Expectations are a hell of a thing.
Year 2 of the Sean McVay era. Adding Pro Bowl talent to both sides of the ball. Starting the season 8-0 and bouncing back from a single loss to improve to 11-1. The game of the year against the Kansas City Chiefs that could get some kind of ESPN’s 30 for 30 treatment. The Los Angeles Rams went into their Week 12 bye as the predestined Super Bowl champions after an offseason of astronomical expectations.
*cue the whistling of a bomb dropping to Earth*
The Rams sleep-walked their way to a win against a punchless Detroit Lions team. The Rams managed 30 points in that contest, but 17 were scored off drives starting in Lions territory probably because the new stationary kickoff rules have inadvertently torpedoed onside kick attempts. Thanks, hands team.
But if that game was a head-scratcher, I can’t imagine what’s left of your scalp after these last two games. The Rams, the predetermined Super Bowl winners with their high-octane offense, charismatic head coach, and a surging defensive unit led by a tackle that was endangering Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record, wet the bed on a national stage. The Rams were averaging 34 points a game when they went to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears...and scored six points. Next up, the Philadelphia Eagles who are likely not making the playoffs. Their starting running back tore his ACL. Their starting quarterback broke his back. And their secondary is so beat up that I could show up to their practice and they’d hand me a jersey number in the 20’s and tell me I’m their new nickel corner. And despite all of that, America was treated to a second consecutive showing of the predetermined Super Bowl champs laying an egg. The Rams did manage to make it close towards the end, benefiting from soft coverage from a naturally soft secondary. But I’m personally a lot more alarmed by the 17-point hole they dug vs. encouraged by their ability to almost crawl back from it.
Even when it was tied at 13 at halftime, it felt like the Rams were lucky it was that close. But these are the Rams. They’re supposed to win it all this year. And they’re one of the best teams in the league at halftime adjustments. Up until this game, the Rams had led the league in 3rd quarter scoring offense. They were outscored by the Eagles, 17-0. For those keeping score at home, the Rams have managed three points in 3rd quarters since their bye. Atotal of three points. Like, they kicked a field goal against the Lions and have been shut out of the last two...
Now come the narratives. And as someone who was at the game who had to deal with inebriated Eagles fans flapping their arms and celebrating a minor victory in a lost season, I can’t help but buy in to them.
Is QB Jared Goff a liability? Since their bye, he has one touchdown pass and seven interceptions. That’s one more interception than what he had in the eleven games before their bye. Is the book out on DL Aaron Donald? Zero sacks the last two games after 6.5 the previous three. And what about the special teams? Another fake punt that didn’t work and a back-breaking fumble by JoJo Natson Jr. that essentially cost the Rams a minute and a half of clock when there was only three minutes left. The sports news cycle the day after an embarrassing prime time loss is always a tough one. The talking heads are always ready to bury a team with high expectations.
The Rams are 11-3 and I believe, despite what I’ve said up to this, that they have as good a shot as any other team to win the Super Bowl this year. This isn’t the same kind of frustration I’ve felt during the Jeff Fisher, Steve Spagnuolo, Jim Haslett or Scott Linehan eras. This isn’t the hopeless feeling of rooting for a team destined to finish 4-12.
This is the fear of watching what is probably the most talented roster in the NFL get dropped in the divisional round. Swept away and forgotten by everyone but us Rams fans.
And all we’d be left with is a series of “what-ifs.”