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Updated: 1/1 at 7:30 p.m. PT
LOS ANGELES — The 2016 season has come to an end, as the Rams fell to the visiting Cardinals, 44-6, on New Year’s Day.
In a season full of poor offensive performances, this was another for Los Angeles, allowing Arizona to control the game essentially from start to finish. The Rams finished with just 122 total yards — garnering -4 yards in the first quarter and only four in the third quarter.
“Our goal was to start off 2017 with a win and a little bit better vibe, and clearly that didn’t happen,” Rams interim head coach John Fassel said. “I really don’t have much more to add because what I would say is probably what I would’ve said the last couple of weeks — as far as the actual offense, defense, and special teams, just didn’t get it done.”
“Anytime you lose hurts, but it hurts to lose in the fashion that we did because people are going to ask, ‘Did the team quit? Did they not prepare? Did they not care?’ And before you ask that, I’ll just say, in my opinion — whether it’s correct or whether it’s naïve — preparation this week was great,” Fassel added. “We had a good Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday practice — we did. There wasn’t any lack of energy, there wasn’t anybody that was late. And, obviously, today, we just weren’t good enough.”
Quarterback Jared Goff was continuously hit in the backfield, taking seven sacks before second-year QB Sean Mannion came on in the fourth quarter for relief. Goff finished his day 13-of-20 passing for 120 yards.
“He probably got hit more than me, actually,” running back Todd Gurley II said. “It’s hard trying to — I mean, I’m not a quarterback, but I’d imagine if you get hit in the first play of the game, and it’s a two or three-man rush, that’s going to affect you.”
“That group up front — I don’t care what anybody says about them. I appreciate their effort and everything they gave me and Case,” Goff said, referring to quarterback Case Keenum. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, but I’m very appreciative and very happy for those guys.”
With Los Angeles’ offense struggling, Arizona was able to open up a 13-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
With the Cardinals already up 3-0 after 15 minutes, a Rams takeaway on the first play of the second period gave the club good scoring position. On 3rd-and-8 from the Arizona 32, defensive end Ethan Westbrooks pressured quarterback Carson Palmer up the middle, leading to an errant throw. Safety Maurice Alexander was there to intercept the pass, returning it 19 yards to the Arizona 29.
Goff took the following snap and quickly fired a backwards pass to wide receiver Pharoh Cooper on the left side. Cooper then threw the ball to Gurley, who was running a wheel route on the backside of the play. But the pass hung in the air long enough for defensive back Harlan Miller to run under it and pick it off.
Starting the ensuing possession from the Los Angeles 35, the defense held Arizona to a field goal, making the score 6-0.
Midway through the quarter, the Cardinals increased their lead on a four-yard touchdown pass from Palmer to wide receiver Jeremy Ross. The Rams, however, cut into it with a 37-yard field goal from kicker Greg Zuerlein, getting on the board with 2:34 left in the first half.
At one point on Los Angeles’ first scoring drive, it looked like wide receiver Tavon Austin had taken a direct snap 38 yards for a touchdown. But play was nullified by penalty, with Goff called for illegal motion.
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“They said that because he’s a quarterback, it’s different as a guy in motion if he doesnt’ get set because it falls under the rules of deceit,” Fassel said. “Obviously, the category of deceit is pretty subjective. That was a strange one that just — I’ll get an explanation so I’ll know better then next time because that was a unique one.”
"The quarterback has to, when he walked up to the line of scrimmage, if he gets within a yard of the center, after he goes into motion, he must stop," Referee Craig Wrolsad said, per the pool report. "So, our ruling was, he didn’t get set for a second behind the center and as he went in motion — since he was near the center — he goes in motion, he then has to stop then, and he didn’t stop. He just continued in motion, so we had illegal motion. And that happened long before the play had been snapped."
Late in the period, the Rams’ special teams put the offense in prime position for more points when Chase Reynolds blocked a Matt Wile punt. L.A. scored only three points off of it, though, with a holding penalty moving the offense behind the chains.
Inside a minute left in the half, Arizona was able to score another field goal when cornerback Trumaine Johnson was called for an unnecessary roughness foul. Fassel, however, said from his vantage point it looked like Johnson was pushed in the back into the Cardinals’ offensive player. The 47-yard kick gave Arizona a 16-6 lead.
"If it was a second act where he was able to regain his feet and hit him unnecessarily then I guess that’s the reason why he would be called," Wrolstad said. "We didn’t discuss the push because he didn’t have a penalty for that. We discussed the hit that was well out of bounds."
“I saw our guy blocked in the back, which ricocheted him into their guy,” Fassel said. “So, I could be wrong — that’s just what I saw live — and it’s unfortunate when you give up three points at the end of the half. If that wasn’t the call, then they wouldn’t have had an opportunity for that. But, that wasn’t a factor in the game.”
Nevertheless, the visitors pulled away in the third quarter to put the game out of reach, scoring a pair of touchdowns to go up 30-6. First, Palmer connected with tight end Darren Fells for a 37-yard scoring strike off play action. Then later in the period, Palmer first connected with wide receiver J.J. Nelson down the left sideline for a 32-yard gain on 4th-and-4 from the L.A. 36. A few plays later, running back Kerwynn Williams found his way into the end zone for a one-yard touchdown run.
The Rams were able to to convert a fake punt in the third quarter, with Johnny Hekker firing a short pass to Reynolds on the left side for a first down. The special teams unit stayed on the field for a second play after converting the first down, but a false start penalty negated the next running play. The end result of the possession would be a Hekker punt.
In the final period, Palmer connected with wideout Larry Fitzgerald for another touchdown, to give Arizona a 37-6 lead.
Mannion came in on the ensuing drive for his second career NFL action. The Oregon State product’s first drive began in a promising manner, but defensive back Justin Bethel jumped a route on 1st-and-15 form the Arizona 34, intercepting the pass and returning it to pay dirt for a 68-yard touchdown.
With the loss, the Rams finish the 2016 season at 4-12. The process of searching for their next head coach is already underway.