When a season ends, it’s always tough for a team.
But for the Rams in particular, Saturday’s loss stings.
Los Angeles completed a historic turnaround in the 2017 regular season, not only winning the NFC West for the first time since 2003 but also going from worst to first in scoring. The Rams came into Saturday night’s Wild Card matchup with the Falcons expecting to win, extending their season for at least another week.
Instead they fell to the defending NFC Champions, 26-13, prematurely finishing what the team felt could have been a strong playoff run.
“We didn’t want it to end this quickly,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “Sure, we felt like we had a good enough team to go as far as we’d want to. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.”
“I’m sure every guy in this locker room, if you asked them, felt like we could’ve won this game and gone on further into the playoffs,” right guard Jamon Brown said. “Because we didn’t, it stings.”
Plenty went wrong for Los Angeles on Saturday night. The offense started the game with four punts before driving down the field for a touchdown. Special teams committed two giveaways in the first half, which led to 10 Atlanta points. And the defense surrendered three consecutive long scoring drives to start the second half, effectively putting the game out of reach.
Perhaps there were nerves, as left tackle Andrew Whitworth noted postgame. And the Rams certainly didn’t execute to their standard. Atlanta had much to do with that, making plays in all three phases to take Los Angeles out of its rhythm.
But even through the disappointment, head coach Sean McVay offered some perspective in his postgame press conference.
“Certainly we’re not content with the way that this season ended, but it doesn’t take away the fact that our players and our group of coaches accomplished a lot of things where we feel like we’re building a foundation where that trajectory is pointing upward for the Rams,” McVay said. “It starts with a bunch of great people and that’s what we do have. We’ll take some time off right now, but then we’ll come back motivated, ready to try to respond.”
That seemed to be the prevailing sentiment in the locker room. Yes, there was plenty of disappointment. But there was also an acknowledgement that the Rams put themselves on the right track with their 2017 season.
“I thought our guys, our locker room, our coaching staff, everyone from top to bottom was tremendous this year,” Whitworth said. “It’s just, unfortunately, in this moment, in this game, we came up short and didn’t make enough plays to win it. But I couldn’t be honestly more proud and happy at the locker room at really our coaching staff and the job that people did this year.”
“I’m so proud of these guys,” cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “You got to go back all the way in August, we had goals. Win the division — won that. Playoff game in L.A., unfortunately we lost but can’t take anything away from these guys. I love these guys. I came in with these guys six years ago. To see this organization turn it around and flip like it did, it’s amazing.”
“I’m proud of everybody,” middle linebacker Alec Ogletree said. “I thought everyone worked the entire year and got better each and every day. That’s all you can ask from them. And it’s just, like I said, to go from the season we had last year to this year — hats off to everybody that worked. Now it’s time to build on it.”
Everyone will take some time away in the coming days, weeks, and months. And in football — as in life — nothing in the future is guaranteed. But those in the locker room felt strongly that L.A. will work to ensure 2018 is an even better season.
“The thing you see about that is that we don’t quit,” defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “Everyone was still fighting and we’re trying to find a way to try and pull out a game and win no matter what. A big improvement from past years, a different type of mindset with this coaching staff and with these players in this locker room so it’s something great to build on.”
“I think we have a good, strong core group that we’ve built this year,” Goff said. “Alec [Ogletree] talked to us all about it after the game: Be ready to work and be ready to come back stronger next year.”