By Sam McPherson
With a 22-21 loss on Saturday to the San Francisco 49ers at the Memorial Coliseum, the Los Angeles Rams were swept by their longtime NFC West rivals up north, and it wasn’t pretty. The Rams blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead, and there were several insults added to the overall injury. The L.A. offense was dreadful against the worst defense in the NFL, and the L.A. defense let a mediocre offense win the game on a last-minute, two-point conversion.
It’s the second time at home this year that the Rams blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead in the final minutes of a game. It’s also the third time overall that L.A. has blown a fourth-quarter lead. The defense played well enough to win, but the league-worst Rams offense couldn’t gain very many yards, despite scoring 21 points for just the fourth time this season. All in all, it was an ugly game for the Los Angeles organization, and the results raise serious questions about where the franchise is headed in 2017.
Take away wide receiver Tavon Austin’s 30-yard touchdown run, and the Rams gained just 69 yards in rushing against the worst rushing defense in the NFL this season. Even with Austin’s scoring effort, L.A. gained a mere 99 yards against a 49ers defense that has been gashed by almost every other opponent this season. In two games now, the Rams just couldn’t solve the San Francisco run-prevention schemes that the rest of the NFL ripped apart all fall.
Quarterback Jared Goff was pretty bad, too, failing to complete even half his attempts while also failing to throw for even 100 yards in this game. What’s worse is that when handed a golden chance to win the game late, Goff threw a game-ending interception. The No. 1 overall pick in last spring’s NFL Draft now looks like a bust to most observers, although it is hardly fair to give him that label without a full offseason of preparation. But it’s not looking good for next year right now in Los Angeles.
The 49ers came into the game sporting a strong run game, and the L.A. defense actually did a good job of shutting down the S.F. running backs. Combined, the 49ers backs gained 55 yards on 23 carries, and even S.F. quarterback Colin Kaepernick was held in check on the ground. The problem is that Kaepernick gashed the Rams’ pass defense for 266 yards and two TDs. Considering he had a game earlier this season where he took more sacks than he gained passing yards, it’s disappointing to see this kind of result.
Of course, this brings back the regular analysis: When the offense can’t stay on the field, the defense is eventually going to get tired and wear down late in games. This happened in the Miami game, when the L.A. defense couldn’t hold that 10-point lead, and this was almost a carbon copy of that game finish, as the 49ers were able to put together two long scoring drives late to win the game against a gassed defense.
Special Teams: A
You know it’s been a strange season when the punter has booted the ball for more yardage than the offense has gained all year, but that’s the case with Johnny Hekker and the Rams in 2016. His stellar punting and the special-teams kick coverage was excellent all game, and the kickoff return by Pharoh Cooper late gave the L.A. offense a great chance to win the game in the end, even if it didn’t happen.
It’s hard to expect an interim coach that has never been a head coach to do well, but this was a game the Rams should have won. Los Angeles and John Fassel’s staff had more time to prepare for this game, and the team was at home, too. Facing the worst defense in the league, the Rams could only muster 177 total yards on offense, and the defense broke down too readily at the completely wrong time. Jeff Fisher probably would have lost this game, too, but that’s not really the point.
The 4-11 Rams end their season at home next week against the 6-8-1 Arizona Cardinals. It’s a game for nothing but pride as both teams are out of postseason contention, obviously. The Cardinals dealt the Seattle Seahawks a surprising loss on Saturday, so clearly Arizona is still playing for pride. It’ll be interesting to see if the Los Angeles roster is in the same frame of mind.