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Rams fall to 49ers in OT and to fourth seed. It’s Cardinals next for NFC West champs

San Francisco 49ers Dre Greenlaw (57), Jimmie Ward (1) and Dontae Johnson (27) react after beating the Rams in overtime.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
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Sound the alarm.

Not the piercing, clear-the-building variety that rang through SoFi Stadium on Sunday about 45 minutes after the Rams lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 27-24, in overtime.

No, the warning signs, if not the sounds, were loud and clear long before Rams coach Sean McVay and players appeared briefly to answer questions about what it felt like to back into the NFC West title and blow a golden opportunity to secure the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

“In the moment right now, this is a tough feeling,” said McVay, whose voice could not disguise his seething beneath the surface.

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McVay had reason to be angry.

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.

It was his sixth consecutive loss against 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, his friend, mentor and — because of a three-season drought against the 49ers — his nemesis. It also marked the first time the Rams lost under McVay after leading at halftime, a streak of 43 games.

How costly was the defeat?

Well, nobody was celebrating that the Rams won their third division title in five seasons under McVay by virtue of the Arizona Cardinals’ loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

The Rams (12-5) fell to No. 4 in the seedings and will play the fifth-seeded Cardinals in an NFC wild-card game next Monday night at SoFi Stadium.

Despite Sunday’s defeat, the Rams will be ready for the playoffs, quarterback Matthew Stafford said.

“The biggest thing is we’re a resilient bunch,” said Stafford, who passed for three touchdowns with two interceptions, including one in overtime to seal the loss. “We have been all year, whether we’re playing at home, playing on the road, things are going our way, things aren’t going our way; we continue to battle.

“That’s what it takes to win games in the playoffs.”

Stafford has never won a playoff game, going 0-3 with the Detroit Lions.

But the Rams traded quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Lions to make him the centerpiece of a team built with a mandate to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium next month.

During the first half of the season, it appeared to be a smart play. Stafford led the Rams to a 7-1 start with a performance that put him in the middle of the most-valuable-player conversation.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is sacked by 49ers Arden Key (98) and Fred Warner (54) .
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) is sacked by 49ers Arden Key (98) and Fred Warner (54) in the second half.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

But Stafford’s turnovers were a key reason why the Rams lost three games in a row against the Tennessee Titans, the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. The Rams won their next five games, but the last two required them to overcome a combined six turnovers by Stafford.

McVay pointed instead to Stafford’s ability to engineer brilliant plays when the Rams needed them most, including in last week’s game-winning drive at Baltimore.

And during the first half against the 49ers, Stafford and the Rams resembled the team that looked like a Super Bowl contender through the first eight games.

Stafford connected with tight end Tyler Higbee for two touchdowns en route to 17-0 lead, before the Rams let the 49ers drive for a field goal to end the half.

But behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and multi-talented receiver/running back/passer Deebo Samuel, the 49ers came back to tie the score in the third quarter.

A huge contingent of 49ers fans cheered them on as they earned a playoff spot.

“It was a tough environment for us to communicate in,” Stafford said.

The Rams appeared to finally have the game in hand when Cooper Kupp caught a touchdown pass with less than three minutes left in regulation. Had the Rams converted a third-and-seven with less than two minutes left, they might have clinched the victory and prepared for a raucous locker room celebration.

The Rams’ inability to beat the San Francisco 49ers shows why Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay don’t have what it takes to reach the Super Bowl.

But running back Sony Michel rushed for only two yards, and the Rams punted.

Garoppolo’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Jauan Jennings with 26 seconds left sent the game into overtime.

The 49ers got the ball first and Robbie Gould kicked a field goal. The Rams’ hopes ended when Ambry Thomas intercepted Stafford’s long pass intended for Odell Beckham Jr.

“I just left it short,” Stafford said.

The Rams defense, despite a spectacular interception by star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, also fell short, failing to stop the relentless 49ers in the second half.

What changed for the Rams?

“I don’t know,” Ramsey said. “We weren’t aggressive enough in my opinion.”

Before he came into the interview room, Kupp tweeted, “Second season starts…now.”

Then, fighting through the siren-fueled cacophony of what turned out to be a false alarm, he stood at the lectern and said the Rams “have to do a better job finishing.”

Will they do that against Cardinals?

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 October, Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray torched the Rams with his arm and his legs in a 37-20 victory at SoFi Stadium. In December, the Rams traveled to Arizona and, despite a roster ravaged by the coronavirus, defeated the Cardinals, 30-23, on “Monday Night Football.”

McVay said he and his staff would begin preparing Monday, but lamented the way the regular season ended.

“You gotta finish,” he said, adding, “Fortunately, this isn’t the end for us.”

If the Rams repeat Sunday’s mistakes, it probably will be.


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