The Rams’ scheduled week off did not come until the 12th week of the season, what players and coaches described as the perfect time for a hot team that was on the verge of clinching a division title and seemingly headed toward a deep run in the playoffs.
The Rams have not looked the same since.
On Sunday night, with a primetime television audience watching, the onetime NFL darlings suffered their first home loss, a 30-23 defeat by the Philadelphia Eagles in front of 74,210 at the Coliseum.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff struggled for much of the first three quarters before rallying in the fourth, and running back Todd Gurley was sidelined periodically because of a knee injury as the Rams lost for the second week in a row.
“We got to be able to figure this out,” coach Sean McVay said, “and figure it out fast.”
The Rams nearly overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit, but Goff’s pass to receiver Josh Reynolds in the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.
The Rams’ 54-51 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11 at the Coliseum is now a distant memory.
Since that shootout, in which Goff accounted for five touchdowns, the Rams offense did just enough in an NFC West-clinching victory at Detroit, and then got shut down in a 15-6 loss to the Chicago Bears at chilly Soldier Field.
“We’ll see how we respond, and I’ve got a pretty good feeling it will be in a positive way,” Goff said.
As he did at Detroit and Chicago, Goff looked tentative on some early throws and inaccurate on others. He completed 35 of 54 passes for 339 yards, with two interceptions, one that led to a touchdown.
In his last three games, Goff has passed for one touchdown with seven interceptions.
Afterward, Goff was among many players who stared at their phones or into their lockers as they contemplated the defeat. Unlike postgame moods following losses at New Orleans and Chicago, the room was much quieter.
“This is our first experience with back-to-back losses,” middle linebacker Cory Littleton said, “but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
The Rams’ loss in Chicago had prevented them from clinching a bye through the wild-card round of the playoffs. Sunday’s loss adds more pressure.
The Rams are 11-3, the Bears 10-4, with two games remaining.
If the Rams win at Arizona on Sunday and then beat San Francisco, they will clinch the bye. But if the Rams lose again, and the Bears win on the road against the 49ers and the Minnesota Vikings, the Bears would earn the bye.
Rams receiver Josh Reynolds can’t make the catch on the game’s final play.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff has the ball dislodged by Eagle linebacker Kamy Grugier-Hill, who got past running back Todd Gurley.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams safety John Johnson knocks the ball away from Eagles tight end Zach Ertz on a pass to the end zone.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams returner JoJo Natson (19) is consoled by teamates after fumbling the ball to the Eagles on a punt during the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams receiver KhaDarel Hodge can’t make the catch on a fake punt against the Eagles during the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Eagles cornerback Avonte Maddox intercepts a pass intended for Rams receiver Josh Reynolds during the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff tries to recover a fumble during the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Todd Gurley can’t make the catch as Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill makes the hit during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Todd Gurley hurdles Eagles safety Corey Graham to pick up big yards during the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery makes a catch in front of teammate Nelson Agholor (13) and Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner during the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Todd Gurley scores a touchdown against the Eagles defense during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams receiver Josh Reynolds is tackled short of the goal line by Eagles defensive back Rasul Douglas during the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Quarterback Jared Goff watches as the Rams fail to convert on a fake punt against the Eagles.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams returner JoJo Natson fumbles a punt and the Eagles’ D.J. Alexander jumps on the ball late in the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks tackles Eagles running back Josh Adams during the first quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
The Rams fell off the pace for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. New Orleans is 11-2 going into Monday night’s game at Carolina. The Saints have the edge over the Rams in a tiebreaker because they beat the Rams in Week 9 at New Orleans.
Cornerback Marcus Peters reminded reporters that the Rams already clinched their division. He said the Rams would be ready when it really counted.
“We’re not trippin’ off this loss,” he said. “We ain’t never going to panic.”
Gurley, who had 48 yards and two touchdowns in 12 carries, and caught 10 passes for 76 yards, seemed to agree. He allowed that the Rams “definitely got to tighten up” their play.
But “it’s not the end of the world,” he said.
Said defensive tackle Aaron Donald: “We just got to get back into our groove.”
That means playing better in all three phases, safety John Johnson said.
“We’re not playing complementary football right now,” he said. “Offense, defense and special teamsaren’t really working together like we were at the beginning of the season.”
For the second season in a row, quarterback Nick Foles stepped in for injured Carson Wentz and led the Eagles to a victory over the Rams.
“We really didn’t have to change or tweak much during the week,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Nick played solid and did the things that we asked him to do.”
Alshon Jeffery caught eight passes for 160 yards as the Eagles improved to 7-7 and kept alive their playoff hopes.
The score was tied 13-13 at halftime, but the Eagles began pulling away on Wendell Smallwood’s short touchdown run and a field goal. They increased the lead to 17 points after Goff tripped, recovered a fumble and then had a pass intercepted, setting up another Smallwood touchdown.
Cornerback Aqib Talib’s fourth-quarter interception sparked the Rams, and Goff led field-goal and touchdown drives to pull the Rams to within 30-23.
But with just more than three minutes left, kick returner JoJo Natson fumbled a punt and the Eagles recovered the ball.
The Rams got a final chance with 1 minute 8 seconds left after Jake Elliott’s 53-yard field-goal attempt fell short. Goff drove them to the 18-yard line but his final pass into the end zone for Reynolds fell incomplete.
McVay did not dismiss the suggestion that something has been different since the week off.
“It’s hard to argue against it based on just the way that we’ve played,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to gather ourselves.”
That work will begin Monday for a coach who now knows what it feels like to lose consecutive regular-season games.
“Two games are not going to define our season,” McVay said, “but we’ve got to find a way to get better in a hurry.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein