Rams offense struggles in season-ending playoff loss to Atlanta Falcons
LOS ANGELES — A bitter dessert, at the end of a memorable, 16-course meal.
Fans turned out at the Coliseum like never before this season, ready to party, ready to send the Rams to the second round, ready to show that a young, brash team could thumb its nose at a lack of experience.
Instead, the Atlanta Falcons held a masterclass on Saturday night. The Falcons, with an underrated, fast defense, bottled Todd Gurley, irritated Jared Goff and forced the Rams into uncharacteristic mistakes. The Falcons ended the Rams’ surprising successful season with a 26-13 victory in a wild-card-round game.
The Rams, who arguably had the best special-teams unit in the NFL this season, muffed one punt and fumbled one kickoff, and the Falcons turned those miscues into 10 points and a 13-0 second-quarter lead.
From there, the Falcons, who went to the Super Bowl last season, played mistake-free, played strong defense and got the ball into the hands of their best offensive players at a high rate, and got results. The Rams, for too much of the game, looked like a team trying to catch its breath on a big stage.
“I think you have a lot of respect for experience,” Coach Sean McVay said “This is an example we can learn from. I don’t think this game was too big for our players. We didn’t make enough plays to get it done but I don’t think the game was too big for our guys.”
That’s still debatable. To say the Rams, who had the least playoff experience of any of the 12 teams that made the postseason this year, simply weren’t ready for the playoffs isn’t fair to an Atlanta defense that, throughout the game, was fast, was quick to the ball and had a great scheme.
But it’s also fair to say that the Rams didn’t look like the Rams, certainly not the version that burst to the NFC West title, a year after they went 4-12, and scored the most points of any NFL team this season.
To start, the Rams couldn’t get Gurley going. Gurley entered the game as an league MVP candidate, and the Falcons noticed. Credit Falcons coach Dan Quinn and his staff for coming up with a scheme that kept Gurley under control and that almost completely took him out of the Rams’ passing attack.