ATLANTA — All week, Atlanta felt Patriots-heavy. From Opening Night, to the Fan Fest, to all the other events during Super Bowl week, up to kickoff, it was a Patriots town. Looking back, the Rams’ loss is somewhat fitting. The week never seemed to belong to them — it belonged to the Pats, while others made a fuss about the Rams’ appearance thanks to an egregious no-call against the Saints.
That, combined with their role as the loser in one of the most boring Super Bowls we’ve ever seen, and you can see why some people might choose to forget the Rams after Sunday night’s performance.
But the Rams were more than their rough last couple week of the 2018 season. They should be remembered for so much more.
“Obviously, it’s not the outcome we wanted, but we had a hell of a year — NFC champs,” Todd Gurley said after the game. “We just didn’t get the job done.”
Super Bowl 53 was not the way anyone expected things to end for the Rams.
Had anybody told you that the Rams held the Patriots to 13 points, you would have said they won the game, probably easily. But their signature offense was flat. Todd Gurley couldn’t get anything going for a second consecutive game, and seemed exhausted answering questions about whether or not he was healthy after the loss. Jared Goff‘s average postseason campaign cratered as he couldn’t figure out the Patriots’ defense.
In hindsight, this loss isn’t too surprising, considering it came against the greatest dynasty the NFL has ever seen. The Patriots had 38 players who had appeared in a Super Bowl before. The Rams had just four.
But while it’s easy to scrutinize factors like experience as an outside observer of the team, on the inside, the Rams are still reflective and proud of how good their team was across a five-month stretch.
Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth was asked how he would remember this Rams team, and despite having just lost the biggest game of his life, he seemed to perk up a little at the podium. “You’ve got to take a lot of pride in what we were able to do and the football games we were able to win,” he said, “which were a lot of them.”
It’s true — the Rams won 15 games if you include the postseason, which was more than any other team in the NFL. The Rams were one of perhaps just two other teams in the NFL — along with the Chiefs and the Saints — that felt like they had to be seen every week.
Especially on offense. Goff proved himself to be one of the better young quarterbacks in the NFL, and he made the most of his new help on the outside in Brandin Cooks. He racked up nearly 4,700 yards passing, good for fourth in the NFL all season. Beside him, Todd Gurley was zooming through defenses for 1,251 yards and 17 touchdowns — enough to get MVP consideration — week after week.
The Rams also won the greatest regular season game in NFL history, a game that lived up to ridiculous hype going in. Goff showed out in that game with 413 yards and four touchdowns to get the best of NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes.
And for all the talking everybody did about the Rams’ offense during the season, watching Aaron Donald further prove himself to be one of the best interior pass rushers of all time — 20.5 sacks and four forced fumbles en route to winning NFL Defensive Players of the Year — was special.
For a while, it looked like the Rams’ win-now moves in the offseason to acquire Cooks, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters to complement their franchise-grown talent were going to pay off. But not capitalizing on the opportunity with the Lombardi Trophy admittedly leaves a bitter taste on a special season.
The good news for the Rams and their fans is that this team may not be done. It is going to face some challenges in the offseason. The organization will have to decide who it wants to keep among players like Suh, outside linebacker Dante Fowler, safety Lamarcus Joyner, and offensive guard Rodger Saffold. Whitworth, who turned 37 in December, also didn’t commit to playing next season.
However, the Rams have one of the best players in the NFL under contract in Donald through 2024. Gurley, despite his recent playoff struggles, is one of the best running backs in the NFL, and is under contract through 2023.
And even though Goff struggled Sunday, the Rams can say they have a franchise quarterback, which in today’s NFL seems to be half the battle of getting to a Super Bowl. (Though recent history is against Goff — in the last 20 years, nine quarterbacks under 30 lost the Super Bowl, and none of them have been back.)
“This will make him a stronger player and I have no doubt in this franchise and Sean [McVay] and the direction they’re headed,” Whitworth said about his quarterback. “Jared is going to be a special football player.”
Maintaining that nucleus is McVay, who has proven himself to be one of the best coaches in the NFL. He showed encouraging humility after the game, in a voice that was even raspier than normal. “I’m pretty numb right now,” he told reporters after the game. “But definitely, I got out-coached.”
Like Goff, he’ll need to learn from this experience, a point that the 33-year-old was willing to acknowledge. “I think the value of experience is something, this is a humbling game.”
If there’s a coach who can learn from a loss like this, it’s McVay. Anyone who can recall specific plays from every game he’s coached is sure to take a long look at himself and his team in the offseason.
The Rams are certainly set up nicely for the future, but the road from here is not going to be easy. Teams who just played in a Super Bowl typically struggle the next season (the Patriots being the exception to the rule). In the Rams’ locker room after the game, you could feel the dejection among the silence. Some were walking around fighting tears — it felt like somebody died. In that moment, it seemed like it could take a long time for the Rams to get over this particular disappointment.
And yet the people expected to lead the team — guys like Donald, Whitworth, Goff, and McVay — gave off a faint sense of hope. Despite the feeling that it was the Patriots’ week, the Rams seemed ready to keep building towards that first ring.
“It sucks, but like I said, we just have to keep working,” Donald told reporters. Despite the sad scene around him, he seemed to liven up quickly.
“Have a little pity party now but get training, get that work in, and try to get back to this stage again so we can win.”