely can convey a few lessons to Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen about playing through adversity as a rookie.
Rosen, the 10th pick in the 2018 draft, supplanted Sam Bradford as the starter two weeks after the Cardinals lost to the Rams. The former UCLA player has passed for 10 touchdowns with 14 interceptions.
Goff rebounded from a rocky rookie season, made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2017 and was voted onto the Pro Bowl roster this week.
His message to Rosen: “Just to understand that every experience — positive, negative, in between — will be valuable for you in the future. That’s something I tried to take away when I was going through a similar situation. Just understanding that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and use everything you go through as a positive experience.”
Rosen faces a Rams defense that has improved since Talib returned after an eight-game absence while recovering from ankle surgery.
The 11th-year pro played the first half in a victory over the Detroit Lions, and then helped the Rams hold the Bears to only 15 points. He was beaten several times against the Eagles, but intercepted a pass to spark a comeback bid.
Talib and Anderson were players, and Phillips the defensive coordinator, for the 2015 Broncos team that lost consecutive games in December before rebounding with two victories and then starting a playoff run to the Super Bowl title.
So the Rams, Talib said, are not panicking.
“We know the opportunity that we got in front of us,” he said, “So we just got to prepare.
“Get the mistakes out of our system and get ready to go on the run.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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