After leading his team to yet another victory over the Rams, Jimmy Garoppolo made a telling comment.
“I don’t want to say it took their soul away,” the San Francisco 49ers quarterback said, “but it definitely did something.”
Garoppolo was talking about an 18-play scoring drive that set the tone for the 49ers’ fifth consecutive defeat of the Rams. Yet it also served as an apt description of a Rams team now at crossroads.
For most teams, a 7-3 record heading into an open date and the final seven games of the longest NFL season in history would be cause for celebration.
The Rams, however, will spend the rest of the week attempting to avoid becoming mired in self-doubt.
They have lost two games in a row. They were outcoached and pushed around in both.
“There is a trajectory on the season,” coach Sean McVay said Tuesday during a videoconference with reporters, “and right now our trajectory is not going in the right way.”
McVay said he considered the last two games “outliers” that “felt out of whack.” He is confident that after looking inward and being “solution-oriented” this week, the Rams can return to their previous winning form.
But it only gets tougher.
The Rams resume their schedule Nov. 28 against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers are the top-seeded team in the NFC. Last season they beat up the Rams in a divisional-round playoff game at Lambeau.
After Monday night’s 31-10 loss to the 49ers, McVay said the Rams would evaluate what’s gone wrong, make fixes and “come out freaking swinging.”
But will they land any punches? Or will they get punched in the face again?
“I’m confident that we can come out with some things that give us a chance to have better success than what we’ve had,” McVay said. “And that’s what I mean by ‘come out swinging.’”
Lately, the Rams have suffered self-inflicted blows.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford looked like a most-valuable-player candidate through most of the first eight weeks. He passed for 23 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
In the last two games, he has had four passes intercepted, two returned for touchdowns. It marked the first time since 2013 that Stafford had consecutive games with more than one interception.
Stafford has played through back stiffness and a left ankle sprain. He can use the open date to heal his body and reset his psyche.
“Definitely want to get away for a little bit mentally,” Stafford said, “and just try to come back recharged and ready to go.”
The open date also will provide McVay with time to fully consider ways to move the offense forward in the wake of the season-ending knee injury suffered by Robert Woods last week.
Odell Beckham Jr. made his Rams debut against the 49ers, but he is not the same receiver as Woods. He is not, for example, regarded as a blocker capable of regularly taking on defensive ends.
McVay must find a way to blend Beckham’s many talents with Cooper Kupp, Van Jefferson and rookie Ben Skowronek.
“These next 12 days will be really important to get him implemented, get him up to speed,” McVay said of Beckham, “and figure out a plan of attack to maximize our offensive players, and to play better than the way that we have these last couple of weeks.”
The Rams defense also must bounce back after getting punished by a 49ers offense that ran the ball 44 times for 156 yards.
A unit that features star lineman Aaron Donald, star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and new outside linebacker Von Miller is tied for the league lead with 29 sacks. But the Rams have forced only one turnover in the last two games.
After making his Rams debut Monday, Miller said he would find his stride in the pass rush. He referenced the Miami Heat‘s NBA championship teams that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
“When they first got there, they lost a couple games,” Miller said. “We’ve got to jell — this bye week will be good for us. … I’m excited to be part of this rush.”
Rams special teams created several embarrassing moments through the first eight games, but they have been relatively solid the last two.
Last season the Rams suffered an embarrassing loss to the Miami Dolphins before their open date. They came back and won five of their last eight games and advanced to the divisional round.
McVay is looking for a similar response from a team that has been built for a Super Bowl run.
“It’s not one answer,” he said, “but it’s really looking at the totality of what we can do.”