The Super Bowl this year is booked for Los Angeles and SoFi Stadium, the NFL’s grandest starship. The Rams so want to be there as a participant, not merely as the host, that the franchise busted the off-season’s most dramatic move, trading young QB Jared Goff and a big chunk of its draft future to Detroit for 12-year veteran Matthew Stafford.
Imagine the dismay, then, when they looked up at the SoFi scoreboard Sunday afternoon and discovered they were trailing 37-13 to the Arizona Cardinals, against whom Sean McVay had an 8-0 record as Rams coach. The Rams have averaged 31.3 points in those games, which had an average winning margin of 20 points.
A garbage-time TD reduced the final deficit to 37-20, but didn’t change the facts that the Cardinals moved to 4-0 by hanging 465 yards and eight third-down conversions in 13 attempts on the NFL’s top-rated defense in 2020.
For Seahawks fans, it isn’t hard to imagine the dismay among their Bay Area counterparts. It was how they felt after the Seahawks lost two games in a row, looking lame in doing so, and had to stop the skid in San Francisco Sunday against the 49ers to prevent the first three-game losing skid in the tenure of Russell Wilson.
As you may have read, the Seahawks succeeded, winning 28-21. It must be said that the 49ers were done in by their own misdeeds as much as Seattle’s bad intentions, but nevertheless the outcome served notice that forecasts of imminent franchise implosion were a tad exaggerated.
The forecasts about the NFC West being as pleasant as a barbed-wire toothbrush, however, remain spot on. It’s just that no one expected the Cardinals to be the perpetrators of periodontal peril.
“That was a terrific win for them,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said at his Monday video conference. “They were ahead the whole time, really held onto it, and played great with the lead against last year’s best defense in the NFL. That’s a big statement for them.
“This division is going to be — and I hope we will be a part of it — really wild.”
That seems a lock.
The Seahawks are defending division champs, although almost no one remembers that because the feat fell in the shadow of the Rams’ 30-20 wild-card playoff defeat so decisive that it sent trembles throughout the organization.
So gobsmacked was Carroll that he realized the only way to beat them was to poach them, and hired Shane Waldron as offensive coordinator. He was at the right hand of McVay for some of the Rams’ renaissance after the franchise’s messy return from a 20-year rental by St. Louis.
Waldron and his Seattle version of McVay’s offense will get much of the attention when the Seahawks host the Rams, who drew the dreaded short-week-travel card, Thursday night (5:20 p.m., FOX/Amazon Prime).
Assessing matters in a series owned of late by the Rams — winners of nine of the past 13 meetings, including the Jan. 9 playoff game — Carroll’s hire of Waldron indicated he was desperate for an edge against a nemesis. He said Monday that inside knowledge of the Rams’ inner workings was vital.
“No question; we have been talking about it the whole time, in all aspects,” he said. “We really couldn’t have more help in that regard. It doesn’t mean it shows, but we do have a lot of insight. They do too, they have theirs (knowing Waldron), because he’s been with those guys a lot longer than with us.
“It’s a factor in some regard, but I don’t know where it fits. We have a lot of respect for what they do, obviously, so much that we brought it here.”
The weekend’s events had the effect of tipping the needle a bit toward Seattle, which already has baked in a 33-8-1 record in prime-time games, the NFL’s best. In addition to the limitations on practice time to fix a defense shredded for 216 yards rushing by the Cardinals, the Rams likely will see from Waldron schemes that he has kept in reserve for the occasion of the first meeting since the embarrassment.
The Rams have wins over the Bears, the Colts and the defending champion Buccaneers. But against the Cardinals and their increasingly efficient QB, Kyler Murray, the defense looked as if it was composed of two stars, DT Aaron Donald and CB Jalen Ramsey, and a bunch of guys. Even Donald came away with no sacks, hits or hurries against the elusive Murray.
Asked whether playing Murray might help the prep for Wilson, Ramsey said, “I hope so. We’ll see, but I hope that will help . . . We didn’t look great tonight, so we’ve got to fix that.
“That wasn’t up to our standard for sure. Whatever it may be, whatever it’s going to take, we need to figure it out ASAP.”
Whatever swagger the Rams had from beating Tampa Bay seems to have vanished. It goes quickly in the NFL, as the Seahawks can testify. In January, they thought they were big deals after winning the NFL’s toughest division at 12-4. Not so much.
The Rams could go from 3-0 to 3-2 in five days, both defeats in the division. As Carroll said: Really wild.