Column: Fans showed up, but the Rams fumbled early in playoff loss at home

Rams running back Todd Gurley walks off the field after a 26-13 loss to the Falcons on Saturday in a wild-card playoff game at the Coliseum.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

For the first NFL playoff game in the Coliseum in more than two decades Saturday night, a loud and loving Los Angeles showed up in force.

The Rams, not so much.

It was their best opportunity since their return here two years ago to capture the hearts of a reluctant town, to show the city their exciting brand of football is worthy of attention, a rare and perfect chance.

The Rams fumbled it away early, and frittered it away late.


In front of their biggest crowd of the year, a screaming and towel-waving group of 74,300 who came downtown for a revelation, the Rams were instead a regret, falling 26-13 to the underdog Atlanta Falcons in the NFC wild-card playoff round.

“We didn’t do enough to get it done tonight,’’ said Rams coach Sean McVay wearily afterward, his frenetic energy drained. “We’re all disappointed with the outcome.’’

“Disappointment” probably isn’t a big enough word here. For a franchise coming off a transformative season in which it morphed from football’s most boring team into one of its most exciting, this was a big miss. For a team that struggled all year with empty seats and apathy from a town that didn’t trust them, a team that wound up as the unlikely winner of the NFC West Division with hopes for a run at the Super Bowl, this was a true shame.

Their two fumbles led to 10 Falcon points. Their offense couldn’t get the ball to their best player, Todd Gurley, and scored 17 fewer points than their league-high average. Their defense couldn’t keep the Falcons off the field, with Atlanta holding the ball for over 15 more minutes.


The league’s second-youngest team played like it, shaky and sloppy. The defending NFC champion Falcons also played like it, calm and consistent.

“We didn’t play well,’’ said quarterback Jared Goff, who completely barely half of his passes. “Ultimately we’d like to have a lot of the stuff today back.’’

It started with such promise. It was the biggest crowd of the year. It was the most Rams-centric crowd of the year. For once, nobody was making jokes about empty seats or opposing cheers. Before the game, Rams legends lit the torch. At halftime, rapper Snoop Dogg lit the crowd. In the second half, Rob Lowe and Rebel Wilson led the cheers. Throughout the night, whenever the public address system boomed the Rams’ trademark question of “Whose house?,’’ the answer was a rousing “Rams’ house!’’

Yet when announcer Sam Lagana asked it one last time to the departing masses, one could barely hear the answer. It might be their house, but they’re not quite ready to entertain greatness. It sounded like their house, but for more than three hours, it didn’t play very much like a home.

In the end, the fans quickly and quietly departed as if walking away from a house where somebody suddenly started breaking windows and flipping furniture.

“It was a special day, it was rocking, we wanted to get it done for the fans,’’ said Goff. “Ultimately we didn’t.’’

The Rams gave up a first-quarter field goal soon after a Falcons punt bounced in front of an indecisive Pharoh Cooper and off the foot of Blake Countess for a fumble. They gave up a second-quarter touchdown shortly after Cooper fumbled a kickoff.


“First one was a freak one, the second one I know he’d like to have back,’’ said Goff.

They pulled to within three points at halftime but couldn’t keep a slashing Falcons running attack off the field in the third quarter. They moved back within a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but finally crumbled after a lengthy Falcons drive ended in a clinching touchdown that epitomized the night.

On a field that was embarrassingly slippery in the January chill — players were skating everywhere — Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan slipped backward but managed to fling an eight-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Julio Jones. It was the culmination of an 83-yard drive that featured a catch-and-run pass to Mohamed Sanu.

“It was a pretty bad,’’ said Gurley of the field. “But they are playing on the same field.’’

The Rams actually drove back downfield and had a chance to close the gap in the final minutes, but an apparent touchdown pass to Robert Woods was overruled on replay after it was clear that Woods never had control of the ball.

Just like the Rams never really had control of this night.

“We felt good, we felt real good,’’ said Goff. “We felt good until the very end. But ultimately, it wasn’t enough.’’


One of the celebrities in attendance was the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen. And throughout the night, the loudspeaker played Jansen’s tradmark song, “California Love’’ by Tupac.

But the Rams aren’t yet closers, as evidenced by Goff and Gurley being able to connect on just four of 10 screen passes for 10 yards, nullifying one of the Rams’ season-long strengths.

“They’re a great defense. We didn’t get the job done,’’ said Gurley. “You want to get it done this year.’’

At halftime, Snoop Dogg performed one of his trademark songs, “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” By the end of the game, that title had new meaning.

The Rams had the best chance of their new Los Angeles lifetime, yet dropped it like, well, you know.

Twitter: @BillPlaschke

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