By Greg Beacham/AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) – The inevitable became official Monday night when the Los Angeles Rams were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, their Super Bowl victory followed up by one of the worst title defense seasons in NFL history.
One more loss will make them the league’s worst defending champions; only these Rams (4-10) and the 1999 Denver Broncos ever lost 10 games after raising the trophy. Los Angeles is the first defending champ to miss the playoffs since 2016.
The Rams are missing the postseason for just the second time in their six seasons under Sean McVay. While injuries across the roster are the primary culprit for the depth of this failure, the Rams’ opening-night blowout loss to Buffalo indicated that things weren’t right in Los Angeles – and they’ve only gotten worse.
“You can make sense of why you have gotten here, but it still doesn’t make it any easier, and it is a very humbling season for sure,” McVay said.
The Rams’ inability to field a healthy roster stands in sharp contrast to their injury luck in previous seasons under McVay. Along with the absence of their top two receivers and massive injury problems across the offensive line, the Rams are on their fourth starting quarterback of the season in Baker Mayfield, who couldn’t get much going in chilly Green Bay with teammates he met less than two weeks ago.
“It is extremely tough … but it’s NFL football,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “It happens. Some years you’ll be super healthy, and then some years like this year the injury bug will hit you all over the place. It’s part of the game that we play and love and sign up for.”
The Rams have less than three weeks left before their early offseason, but they insist they’re not packing it in. They’ve got a short week of preparation for an extremely winnable home game on Christmas against the Denver Broncos, who share their 4-10 record.
And because the Lions own their first-round draft pick, the Rams have no motivation to take it easy in these meaningless games. They also don’t have the depth to rest anybody.
“We don’t have the luxury of being able to pick and choose who plays and who doesn’t, just based on the availability of the bodies we have,” McVay said. “If guys are healthy and able to go, then we’re going to continue to do everything we can to go out there and pour everything into these guys and compete to the best of their ability and let the chips fall as they may.”
The Rams are stepping up as a group to make up for the absence of Aaron Donald, who earned yet another Pro Bowl selection Monday despite missing his third straight game with a high ankle sprain. Greg Gaines had a sack, six tackles and two tackles for loss in the middle of the defensive line, while Leonard Floyd stepped up with two sacks of Aaron Rodgers.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
They had another comically inept offensive game in Green Bay, managing just 156 total yards, with only two drives surpassing 50 yards. Los Angeles now has the NFL’s worst offense by yards per game. Mayfield passed for a modest 111 yards, and Cam Akers was LA’s leading receiver with just 35 yards.
Akers had the only strong game from the offense, rushing for 65 yards with a season-best 19-yard carry even though McVay abandoned the run early. If nothing else, Akers is finally flashing the talent that made him a second-round draft pick three years ago, and he could boost his stock if the Rams again try to move on from him in the offseason.
Mayfield looked skittish behind the Rams’ offensive line, which is a completely logical response to playing with this group of third-stringers and fourth-stringers next to right tackle Rob Havenstein, who appeared to have a terrible game himself in Green Bay. The excitement of Mayfield’s debut victory over the Raiders evaporated, but another week of practice and the friendly confines of SoFi Stadium should help him.
Center Brian Allen, who has dealt with injuries all year, is out for the season with a calf strain after lasting just one snap against Green Bay. … WR Ben Skowronek is also out for the year with a calf strain. He had 39 catches for 376 yards this season, and he scored his first NFL touchdown on a 17-yard run against Carolina.
15 – The Rams’ total number of penalties over the past two weeks. Los Angeles was the NFL’s second-least-penalized team in 2021, and it had been the least-penalized team in the league this season until a rash of mistakes pushed the Rams out of the top spot.
The Rams have legitimate hopes of winning on Christmas, but they will also be looking ahead to a New Year’s Day showdown with the Chargers. The Rams really don’t want to lose to their playoff-contending tenants, even in a game that’s meaningless to the Rams.