Reality flashed like a siren Thursday night, bright as Seattle’s neon-green uniforms.
The days of the Rams rolling through the NFC West are over.
The franchise that won the division the past two seasons — going 6-0 in those games last season — has a serious fight on its hands.
In losing to Seattle, 30-29, the Rams suffered their first meaningful division defeat in nearly two years and absorbed an early setback in their quest for three consecutive NFC West crowns.
Seattle fans celebrated like it was an NFC title game, and for good reason. The Rams had beaten their team three times in a row, and holding serve at home was a critical step in the climb back to the top.
The smallest of margins decided this game, whether it was the balletic feet of Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett, an interception by Seattle’s Tedric Thompson that came within millimeters of the turf, or the do-or-die field goal attempt by Greg Zuerlein from 44 yards that was wide by the width of an upright.
“I thought it had a chance to come back in,” Zuerlein said. “But any time I swing like that it’s usually not a recipe for success.”
Said holder Johnny Hekker: “It’s one of those kicks where you see them fade left at the end every time, and this one just held up right. It’s not going to deter any confidence we have in Greg because he’s an incredible kicker. You feel for him, it’s tough, but it’s a game.
“You only get one shot, and it didn’t go our way. But we’re moving forward as a team.”
This marked the second time in Sean McVay’s two-plus seasons as coach that the Rams suffered back-to-back defeats in the regular season. The first time came last year with consecutive losses to Chicago and Philadelphia, and that Rams team got to the Super Bowl.
Rams owner Stan Kroenke, for one, wasn’t discouraged by what he saw Thursday night.
“I thought it was the most complete game we’ve played all season,” Kroenke said. “I’m proud of the way we hung in there. We showed some toughness. This division is going to be tight. San Francisco’s playing well too.”
That said, the Rams are looking at an uphill challenge as steep and twisting as Lombard Street. They play host to San Francisco in Week 6, and the 49ers are currently 3-0 with Cleveland coming to town on Monday night.
The 49ers, an afterthought in recent seasons, have a defense that’s ranked third in yards allowed and already has seven takeaways, matching last season’s anemic total.
The 49ers haven’t had a winning record in the division since going 5-1 in 2013. In the five seasons that followed, they finished 2-4, 1-5, 2-4, 1-5, and 1-5 in the division. They cycled through coaches Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly before hiring Kyle Shanahan in 2017, the same year the Rams hired McVay.
While the 49ers believe their defense has a chance to be elite, they’re also confident their offense, which so far has shown a pulse, can catch up by midseason.
The Seahawks too have reason to believe they’ll get even better. Bookend defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah are just getting used to playing with each other, and Seattle will get suspended pass rusher Jarran Reed back by Week 7. He had 10½ sacks last season.
Disappointed as he was after the loss Thursday, Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth was quick to point out it’s far too early to forecast what lies ahead.
“When you play on a short week and come into a place like this, you come in and perform the way we did at the end and really have a chance to win, we just got to find one more play to win it and you’re walking in here feeling amazing,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot there to be proud of and remind guys that this is the way football works. It’s about the diligence of continuing to work, continuing to believe. You keep putting performances together like that, and the ball eventually will bounce your way. The key to this thing is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 8-0 at the beginning of the season or 4-4. It’s whether you get hot in December and have a chance to get in the tournament.”
The Rams know they’re in for a battle in their division, and they’re trying to regain their footing after the 1-2 punch of losses to Tampa Bay and Seattle.
“Hey,” Kroenke said with a shrug, “New England was 3-2 last year too.”