They flirted with what turned out to be the inevitable throughout the season.
The Rams got off to a strong if misleading start, suffered several blowout losses and spent two months teetering on the brink of elimination from playoff contention.
It all culminated Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium.
A 34-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers ended the Rams’ chances to advance to the postseason for a third consecutive season under coach Sean McVay.
A year after playing in the Super Bowl, the Rams will be watching the playoffs, not participating in them.
“It’s over,” cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. “The dance is done.”
Robbie Gould’s 33-yard field goal as time expired dropped the Rams’ record to 8-7 and ended, for all practical purposes, the Rams’ season.
The Rams were aiming to buy themselves at least one more day of hope. A win would have forced them to wait until Monday to see whether the Minnesota Vikings lost to the Green Bay Packers.
But that became moot when 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo engineered a last drive and Gould’s kick split the uprights.
The Rams will play the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday at the Coliseum with a chance to finish 9-7. That’s a far cry from their 11-5 record in 2017 and the 13-3 mark that propelled them on their playoff run last season.
It’s also a major disappointment for a franchise that gave its coach, general manager and quarterback extensions before the season — and will be moving into a new stadium next year.
“It’s fresh right now,” McVay said of missing the playoffs. “It’s tough because you care so much about these players, the work that they put in. You want to do your part to try to see those guys have success, and get an opportunity to compete for a world championship.
“We’re not going to do that, but I do trust that we’re made of the right stuff. I know that once we get through next week, I can’t wait to attack the offseason.”
Rams players lamented that they fell prey to the fate of so many teams that play in the Super Bowl one year, only to struggle the next.
“It’s extremely disappointing,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “You never envision something like this when you start the year.
“It’s not even close to the standard that we want to hold. It’s sickening.”
The Rams were plagued by inconsistent play all season.
“At times we played like the No. 1 team in the conference,” linebacker Clay Matthews said, “and at other times we played like a team that had no business being out there.
“Unfortunately we’re in the position we are today because of that.”
The game against the 49ers — “a heavyweight fight,” offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said — characterized the Rams’ season.
“Tonight summed it up,” he said. “The season’s been that way really all year long. It’s been one of those things where we just can’t get situations to bounce our way.”
Said running back Todd Gurley, who rushed for 48 yards and two touchdowns in 15 carries: “We had our moments — we just couldn’t figure it out.”
The Rams intercepted two passes and sacked Garoppolo six times in the second half, but it was not enough to thwart the 49ers under third-year coach Kyle Shanahan. They improved to 12-3 and remained in contention for the NFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the conference.
The Rams kept the pressure on Garoppolo most of the night, but allowed two first downs on the deciding drive on third-and-16 plays. The second, a 46-yard pass to receiver Emmanuel Sanders, set up the winning kick.
Rams safety Taylor Rapp seemed to go the wrong direction as Sanders broke free and caught the post-pattern pass.
“It’s the exact situation we were looking for,” Garoppolo joked when asked why he loves third-and-16 situations so much. “To convert two of those the way we did, it was pretty incredible.”
Goff completed 27 of 46 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns, but 49ers linebacker Fred Warner intercepted a pass near the end of the first half and returned it for a momentum-turning touchdown that gave the 49ers a 24-21 lead.
“That’s just a mistake I can’t make there,” Goff said. “It’s a bad one. It will probably eat at me for a while.”
Greg Zuerlein missed a 52-yard field-goal attempt early in the third quarter, but midway through the period the Rams got the ball back and Goff found receiver Cooper Kupp for a 22-yard touchdown and a 28-24 lead.
Garoppolo responded with just over six minutes left when he rolled right to escape pressure and fired a short pass to tight end George Kittle in the end zone for a 31-28 lead.
With the crowd chanting “Beat L.A.,” Goff completed passes to receiver Brandin Cooks and tight end Tyler Higbee to set up Zuerlein’s 52-yard field goal that tied the score with 2:30 left.
But Garoppolo’s 46-yard pass to Sanders set up the winning field goal.
“He’s just an incredible quarterback,” Kittle said of Garoppolo, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions. “No matter what happens throughout the game, whether he has a poor decision of something like that, he always bounces back and he always delivers. That’s why we love Jimmy.”
The Rams sounded as if they were ready to move on.
“It was just a bad year for us,” defensive lineman Aaron Donald said, “we got to bounce back next year.”