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Column: Rams’ path ahead is not pretty after devastating loss to Steelers

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp drops a pass as Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpratrick (39) and cornerback Mike Hilton pursue. Kupp went
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp drops a pass as Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) and cornerback Mike Hilton pursue. Kupp went without a catch for the first time this season and second time in his career.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The Pittsburgh Steelers paid homage Sunday to the winners of Super Bowl XIV, with thousands of fans cheering their aging heroes who shuffled at halftime onto Heinz Field.

The Rams, meanwhile, held a different kind of Super Bowl reunion.

They brought back their Super Bowl LIII offense.

That team that mustered three points against the New England Patriots in February made an unwelcome return at the most inopportune of times.

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With their season all but hanging in the balance, the Rams — among the NFL’s most explosive offensive teams since 2017 — had a field goal and squandered a defensive effort that included a fumble return for a touchdown and a safety.

The Rams’ offense has gone 18 consecutive possessions without reaching the end zone.

Foundational cracks have formed in this team, starting with the revolving door of an offensive line, which, for instance, has cycled through six players at left guard. Those might be anonymous hulks up front, but when that chain snaps, so does the rest of the offense.

“That’s a lot, especially when you’re on the road,” tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “You’re changing the mechanisms of how you do things, how you snap the ball, who tells the center it’s time to snap it, who looks back, that’s changed.

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“But the reality is, you find a way. It’s NFL football. Nobody feels sorry for you. We’ve got some guys down, and are possibly going to be down for a little bit, and we’re going to have to find out who can play, who’s ready to play, and go forward.”

The path ahead isn’t pretty. The Rams have lost four of six games, and their two victories in that stretch came against Atlanta and Cincinnati, teams that are a combined 2-16.

Coming up, they have home games against Chicago and Baltimore, both of whom can make life tough on quarterbacks. The Rams play Arizona twice in their final five games, but also have a stretch against Seattle, Dallas and San Francisco that would seriously challenge a team that was actually on a roll.

If this Pittsburgh game was a measuring stick, the Steelers cracked it over the heads of the visitors, especially with the unseasoned Mason Rudolph at quarterback and star running back James Conner watching in street clothes. This is a game the Rams should have won.

The Rams’ Jared Goff, who wasn’t sacked the last two games, was taken down four times Sunday and hit several more. The Rams punted eight times, had four turnovers and one turnover on downs.

Rams switch out players left and right on the offensive line because of more injuries as the Steelers defense dominates in 17-12 victory by Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh didn’t give up a third- or fourth-down conversion in the first half, something the smothering Steelers hadn’t achieved in two years.

“I think anytime you’re one for 13 on third downs, you’re never going to give yourself a chance to stay on the field,” said coach Sean McVay, whose team was actually one of 14. “We had some self-inflicted wounds, some penalties. I think it was a collaboration of everybody can be better, and we have to go back and look at the tape.”

Alternatively, they could burn it. And they might want to once they catch a glimpse of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick’s touchdown against them. What appeared to be an incomplete pass by Goff was ruled a fumble — it was a very close call — and Fitzpatrick scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a 43-yard touchdown.

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“Once I see a replay, I’ll let you know,” Goff said when asked about the play, “but it felt like I threw it.”

Even more vexing to some Rams, a strikingly similar play by Rudolph later in the game was ruled an incompletion and not a fumble.

Cooper Kupp went into Sunday’s game as the Rams’ leading receiver, a player who amassed 225 yards in his last game and ranked as the NFL’s top third-down target. He did not catch a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, who came into Week 10 averaging seven catches per game, was shut out in that department — four targets, zero receptions.

“They did a really good job,” Kupp said of the Steelers. “On any given play, you aren’t always going to get the exact look you want. You’re going to have to be able to solve problems. As an offense, it’s on all of us to find a way to create space, get open and make a play.

“At the end of the day, we just have to execute.”

For the Rams, the end of the day could be far sooner than they’d hoped.


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