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Column: Rams are too flawed of a team to reach the Super Bowl

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, center, intercepts a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle.
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, center, intercepts a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle during the Rams’ overtime loss Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams won their five games before this. They still won their division.

So, why did it feel as if their 27-24 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers was less of a fluke and more of a forewarning of an impending catastrophe?

The Rams played their regular-season finale how they played the majority of this season, counting on their stars to make critical plays at critical times to compensate for the shortcomings of a disjointed roster.

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Plays like that were made again on Sunday.

Jalen Ramsey intercepted a pass intended for George Kittle to preserve a fourth-quarter stalemate. Matthew Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp to reclaim the lead on the next drive.

The Rams lost to the 49ers in overtime, but still won the NFC West because the Cardinals lost to the Seahawks. The Rams will play host to Arizona in their playoff opener.

There were similarities between this game and some the Rams have won, which provided coach Sean McVay with adequate cover to be able to make the case the loss didn’t signal serious problems.

“If we make a couple of plays on the last drive, this is a totally different tenor and temperature of this conversation,” McVay said.

The same could be said of some of the team’s other 12 wins, however. The problems that were exploited by the 49ers have existed all season. It was just a matter of time before they cost the Rams a game. And it could be a matter of time before they obliterate their ambitions of playing for a championship in their $5-billion stadium.

The Rams don’t look like a Super Bowl team.

What they look like is a team of “buts.”

Stafford can make throws few other quarterbacks can make … but is also prone to shocking mistakes.

Kupp can catch anything … but the Rams don’t have a reliable running game.

Seven things we learned from the Rams’ 27-24 overtime loss to the 49ers on Sunday: No. 1, they weren’t aggressive or tough enough in the second half.

Ramsey is one of the game’s best cornerbacks … but the Rams defensive backfield is otherwise lacking in talent.

Aaron Donald remains the most dominant defensive player in football … but the Rams can’t stop the run.

The situation is now one in which the stars have to make up for what the team doesn’t have — or, in the case of Stafford, he has to make up for his own mistakes.

The dynamic has produced some needlessly close games. McVay has pointed to wins in close games as evidence of his team’s resilience, and he’s not wrong to do so.

But if McVay takes comfort in knowing his stars are clutch performers, he should be bothered by how often he has to count on them. Stafford’s last-minute touchdown pass to beat the Baltimore Ravens was breathtaking, but his three turnovers that made such heroics necessary were equally disconcerting.

Rams coach Sean McVay reacts after losing to the San Francisco 49ers in overtime Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Place any team into enough compromising positions and there will be times it can’t answer, no matter how well its players respond to pressure.

As was the case against the 49ers.

Which isn’t to say the game was entirely negative.

The Rams started the game with what was arguably their best half of the season.

Stafford was unusually sharp early, completing 15 of 16 passes over the first two quarters for 153 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams built a 17-0 lead.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 27-24 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

In retrospect, momentum shifted violently in the final minute of the half. Stafford was sacked on third and one from the Rams’ 42, leading to a punt. The 49ers started the resulting drive at their own 15 but were moved into field-goal range on four short passes by Jimmy Garoppolo.

Robbie Gould’s field goal reduced the Rams’ lead to 17-3.

The Rams unraveled after the break, as they were unable to stop the run or contain receiver Deebo Samuel.

Stafford had a pass intercepted in the third quarter and another in overtime.

“We weren’t able to run the ball at all,” McVay said.

And, finally, their imperfections came with a price, the loss costing them the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

The reality is the Rams could play like this in their postseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals and advance. They have enough high-end talent to do that. But they won’t beat the Green Bay Packers playing like this. They won’t beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And they won’t be playing in the Super Bowl.


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