THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – A quarter of the way through the 2020 season, the Rams have the same record at the exact same juncture as last season.
Yet, 3-1 this year feels much different than 3-1 last year. For offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth, it has a lot to do with sharing an identity with the 2018 Rams and, more generally, creating their own breaks rather than falling into lucky ones.
"You really look at that (2018) season, it wasn't always just picture-perfect at the end," Whitworth said on Monday. "A lot of these games were clawing it out at the end, finding a way to win, catching a big break and doing the most with it."
The two examples from 2018 that came to mind for Whitworth were forcing and recovering a fumble on the ensuing kickoff after Greg Zuerlein's go-ahead field goal to beat the Packers at home, and Brandon McManus' ensuing onside kick going out of bounds after the Broncos scored a touchdown to pull within three with 1:22 left in that game.
In 2020, the Rams have seen a go-ahead 55-yard touchdown pass and a diving interception in the endzone secure a win against the Giants, an interception and a sack-fumble in the second half contributing to 29 unanswered points in a failed comeback effort against the Bills, a pair of second-half interceptions change momentum in a road win against the Eagles, and a rookie safety make a critical fourth-down stop in the redzone to preserve a season-opening victory over the Cowboys.
In contrast, by Whitworth's estimation, last year's 3-1 record had more to do with lucky breaks like the McManus onside kick than L.A.'s own timely execution against Green Bay – for example, Drew Brees' thumb injury early in their 2019 Week 2 win over the Saints at home.
"Every year you look at those close games and it's either one or two plays that people mostly point to that are the difference," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said on Wednesday. "And usually it's a culmination of plays throughout the whole game but when you're able to tip the scales one way consistently, that's kind of the science of a good team."
Whether the Rams have been in control in those situations or not, ultimately it's about finding ways to win regardless and by playing a complete game as a team, according to Rams head coach Sean McVay.
"That's the most important thing and I think that was what was reflective (of yesterday's game), is that we did that as a unit, putting all three phases together, just getting a feel for the flow of the game yesterday," McVay said.
These first four games certainly won't be the last time the Rams are in those close scenarios this season, but because of how they've handled them so far, they'll approach them with confidence.
"I just feel like if you watch the film, the games from last year to this year, it's just different," Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said Thursday. "The way we're playing, the way we playing together, the way we are finishing games, the energy is different, the feel is different. It's definitely a whole different feel than the 3-1 team we had last year."