Check out in-game photos from the Rams' Wild Card matchup against the Atlanta Falcons at the Coliseum.
*Updated 10:40 p.m. *
LOS ANGELES — The Rams exciting turnaround season has come to a close, as Los Angeles fell to Atlanta 26-13.
The loss is a bitter end to what was a significant turnaround for the franchise in 2017. And while players and head coach Sean McVay lamented that it was over, McVay noted there is plenty the Rams can take from this season moving forward.
“Certainly we’re not content with the way the 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 postgame.
“We’re blessed at the end of the day — thank God for allowing us to play another game today, and just go out there and compete,” running back Todd Gurley said. “Obviously, it didn’t go the way we wanted, but at the end of the day, we’re blessed.”
While the Rams ended the contest with 361 yards to the Falcons’ 322, Atlanta was in control throughout the contest — as evidenced by the visitors leading in time of possession 37:35 to 22:25. L.A. was down by only three points at halftime, but had trouble getting anything going early in large part because of a pair of special teams giveaways.
With no score midway through the first quarter, punt returner Pharoh Cooper looked like he wanted to let a punt bounce just past midfield. But the kick went off safety Blake Countess’ foot and then bounced backwards deeper into Rams territory. Eventually the Falcons recovered the loose ball at the Los Angeles 17.
“That was my fault,” Cooper said. “I didn’t make a poison call. I didn’t make a poison call and get out of the way. The ball came short — came fast and short a little bit. And by that time it was too late and that was my fault. I have to make a poison call and get him out of the way.”
The visitors took a 3-0 lead with a field goal off the extra possession. Then kicker Matt Bryant nailed a 51-yard attempt to put the Falcons up 6-0.
The Rams committed their second special teams giveaway on the ensuing kickoff, with Cooper the return and the Falcons recovering at the L.A. 32.
“Stripped it out from behind and that can’t happen,” Cooper said.
It took eight plays, but the Falcons were able to score with a three-yard touchdown by running back Devonta Freeman.
Down 13-0, the Rams were able to get into a bit of a rhythm to score 10 straight points before halftime. Running back Todd Gurley took a handoff 25 yards down to the Atlanta 49. A 15-yard late-hit foul on the same play put Los Angeles on the visitors’ 34.
Then quarterback Jared Goff connected with wideout Cooper Kupp for a 15-yard pass to give L.A. a first down inside the red zone. Then on third down, Goff hit Kupp on a wheel route on the left side of the end zone for the Rams’ first points of the game with 2:34 left in the first half.
Los Angeles’ defense did its job, forcing a quick punt. And the Rams went back to work on offense, despite getting the ball at their own 16 with 1:15 left in the quarter and no timeouts. A defensive pass interference penalty put L.A. in Atlanta territory, then Goff completed a 38-yard dime down the right seam to advance to the Atlanta seven-yard line.
Kicker Sam Ficken would nail his first postseason field goal from 35-yards out with just eight seconds left in the half to cut the Atlanta lead to three.
“We felt good — we felt real good,” Goff said about the team going into halftime. “Had a bit of momentum there and came into halftime feeling good. And still really felt good until the very end.”
But the Falcons took away much of that positive energy with a 16-play drive to start the third quarter. L.A. held the visitors to a field goal, but the possession still took 8:15 off the clock.
The Rams’ offense could only muster a six-play drive before punting, and then the Falcons went on a 10-play drive that ended in a field goal to take a 19-10 lead.
The two long drives allowed Atlanta to dominate time of possession in the third quarter 13:07 to 1:53. Freeman and running back Tevin Coleman combined for 68 yards rushing in the period.
“They did a real nice job running the ball, and moving the ball up the field, and running some clock there,” Goff said. “Keeping us on the sideline — that sure can take you out of a rhythm a little bit.”
But L.A. wasn’t quite done yet. A 18-yard completion to wide receiver Robert Woods — who led the Rams with nine receptions for 142 yards — on 3rd-and-15 gave the Rams a first down to extend the drive. Then Gurley started to get going, taking consecutive carries 14 and 33 yards. The Rams’ drive stalled deep in Falcons territory, and Ficken connected on a 32-yard field goal to cut the deficit to six.
At that point, Los Angeles’ defense needed a stop, but couldn’t get one. After an Aaron Donald tackle for loss gave Atlanta 2nd-and-13, wide receiver Mohamed Sanu took a screen pass 52 yards to the Rams’ 10-yard line. A play later, Ryan connected with Jones for an eight-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a commanding 26-13 lead with just 5:48 left on the clock.
That would be the final score. Los Angeles appeared to have a touchdown with just over two minutes remaining, but after a review the five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Higbee was incomplete. The Rams ended up turning the ball over on downs, ending their last serious scoring threat.
This Rams’ season has ended abruptly, but in many ways that just stokes the fire of the team going forward.
“It’s definitely motivation,” right guard Jamon Brown said. “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. Because we didn’t, it stings. And I think that’s going to be adding more to the chip that everybody needs to attack the offseason and make sure we’re ready to be bigger and better next year.”
“We’ll take some time off right now, but then we’ll come back motivated, ready to try to respond,” McVay said. “And it’s going to be consistent with that one-day-at-a-time process that you hear us talk about all the time.”
“I’m so thankful to be able to have the opportunity to work with great players, great people like that, great coaches,” McVay later added. “And that’s wha makes work fun, that’s that makes it exciting, and that’s what motivates you to try to continue to get better for them so that we can all try to achieve and have that success where you’re not feeling like this right now.”