The Rams trailed the Atlanta Falcons by 14 points early in the second quarter — a sizable but hardly insurmountable deficit against one of the NFL’s worst defenses — when receiver Tavon Austin lined up in the backfield, bolted around the right side and found himself wide open on a curl pattern.
Just as quarterback Jared Goff was about to release the ball on third down from the Rams’ 42, a defender nicked his arm. What should have been a sure touchdown pass sailed a good five yards beyond Austin, who was near the Falcons’ 30.
The Rams punted on the next play, lamenting another missed opportunity in a season filled with them, the latest heaping scoop of frustration coming in Sunday’s 42-14 loss to the Falcons in the Coliseum.
“One play can change the game, and we’ve had [several] of them,” Austin said. “We’ve got to hit on that play. If we did, we’d be in a much different situation. Those plays are going to hit. … It’s just frustrating knowing how hard we work and the talent we’ve got on this team. It’s just not going our way for some reason.”
The Rams hoped the November switch from Case Keenum to Goff would provide a spark, but the No. 1 pick in last April’s draft is winless in four starts, and the Rams (4-9) have lost eight of nine games.
Goff completed 24 of 41 passes for 235 yards Sunday, numbers that looked decent but were deceiving. Goff threw two interceptions, one that Deion Jones returned 33 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
Goff wasn’t nearly as mobile as he was last week in New England, where he did a better job of sensing pressure and avoiding the rush. This week he was sacked three times — all by linebacker Vic Beasley — for losses of 27 yards.
On one of those sacks in the third quarter, Beasley stripped the ball from Goff and returned the fumble 21 yards for a touchdown and a 42-0 lead.
Eighty-eight of Goff’s passing yards came in garbage time, on the Rams’ second-to-last possession. Goff capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown on a run-option keeper, the quarterback absorbing a bruising hit while spinning into the end zone with 4 minutes, 59 seconds left.
“We’re not having fun, we’re not enjoying any of this, it’s awful, and it’s hard,” Goff said. “But hopefully we can come out on the other side and be thankful for these experiences and know they made us better.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot, even in these tough games, when things aren’t going our way. I’m trying to use every experience as something to build on, something to get better with.”
Goff narrowly missed another pick-six on his next possession, Jones stepping in front of a pass intended for tight end Lance Kendricks but dropping the ball — with an open field ahead of him — near the Rams’ 40-yard line.
But Goff isn’t getting much help. His teammates dropped four passes in the first half alone. After driving the Rams from the 24-yard line to the Falcons’ 16 on the team’s first possession, Goff’s quick slant to Britt bounced off the receiver’s chest and into the arms of Ricardo Allen for an interception.
“Jared’s gaining valuable experience for his career,” Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s going to be our quarterback for a long, long time.”
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 18 of 28 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns, could empathize with Goff. Ryan, the third overall pick out of Boston College in 2008, threw 25 interceptions in his first two seasons.
“For a young guy, I respect the way that he battled the entire day,” Ryan said of Goff. “He stood there and kept slinging it, and he made some good throws. He will continue to improve. There are lumps that you go through throughout your career, but I think he’s going to be a really good player.”