Sean McVay needs the best out of his backup quarterback on Sunday. The Los Angeles Rams will also need the best out of McVay if they hope to beat the Arizona Cardinals and claim a spot in the postseason tournament.
The Cardinals are not a great team but they are not a bad team. They will fall between 8-8 and 9-7 this season (after a 5-2 start) and they have never beaten McVay in seven tries. But McVay hasn’t beaten many good teams at times when his team most needed a win and Sunday he’ll need to construct a gameplan around John Wolford at quarterback, without Cooper Kupp as a weapon and potentially being down to their number three running back.
When the Rams have the ball this week, in some ways they will earn comparisons to the Week 17 offense of 2017 that was resting its starters for the postseason. Except this time they actually do need to win.
That 2017 team lost to the 49ers 34-13, but I would not count that game among McVay’s true record. He had Sean Mannion at quarterback, the objective was not to win but to stay healthy.
Unfortunately, with a late-season need to win in each of the last two seasons, McVay is 0-4. He can’t go 0-5 this week.
Here is a rundown of all the Rams games that they needed to win late in the year, including the score and the final regular season record of their opponent.
Week 15 - 42-7 win at Seahawks (9-7)
Week 16 - 27-23 win at Titans (9-7)
Week 17 - Meaningless (Good)
Playoffs - 26-13 loss to Falcons (10-6)
The Rams came through late in the year to earn the NFC West title over the Seahawks. In order to compete for a first round bye, they would have needed to win at least two more games. Unfortunately, the offenses stuttered in the postseason, putting up the same number of points against the Falcons as what the Sean Mannion-led offense scored against the 49ers.
Week 14 - 15-6 loss at Bears (12-4)
Week 15 - 30-23 loss to Eagles (9-7)
Week 16 - 31-9 win at Cardinals (3-13)
Week 17 - 48-32 win over 49ers (4-12)
Div - 30-22 win over Cowboys (10-6)
NFC - 26-23 win at Saints (13-3)
SB - 13-3 loss to Patriots (11-5)
After beating the Lions and improving to 11-1, the Rams dropped two straight games — to playoff teams — and it cost them homefield advantage. However, after befuddling the Cowboys and knocking out the Saints, it turned out to not matter. The Rams did earn a bye by winning their last two, but Arizona and San Francisco were the two worst teams in football.
The offense clearly wasn’t as automatic in the playoffs as it was in the first 12 games of the season and the Super Bowl happened as it did.
Week 15 - 44-21 loss at Cowboys (8-8)
Week 16 - 34-31 loss at 49ers (13-3)
Week 17 - Meaningless (Bad)
The Rams were 8-5 after they bludgeoned the Seahawks and closed to the gap to only being two games behind them with three games to go. Seattle fell to 11-5 by season’s end, but Los Angeles got some apparent payback by Dallas and then played really well against a great team. The Rams were eliminated from postseason contention on a last-second field goal and so that Week 17 game also goes off the record.
Week 15 - 23-20 loss to Jets (2-13)
Week 16 - 20-9 loss at Seahawks (11-4)
Week 17 - ???
The Rams were 9-4 after a 24-3 win against the Patriots and they were in first place in the NFC West. McVay’s mission was obvious — to win the division — but step one would have been to beat the Jets. Los Angeles only managed 20 points in the loss. Then they failed to score a touchdown in a 20-9 loss to the Seahawks. And if the Rams don’t win on Sunday, they will have fallen from first place in the division to third place in a period of only three games. They had a two-game lead on Arizona only three games ago.
The Rams scored 20 or fewer points only once in the 2018 regular season. They’ve done it 11 times since. The defense can only be so good. McVay will need to construct his best gameplan of the season and do so around an untested quarterback.
In his first two seasons, McVay went above and beyond in getting the Rams turned around so quickly from the nightmare created by Jeff Fisher. And even though Los Angeles didn’t perform well in the Super Bowl, I think McVay even getting them that far amid a difficult schedule is worth more than the final score.
All this boils down to is four games.
One of the four games is a forgivable loss to an eventual Super Bowl team. Yet the other three must feel especially bad. The 49ers loss feels bad too, but these games do much more damage to the good will created in 2017 and 2018. Yet it is only four games. Four important games.
How will McVay’s Rams respond in this latest opportunity?