THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The Los Angeles Rams have something unfamiliar above them in the NFC West standings this week.
The Rams (3-1) had spent their first 35 regular season games under coach Sean McVay with at least a share of first place in their division. Los Angeles won its second straight NFC West title last season by going 6-0 against the division, and McVay is 10-2 overall against Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona – 10-1 when he isn’t resting his starters.
But the Rams’ 55-40 loss to Tampa Bay coupled with the 49ers (3-0) on a bye week put Los Angeles into a tie for second place for the first time. The Rams are in danger of sliding to third when they visit Seattle (3-1) on Thursday night for their first division game of the year.
Sure, it’s still very early in the season. And sure, the Rams are off to a strong start regardless of what their divisional opponents have been up to.
But for a team that quickly established a culture of steady excellence and accountability after McVay’s arrival, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to get a wakeup call before Week 5.
“The biggest thing is to be consistent throughout the season, win, lose or draw,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “But an early loss really can enhance the urgency for some guys. That’s not the goal, but if that loss helps you do it, that’s fine. You always want to have that urgency, but maybe a loss helps.”
The Rams’ performance against the Buccaneers suggested they have plenty of work to do. The offense produced Jared Goff’s four turnovers and a near-invisible running game behind an inconsistent offensive line performance, while the defense got sliced up for 385 yards passing and four touchdowns by Jameis Winston.
A few players acknowledged the Rams lacked a certain urgency that probably shouldn’t be already diluted by Week 4, but they’re not worried yet about a team that’s 27-9 in the regular season since McVay arrived.
“That’s an anomaly,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We won’t play like that the rest of the year, so I’m not even stressed about what happened.”
The Rams opened 8-0 last year in the franchise’s best start to a season since 1969. They were 11-1 before they absorbed the first back-to-back losses of McVay’s coaching career, but they recovered to win four straight on the way to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles returned this fall with only a few changes to last season’s roster, promoting two new starters on the offensive line and adding veteran defensive players Weddle and Clay Matthews. The Rams’ overall continuity hasn’t translated into smooth play, but they’re confident they’ve still got time to figure it out.
“Sometimes it’s good to get a check of where you are,” cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. “When you start so strong like we did last season, some things don’t seem as important because you’re still winning. This year we got the reminder real quick.”
The Rams had to do plenty of work in the compressed window before a Thursday night game, but they largely didn’t mind the accelerated schedule – except for running back Todd Gurley, who last weekend repeated his declaration that Thursday night games are “the dumbest thing ever.” Gurley, who was bored and uncommunicative in his weekly meeting with the media, is 19th in the NFL with just 219 yards on the ground after getting only 16 against the Buccaneers.
The health of Gurley’s knee and his comparatively small role in Los Angeles’ offense this season has been a constant topic of scrutiny around the Rams, and he’s clearly tired of talking about himself. The Rams hope they’ll have fewer questions to answer after Gurley leads them against the Seahawks’ sturdy defense.
“What you do feel an obligation is for us to be better, be more productive,” McVay said. “When Todd’s doing well, that means our offense is doing well. … We’re working through that right now and it’s something that we’re excited about just continuing to grind on. We get another opportunity to see if we’ve made some hay on Thursday.”
NOTES: LB Bryce Hager (shoulder) and rookie S Taylor Rapp (ankle) both weren’t healthy enough to practice Tuesday. McVay plans to make a game-time decision on their status in Seattle. … CB Marcus Peters appears to be fine to play Thursday after taking a huge hit to the head during his interception return for a touchdown against Tampa Bay.
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