It was a short but long week for Sean McVay.
While preparing for a must-win game Saturday against the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams coach spent five days answering questions about what went wrong Sunday in an embarrassing loss to the Dallas Cowboys and what went awry this season.
“If you said, ‘This is where we would be at,’ I don’t think anybody would be satisfied or think that’s how it would go,” McVay said. “But this is where we are at.”
Less than a year after playing in the Super Bowl, the Rams are 8-6, their very slim playoff chances only partly in their control.
The Rams can earn an NFC wild-card berth if they defeat the 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals, and the Minnesota Vikings (10-4) lose home games against the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
If the Rams lose to the 49ers, they miss the playoffs for the first time in McVay’s three seasons. If they win Saturday, they must wait until Monday night to see if the outcome of the Vikings-Packers game makes the Rams’ finale against the Cardinals anything more than an opportunity for players to reach performances incentives.
For a coach and team that won the NFC West the previous two seasons, the struggles of 2019 have been a new experience.
“I’m not going to shy away from the fact that, up to this point, things certainly haven’t gone the way that we expected,” McVay said. “But, we’re going to keep battling, we’re going to keep swinging.
“We’ve got another opportunity to do that on Saturday and I expect to see us go compete to the best of our ability.”
That might not be enough against a 49ers team that is still competing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC and home-field advantage for the playoffs.
The 49ers lost to the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday, but that ranks as a blip on a breakout season for third-year coach Kyle Shanahan and a franchise that once again is a contender. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo leads an offense that ranks second in rushing and scoring. The defense is ranked second overall and first against the pass.
Several Rams players invoked the word “hope” while discussing their team’s playoff prospects.
“We just have a little bit of hope,” edge rusher Dante Fowler said, “and as long as we got that we’re going to keep fighting.”
Safety Eric Weddle echoed his teammate.
“We still got hope. If we do our part, beat Frisco, and then hope that Minnesota loses Monday night and have a meaningful” Week 17 game against the Cardinals, Weddle said, “that’s all you can root for and hope for at this point.
“But at the end of the year you’re going to look at yourself and the games you should have won and didn’t win. ... We only have to look at ourselves.”
The Rams also lost to the Seattle Seahawks after missing a potential game-winning field-goal attempt with fewer than 30 seconds left. The offense had one good drive in a 20-7 loss to the 49ers, and did not score a touchdown in 17-12 road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In the Oct. 13 loss to the 49ers, McVay started the game by calling seven consecutive running plays — five for running back Malcolm Brown and two for receiver Robert Woods — during a drive that resulted in a touchdown.
“We did execute well on that first drive,” quarterback Jared Goff, who passed for a career-low 78 yards in that game, said this week. “Then, from there on out, we didn’t execute at all.”
Several key Rams players were sidelined for the first game against the 49ers, including running back Todd Gurley and linebacker Clay Matthews. Both will be in the starting lineup Saturday. The Rams also have since added three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Shanahan is not looking past the Rams.
“You take away a couple of those games and they’re — without a doubt — a top-five defense,” Shanahan said. “Their offense, they’ve always been able to throw the ball. They’ve got their run game going here over the last month too.
“That’s why I think if they can find a way to get into the playoffs, they’re going to be as scary as any team.”
The operative word, of course, is if the Rams can find a way.
That won’t be a possibility unless the Rams win Saturday.