In a crucial game against a Super Bowl team from last season, the Los Angeles Rams’ punt returner lined up for the ball. A fair catch should have been called to give the Rams Head Coach Sean McVay’s offense a chance, but a split-second decision turned into a fumble. And that fumble turned into a game too far out of reach for the Rams.
But that was in January. The opponent was the Atlanta Falcons, and the returner was Pharoh Cooper.
Nearly a year later and with the playoffs set to begin in a few short weeks, the Rams are reeling from a similar blunder from Cooper’s replacement, JoJo Natson Jr.
Natson was hardly the only reason LA lost to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, but in the bigger picture, the Rams are committing the cardinal sin of a sport that demands attention to detail and constant adaptation.
They aren’t learning hard lessons in crucial situations. Lessons that make and break Super Bowl contenders, anyway. After Natson, the Rams were gifted another drive and moved the ball down the field.
RB Todd Gurley caught a quick dump into the flat and didn’t get out of bounds. The Rams’ two or three shots at a game-tying touchdown evaporated into one desperate heave to WR Josh Reynolds.
Gurley has been phenomenal in situational football this year, twice angering fantasy players by eschewing a touchdown to kill time in victories against Green Bay and Detroit. But tonight, his injuries removed him from the final line.
That’s the story of this loss. A sideline not striven for. A fair catch signal uncalled.
In a season when the Rams had a real shot at home field advantage, mishandled minutiae has mattered a great deal to Los Angeles.
Now, with whatever playoff run awaits, Los Angeles’ education is just beginning.
For better or worse.