Greg Beacham, AP Sports Writer
For really the first time since Sean McVay arrived four years ago, the Los Angeles Rams are the laughingstocks of the NFL.
The Rams’ 23-20 loss to the winless New York Jets on Sunday was an utter humiliation for a franchise and a coach that have been largely beyond serious reproach since 2017. While Los Angeles hasn’t won a title, it has put together four winning seasons for the first time since the 1980s while remaining remarkably free of major drama or severe dips in play.
Nothing in those four seasons — not even a Super Bowl defeat that was ugly, but comprehensible — was as discouraging as inexplicably losing at SoFi Stadium on extra rest to a depleted 0-13 opponent with the worst offense in the league. The Rams’ subsequent thrashing from pundits and social media jackals was harsh, but they agree it was deserved.
While McVay and a few available players said all the usual things afterward about respecting every opponent and understanding the unpredictability of their sport, it was still clear they were chagrined, angry and uncertain about a playoff future that looked bright just a few hours earlier.
“They showed up, and we maybe overlooked them,” Rams kicker Matt Gay said Monday. “There’s a natural inclination there, when you have a team you’re playing that hasn’t had a great year, and you’re coming off some good wins, (to) take them lightly.”
The Rams (9-5) are all but certain to make the postseason. They still can win the NFC West or make a significant playoff run. Their path to redemption starts this weekend in Seattle (10-4), where the Seahawks can clinch the division by beating LA.
But this loss shakes the foundations of what McVay has painstakingly built. If the Rams can’t execute well enough to clinch a playoff spot by beating the easiest opponent in the league, it’s impossible to anticipate what team will show up Sunday with their division hopes on the line.
“Certain teams, you’ve got that knack for winning,” Rams safety John Johnson said after the game. “We’re still working on that. We’ve had success in the past. But games like that, you’ve got to come away with a win. You’ve got to build that culture.”
The Rams still finished Sunday with the NFL’s No. 1 defense by yards allowed after giving up 289 to New York. While it’s embarrassing that the defense didn’t dominate the Jets, or even force any turnovers, coordinator Brandon Staley’s group hasn’t regressed in any significant way this season. The defense needed one extra stop to save the offense from itself yet again, but couldn’t get it.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
McVay’s history of baffling play-calling decisions. Faced with third-and 4-from the Jets 37 while trailing by three points in the final minutes, the Rams threw two long, incomplete passes instead of playing a short game or running the ball.
Both passes fell incomplete and weren’t even close. Whether Jared Goff made the wrong progression read or not, McVay’s schemes didn’t match the moment at all.
McVay also didn’t try a 55-yard field goal on fourth down with Gay, who has enough leg to hit from that distance, particularly under a roof in perfect weather.
“I was ready to go,” Gay said. “Warming up, I felt like if they called on me, I could go out there and make that, but I have full confidence in Sean to call the plays. Our team was rolling.”
Rookie Cam Akers had another strong game on the ground, rebounding from an in-game ankle injury to rush for 63 yards. His day should have been much bigger, too: He had three runs that went for 50 combined yards and a touchdown, but all three were called back by penalties on Joe Noteboom, Austin Corbett and Tyler Higbee.
McVay always blames himself for whatever goes wrong with the Rams, but in this case he’s largely right. The offense is his responsibility, and it’s in two straight seasons of regression from its 2018 form. The young coach also had another game of head-scratching timeout decisions and curious play-calls with nearly no moments of inspiration to counter them. McVay and Goff are responsible for most of what happens with LA’s offense, and it is sputtering.
The Rams still appear to be remarkably healthy, and backup safety Nick Scott should be off the reserve/COVID-19 list by next week.
6 — The number of game results in the final two weeks that would have to go against the Rams to keep them out of the playoffs. Los Angeles would have to lose out while Chicago wins out, Arizona beats the 49ers this week and Tampa Bay wins at least one more game.
The season-defining trip to cold, possibly rainy Seattle on Sunday. After blowing their layup against the Jets, the Rams must win their final two games to be guaranteed their third NFC West title in four years.