Rams have limited time to prepare for their trip to Minnesota
A typically hectic holiday week is even more so for the Rams.
On Wednesday, a day after leading his team into a first-place tie in the NFC West, coach Sean McVay attempted to turn his attention to Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings in Minneapolis.
But McVay also was navigating through enhanced COVID-19 protocols at the team’s Thousand Oaks facility, a plan to work around a rain forecast Thursday, and figuring out a way to also give players and staff time with their families on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
All while formulating a game plan without knowing which players might be coming off the NFL’s reserve/COVID-19 list.
“We are flying,” he said of the urgency during a conference call with reporters, “and trying to make sure that I handle all the things that are necessary in the meantime.”
The Rams got some good news Wednesday afternoon when starting right tackle Rob Havenstein, rotational outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo and defensive back Terrell Burgess were activated to the roster from the reserve/COVID-19 list. But starting tight end Tyler Higbee and starting safety Jordan Fuller are among players still on the list.
The Rams received more good news Wednesday night when cornerback Jalen Ramsey and kicker Matt Gay were announced as members of the NFC Pro Bowl roster. They join defensive lineman Aaron Donald and receiver Cooper Kupp, who were announced by the Rams on Monday.
It was Ramsey’s fifth Pro Bowl selection, Gay’s first.
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and kicker Matt Gay will join teammates Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp on the NFC Pro Bowl roster.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, offensive linemen Andrew Whitworth and Brian Allen and edge rusher Leonard Floyd are alternates, according to the Rams.
The honorees played integral roles in the Rams’ 20-10 victory over the Seahawks, which improved the Rams’ record to 10-4. The Rams are tied with the Arizona Cardinals for first place.
After losing all of their games in November — against the Tennessee Titans, San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers — the Rams have defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cardinals and the Seahawks.
“Had a tough couple games … that really galvanized us as a group, understanding that an NFL season is going to have ebbs and flows and we just got to figure out a way to fix it — and we did that,” Stafford said after passing for two touchdowns against the Seahawks.
Now the Rams play a Vikings team that is 7-7 and in the playoff hunt after winning two games in a row, including Monday night’s 17-9 victory over the Chicago Bears. Quarterback Kirk Cousins leads a team that also includes running back Dalvin Cook and receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, who might return from an ankle injury.
“We’ve got a game on a super short week coming up, we’re going to have to do it again,” Stafford said.
Because of COVID-19 issues that might keep starters sidelined, the Rams could continue to rely on unsung players in potentially key roles.
“Guys have done a good job rallying around one another,” McVay said. “If anything, a lot more guys have gotten an opportunity to contribute than in maybe another situation or scenario.”
With Havenstein sidelined for a second consecutive game, and Joe Noteboom also on the reserve/COVID-19 list, Bobby Evans started at right tackle against the Seahawks. As a rookie, Evans filled in well for an injured Havenstein in the latter part of the 2019 season. But coaches mainly had him playing guard in 2020 and this season.
Evans started Tuesday with only one walkthrough of preparation, McVay said.
Despite a COVID outbreak that moved the game to Tuesday, the Rams defeated the Seattle Seahawks 20-10 to move into a first-place tie in the NFC West.
Second-year tight end Brycen Hopkins made his first career catch during the Rams’ first possession against the Seahawks. The reception resulted in a first down that kept alive a scoring drive.
McVay did an outstanding job preparing the Rams despite “a lot of unknowns,” Stafford said. McVay’s willingness to exhibit “vulnerability” by acknowledging he did not have all the answers resonated in the locker room, Stafford said.
“Somebody who’s real doesn’t say, ‘I got all the answers on a Wednesday’ when however many guys hit the COVID list,’ right?” Stafford said, adding, “That’s something, as a player, you love from a coach.
“You just sit there and go, ‘Perfect, that’s what we’re all thinking. I’m glad you’re thinking the same thing from us. Hey, let’s build this plan for this game as it kind of comes into focus as to who we’re going to have.’”
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