He sprinted out of the Coliseum tunnel, leading teammates onto the field for pregame introductions before a hyped-up anticipatory crowd.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff never stopped running. He made a hard right to the sideline, and continued at full speed to the far end zone, as if to collect his thoughts or relish the moment before he played the Philadelphia Eagles and quarterback Carson Wentz.
“It was a really good atmosphere out there,” Goff said. “It felt like a playoff game.”
Sunday’s matchup between Goff, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, and Wentz, the No. 2 pick, mostly lived up to its billing. Wentz passed for four touchdowns before suffering a potentially serious knee injury late in the third quarter. Goff passed for two touchdowns and helped give the Rams an early fourth-quarter lead.
But Goff made a critical mistake that killed one late drive and failed to lift his team on another as the Eagles defeated the Rams, 43-35, before an estimated crowd of 67,000.
“We just got to do a better job getting pressure on the quarterback and winning matchups,” said Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree, who played through the elbow injury he suffered last week at Arizona. “They did enough to win the game and we did enough to lose it.”
It was a tough loss for a Rams team that appeared poised for its appearance on the biggest NFL stage.
It was a game between two division leaders, the league’s highest-scoring offenses, and featured the Goff-Wentz matchup. It was the Rams’ opportunity to show they belong in the NFC elite.
The Rams overcame a 10-point halftime deficit and a three-point fourth-quarter deficit, but they could not overcome a Goff fumble and numerous penalties and injuries while falling to 9-4.
“Against a team like that there [are] things that you can’t do,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, adding, “Unfortunately, you do have to learn some lessons the hard way, myself included.”
The Rams also lost a chance to put some distance between themselves and the Seattle Seahawks, who lost at Jacksonville. The Rams lead the Seahawks (8-5) by a game in the NFC West heading into next week’s game in Seattle.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. “We’re still in a good position.”
Wentz was without his favorite target, tight end Zach Ertz, because of a concussion, but he found tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton for three first-half touchdowns as the Eagles built a 24-14 lead.
The Rams opened the third quarter with two quick touchdowns, one on a one-yard pass to receiver Sammy Watkins and another when Mike Thomas blocked a punt and Blake Countess scooped up the ball and returned it 16 yards to the end zone.
Wentz’s fourth touchdown pass, a two-yarder to receiver Alshon Jeffery late in the third quarter, put the Eagles ahead, 31-28. Wentz, however, had been hit hard on a previous play, a scramble into the end zone that was nullified because of a penalty, and he did not return.
The Rams pulled ahead in the fourth quarter on Todd Gurley’s second touchdown run. But a trio of former Rams — defensive end Chris Long, safety Rodney McLeod and quarterback Nick Foles — all made huge plays in Wentz’s absence to help the Eagles improve to 11-2 and clinch the NFC East.
Foles, whom the Rams had released before training camp in 2016, engineered a field-goal drive that pulled the Eagles to within a point with 9:34 left.
And that’s when Goff made a crucial mistake.
On first down at their own 35, with the Rams trying to put together a long drive to take time off the clock and pad their slim lead, Long burst off the left side and stripped Goff of the ball. McLeod recovered it and the Eagles kicked a field goal to retake the lead.
The Rams got the ball back but went three and out, Goff’s third-down pass to Watkins falling incomplete.
“I probably just held onto it a bit too long,” said Goff, who completed 16 of 26 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns. “Stepped in the pocket there, Chris Long came around, made a great play. Probably [needed to] get rid of it a little bit earlier there, and one thing that you can learn from for sure.”
The Eagles got the ball with just over two minutes left, and Foles extended the possession with a key third-down pass to former USC receiver Nelson Agholor. By the time the Rams got the ball, only one second remained.
Goff passed to Pharoh Cooper, who lateraled to Tavon Austin, but Austin’s attempted lateral was picked off by Eagles end Brandon Graham, who returned it for a touchdown as time expired.
“This is one of those heavyweight fights,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “The Rams are a great football team. We knew that coming in here. Give them a lot of credit. They are playoff-caliber team and we found a way.”
Now it’s on to the Seattle, where the Rams will have a chance to split with the Seahawks and gain — or lose — ground in their quest for their first playoff berth since 2004.
“As big as this game was, and as many implications as there were, [the Eagles] played a great game,” Goff said. “We played pretty well up until the end.