Winning wasn’t going to be enough for the Rams on Sunday.
After all, everyone beats the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars.
To wash away that nasty aftertaste of a three-game losing streak, the Rams needed a decisive victory, a true pummeling to get a fresh start to December.
It took a while — the offense wheezed like a jalopy at first — but in the second half of the 37-7 blowout, these looked like the Rams who at one point this season were 7-1.
“It sure feels good to be back on the winning side of things and now we got to be able to build on it,” coach Sean McVay said.
The Rams are in the middle of a fascinating experiment. They’ve built an all-star roster, including two big additions in the last month, and are banking on that lifting them into the stratosphere.
Lots of people are waiting for the franchise to fall apart. Some can’t stand the idea of star chasing. Others don’t have the opportunity to do it. Still others — and maybe most of them — just love seeing a Los Angeles team do a face-plant.
But the Rams have an opportunity to right themselves. They did that Sunday with a win that stretched up and down the roster. This wasn’t one of those top-heavy wins when Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp put up gaudy numbers that no one could match, although they both played well. A lot of people contributed this time.
Brandon Powell, fresh off the practice squad, returned the opening kickoff 65 yards. Backup center Coleman Shelton came in and played a solid game after starter Bryan Allen went down with a knee injury on the first play from scrimmage.
Rookie receiver Ben Skowronek made a cartwheeling catch over the middle, although he also had a drop and penalty on special teams.
And with Darrell Henderson hurt, Sony Michel stepped in to run for 121 yards, the Rams’ first 100-yard rusher this season.
The usual suspects did their part too. Aaron Donald pried loose a fumble on Jacksonville’s second play from scrimmage. Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. had touchdown receptions. Stafford wound up throwing for 295 yards in a little more than three quarters.
Kupp became the fourth player in NFL history to collect 100 catches in his team’s first 12 games, joining Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison.
“I mean, he does everything right, you know?” Stafford said of Kupp. “I don’t know, people probably watch him on TV and think he’s 5-[foot]10 and runs 4.6 [seconds in the 40-yard dash] and all that kind of stuff. He’s 6-2, 210, and runs great. He’s got a great feel for the game. He’s a great competitor. He understands the game. He does everything right.”
Likewise, the Rams did a lot right Sunday in an energized SoFi Stadium. Yes, the Jaguars are 2-10, but the Rams tied the season high for points against them, and the season low for points surrendered to them.
Most important for the Rams, they relocated their confidence. That was hopelessly lost in November.
What does it really mean? That has yet to be determined. Is this just a franchise that beats up on NFL weaklings — Houston, the New York Giants, Jacksonville — or one that can consistently beat playoff-caliber teams?
A big test comes Monday night at Arizona, where the 10-2 Cardinals have the league’s best record and are in prime position to win the NFC West.
The Rams are 1-2 in the division and the Cardinals are 4-0, so even a Rams win at Arizona won’t close that gap. But it would be a start.
Key for the Rams is proving they can play meaningful football down the stretch, the way Tampa Bay did last year when they were 7-5 at its week off, got a breather and never lost the rest of the way. That’s doable in this streaky, unpredictable league.
Just look at the craziness of Sunday. Minnesota, two weeks removed from an upset of Green Bay, lost to the previously winless Detroit Lions.
Four-win Seattle swept San Francisco, which was riding a three-game winning streak. The Seahawks own the 49ers the way the 49ers own the Rams.
If the Rams can pull off a win at Arizona, they go back to being the team they appeared to be at the beginning of the season.
That trip to the desert will tell the football world a lot about the Rams, whether they’re real or a mirage.
The team found itself against the Jaguars. Soon, we’ll find out if that really means anything.