Struggling Rams can find small piece of inspiration in next opponent, the Falcons
They suffered an embarrassing Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots, started the next season with three wins in a row and then lost three consecutive games to fall to 3-3.
No, that was the Atlanta Falcons.
At the end of the 2016 season, the Falcons melted down against the Patriots in Super Bowl LI, blowing a 25-point, second-half lead. The Falcons started fast in 2017, and then endured a three-game losing streak. They finished with a 10-6 record and earned a wild-card playoff berth, defeating the Rams before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in a divisional-round game.
So the reeling Rams might take short-term inspiration from the Falcons, their opponent Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The stadium, of course, was the site of the Rams’ 13-3 Super Bowl loss to the Patriots last February. It was the Rams’ worst offensive performance under coach Sean McVay. And the loss immediately raised the specter of a potential malaise that doomed numerous teams the season after they lost in the Super Bowl.
McVay and his players downplayed that possibility since training camp. Victories over the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns assuaged some concerns. But losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers renewed the storyline.
The three-game losing streak — their first under McVay — indicates the Rams might be afflicted.
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The Rams also have been hit hard by multiple major injuries, a situation they did not experience during McVay’s first two seasons.
Offensive lineman Joe Noteboom and safety John Johnson suffered knee and shoulder injuries, respectively, in last week’s 20-7 loss to the 49ers and have had or will undergo surgery. Linebacker Clay Matthews sat out last week’s game, and is expected to be sidelined at least two more, because of a broken jaw. Cornerback Aqib Talib is not available for at least seven more weeks because of broken ribs.
“This is a challenging time,” McVay said, “but it’s not something that you’re going to let be deflating.”
Now the Rams face a Falcons team that also is struggling. The Falcons finished with a 7-9 record last season and have started this one 1-5. Last Sunday’s 34-33 defeat by the Arizona Cardinals was their fourth loss in a row.
McVay said he had spoken at some point with Falcons coach Dan Quinn about the aftermath of a Super Bowl defeat.
“We have talked about those types of things, in terms of how he handled it afterwards,” McVay said.
During a teleconference with reporters this week, Quinn said a byproduct of the playing in a Super Bowl was that the rest of the league closely studies and examines your team and the concepts that made it so successful. Then opponents make adjustments.
“To a large degree that happened some after our ‘16 season,” Quinn said, adding, “I certainly think that’s true with the Rams.”
Defensive adjustments might be one reason the Rams offense, once the toast of the NFL, has not resembled the unit of the last two seasons. But it is hardly the only one.
“There’s a lot,” quarterback Jared Goff said this week when asked in what areas the Rams needed to improve.
Goff, as per custom, said it started with him. McVay’s attempt at managing running back Todd Gurley’s workload — and a thigh injury suffered by Gurley against the Seahawks — also has impacted the offense.
But the weak link appears to be an offensive line also has not played up to the standard of the last two seasons. And it is not only young players who have struggled. Veteran tackles Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein also have been beat and called for multiple penalties.
“Whether it’s one guy or 11 guys, whatever, it doesn’t matter what it is,” offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said. “We are not quite there at this point.”
It remains to be seen whether new Rams corner Jalen Ramsey will play against the Falcons, but all signs point to Todd Gurley returning to lineup.
The Rams made multiple moves this week in a bid to solve short- and long-term situations.
They traded cornerback Marcus Peters and traded for cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Kenny Young and offensive lineman Austin Corbett.
Ramsey is expected to play Sunday, but Young and Corbett probably will not, McVay said.
One thing is certain: With the unbeaten 49ers leading the NFC West with a 5-0 record, and the Seahawks looking strong at 5-1, the Rams cannot afford another loss.
The NFL fined Matthews $12,500 for a tweet this week that was critical of officials and Al Riveron, the league’s senior vice-president of officiating, a person with knowledge of the situation said. Matthews tweeted: “The storyline for the 2019 season continues to be the refs inability to make the accurate and correct calls week in and week out. Al Riveron continues to blindly side with his refs and the current status quo. Something must change! Zero accountability…. #throughthewire”…. The Rams signed defensive back Jake Gervase to the active roster from the practice squad. The Rams this week also signed receiver Nsimba Webster to the practice squad.
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