It is a short week for the Rams, one that includes the Thanksgiving holiday before they try to save their season.
Not exactly ideal circumstances for a team coming off an embarrassing blowout defeat to the Baltimore Ravens.
If the Rams (6-5) beat the Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1) on Sunday, their slim playoff chances remain alive. If they lose, opportunity for a third postseason appearance is almost certainly gone.
The mood was subdued Tuesday at the Rams’ facility. Players and coaches were still processing the 45-6 pummeling by the Ravens, and beginning preparation for the Cardinals.
Players said they were not focused on playoff possibilities.
“We’ll let everyone else look at that,” receiver Brandin Cooks said. “Any time you start to look past teams and saying, ‘Oh well, if we do this, we do that,’ you tend to fall apart. And I think coach does a great job of keeping us focused on the next opponent.”
The Cardinals are not the Ravens — a Super Bowl contender with an MVP front-runner in quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals appear on the upswing, however, with rookie Kyler Murray at quarterback in rookie coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
Murray, the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft, is another dual threat. He has passed for 14 touchdowns, with five interceptions, and has rushed for 418 yards and three touchdowns.
“His ability to speed it up and be able to deliver the ball when he sees guys open is really impressive — just how twitchy he is,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “He can make plays in the pocket, out of the pocket and then you see just what a dynamic runner he is as well.”
That sounds a lot like the guy who decimated the Rams at the Coliseum on “Monday Night Football.”
Murray does not boast Jackson’s statistics — Jackson has passed for 24 touchdowns and rushed for six — but he has steadily improved while leading the Cardinals. The Cardinals were off last week, and could make a statement by ending the Rams’ playoff chances.
The Rams have two games remaining games against the Cardinals and also play the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. At this point, every game for the Rams must be considered an elimination game.
If the 49ers (10-1), New Orleans Saints (9-2), Green Bay Packers (8-3) and Cowboys (6-5) maintain their division leads, they are assured playoff spots.
The Seahawks (9-2) and Minnesota Vikings (8-3) are leading the race for NFC wild-card spots.
The Rams (6-5), Chicago Bears (5-6), Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) and Carolina Panthers (5-6) are chasing.
The NFC West-leading 49ers and the NFC South-leading Saints can clinch playoff spots this week. The 49ers can clinch if they defeat the Ravens at Baltimore, and the Rams lose to or tie the Cardinals. The Vikings play the Seahawks in Seattle on Monday night.
Under McVay, the Rams are accustomed to more certainty about their playoff prospects at this juncture of the season.
In 2018, they were 10-1 and coming off a 54-51 victory over the Kansas Chiefs on “Monday Night Football.” They had a scheduled week off that enabled them to enjoy Thanksgiving before returning to prepare for a road game against the Detroit Lions.
Quarterback Jared Goff had passed for 26 touchdowns, with six interceptions, for a team that ranked second in the NFL in offense and third in scoring. The Rams defeated the Lions to clinch their second consecutive NFC West title and went on to finish 13-3 before making a run to the Super Bowl.
Goff signed a massive extension before the season but has not performed at the level that earned him Pro Bowl selections in each of the last two seasons. He has passed for 11 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions.
“I’m not worried about the statistical things,” McVay said of quarterback rating systems. “Sometimes there’s decisions we can do a better job with and sometimes it’s not always a reflection of him.
“What I’m concerned — I don’t want to say I’m concerned — but where there’s an urgency is we’ve got to be better as an offense overall. Coaches, players, we’re all a part of this. It’s not just Jared.”
Tight end Gerald Everett suffered a knee injury while blocking against the Ravens and will be day to day, McVay said. ... Tackle Rob Havenstein, sidelined for two games because of a knee injury, is “making good progress” and there is a chance he could start against Cardinals, McVay said. ... McVay said he had not spoken with Jalen Ramsey about the cornerback’s postgame verbal altercation with Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters. “I saw those guys talking when I was walking off the field, but by the time I had circled back they were separated,” he said. ... Cooks caught two passes for 32 yards against the Ravens, his first game since Oct. 27, when he suffered his second concussion of the season on the third play against the Cincinnati Bengals. “Felt great to be back out there,” he said. “It’s a blessing to be back out there. You realize how fortunate you are to play this game.”