The collapse ended with Jared Goff wandering aimlessly across the middle of the soggy Coliseum field Sunday afternoon, eyes skyward, helmet perched on the back of his head.
If he was confused, he was not alone.
His Rams had just suffered their most disheartening setback in a desultory season when their vaunted defense allowed the Miami Dolphins to break up a shutout by scoring twice in the final 4 minutes 2 seconds in a 14-10 defeat.
But the Rams really lost because they were afraid to let Jared Goff win.
In the most trumpeted sports premiere in this town this fall, the Rams didn’t roll out a red carpet for Goff as much as they wrapped him tightly in it.
The celebrated, long-delayed debut of last spring’s No. 1 overall draft pick was dampened not only by a steady rain and Dolphins defense, but also by a Rams brain trust that didn’t trust him.
After incredibly waiting 11 weeks to let him play, they incredibly didn’t let him play.
As a leader he was fine — no turnovers, no huddle implosions, no rattling after big hits. But as a big-time quarterback worthy of trading six draft picks? We still have no idea, because Goff never had a chance to be a big-time quarterback.
By the time he finished slanting and screening and dumping the Rams to their sixth loss in 10 games since returning to Los Angeles, their quarterback question had been answered in a different sort of way.
Turns out, it doesn’t matter who plays quarterback, because the problem is not the quarterback, it’s the coaching.
“There was nothing from an offensive standpoint that was minimized because of Jared,” claimed Ram Coach Jeff Fisher.
That statement is either very false, or very scary.
Imagine the Dodgers ordering Corey Seager to make his debut by drawing walks, or the Lakers telling a debuting D’Angelo Russell to shoot only layups.
Goff completed 17 passes, but none covered more than a couple of handfuls of yards in the air, and only one was a true downfield pass, until the final moments.
Heck, Case Keenum could have done that.
Goff averaged just 4.3 yards per pass on 31 attempts, and compare that to this season’s debuts of two other renowned rookie quarterbacks.
Dak Prescott of Dallas averaged five yards per pass on 45 attempts, and Carson Wentz of Philadelphia averaged 7.5 yards per pass on 37 attempts.
“I would like to throw some balls downfield and I think that will be in the plan every week,” said Goff. “It’s up to them.”
Whatever, it wasn’t the plan on a day when it needed to be the plan. The Rams mortgaged their future because Goff had that Hollywood arm, but the moment it was time for the big reveal, Fisher and his staff tied that arm behind his back and wound up directing another bust.
“Our goal was to stop the run … and make the quarterback try and prove he can beat us,” said the Dolphins’ Ndamukong Suh.
And the Rams played right into their padded hands.
Fourth quarter, Rams leading 10-0 and beginning a potential game-clinching drive at midfield, and how do you think they schemed it? Try three Todd Gurley runs sandwiched around three short Goff passes that wound up one yard short of a first down on the Dolphins’ 30-yard line. Greg Zuerlein then clanked a 48-yard field-goal attempt and the Dolphins turned that momentum into their first scoring drive.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff leaves the field after a 14-10 defeat to the Dolphins in his first start as a pro.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff is helped off the turf by a teammate after he was knocked down by a Miami defensive lineman during the third quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
-Rams quarterabck Jared Goff is helped to his feet after being knocked down.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi is tackeled by Rams Alec Ogletree in the 1st quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines breaks up a long pass to Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker during the third quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams safety TJ McDonald tackles Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi for a short gain in the first quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams defensive tackle Dominique Easley knocks Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill to the ground while reaching around lineman Jermon Bushrod for a sack in the fourth quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams safety T.J. McDonald can’t make the interception as Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills puts the hit on him in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff dives for a first down as Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso tries to slow him down during a fourth-quarter drive. The play was nullified by a penalty against the Rams.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams safety Mark Barron tackles Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi during a third-quarter play.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson, left, and defensive lineman Dominique Easley celebrate after a sack of Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the fourth quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Todd Gurley is tackeled by Dolphins linebacker Neville Hewitt in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff scrambles from the Dolphins’ pressure during the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
With the rain coming down, Rams quarterback Jared Goff looks for a receiver against the Dolphins in the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso grabs the facemask of Rams running back Todd Gurley during the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams safety Maurice Alexander makes an interception in front of Dolphins receiver DeVante Parkerduring the third quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams receiver Kenny Britt battles Dolphins cornerback Byron Maxwell for a pass that fell incomplete during the second quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dolphins receiver DeVante Parker catches a nine-yard touchdown pass against Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson with 36 seconds left in the game for what proved to be the winning score.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Miami’s newly renovated stadium created curiosity, and the team’s performance at Hard Rock Stadium kept the fans coming back. Miami’s only losses at home this season have been to the Titans and the Patriots, which is an improvement on last year’s 3-4 record in Miami Gardens, and their 4-4 record in games played in South Florida in 2014. This season has been proof that if you win, fans will come.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff is sacked by Dolphins defensive linemen Cameron Wake, right, and Ndamukong Suh during the second quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher cheers Tavon Austin and Todd Gurley after the running back scored a first quarter touchdown.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Todd Gurley lunges into the end zone for a touchdown as Dolphins safety Michael Thomas tries to stop him in the first quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams running back Benny Cunningham tries to fend off Dolphins linebacker Spencer Paysinger for a short gain.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi is upended by Rams safety Maurice Alexander after a short gain in the second quarter.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams quarterback Jared Goff runs on to the field as the starting quarterback for the first time in his pro career against the Miami Dolphins.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Rams rookie and new starting quarterback Jared Goff walks through the tunnel to take the field.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams players head to the field from the locker room for warmups nearly an hour before taking on the Miami Dolphins.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Later in the fourth quarter, Rams now leading 10-7 and beginning another potential game-clinching drive, and how do you think they schemed it this time? Two Gurley runs, a short Goff pass, and a punt that led to the Dolphins’ game-winning scoring drive.
“The design is to pick up four or five yards then quick passing game, it’s not to take your shots, and that’s what we tried to do so we could complete drives,” said Fisher.
At this rate, the only thing they’re completing is an early alienation of Los Angeles sports fans who demand, and deserve, better. A few days after breaking ground on their Inglewood sports palace, they dug themselves a deeper Coliseum hole. On an afternoon when Goff was cheered on the video board by everybody from Snoop Dogg to snowboarder Shaun White, the crowd wound up soaked, and the Rams’ season continued to sink.
“Probably one of the most disappointing losses I’ve endured over the years,” said Fisher, and that’s saying something.
This is the fifth time in Fisher’s five seasons as the Rams coach — every year! — that his team has reached the 10-game point with six losses.
Fisher has tied Tom Landry for second place in coaching losses with 162 defeats, reaching that figure in 82 fewer games. If the Rams lose four of their last six, a very real possibility considering the difficulty of their schedule, Fisher could end the season as the losingest coach in NFL history.
In keeping with the afternoon’s muddy theme, Fisher coached some of the game with his baseball cap turned around. It wasn’t the only thing that was backward.
As the game ended, the Coliseum filled with its first loud and fervent chant of the day. But the words were being sung by Dolphins fans cheering their defense.
Too bad Rams fans couldn’t have resurrected their popular chant of recent weeks. Even though their request now seems moot, a reprise would have been perfect, its meaning a tad different but explicitly clear.
“We want Goff.”