LOS ANGELES — Well, that didn’t last long.
The Los Angeles Rams’ first playoff appearance in 13 seasons came to a quick end Saturday night when the young, upstart team led by the NFL’s youngest coach was schooled by Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons, who won the wild-card game 26-13.
It was the Rams’ first playoff game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since 1979 and their first in Southern California since 1986.
Only six Rams players had playoff experience, including left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who went 0-6 with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Whitworth said it was natural that players would be nervous in their first playoff appearance.
However, second-year quarterback Jared Goff downplayed the team’s lack of postseason experience.
“I think they played better than we did,” Goff said. “Playoff inexperience, I don’t know what that means. Each game’s the same. This one has a little bit more meaning to it, of course. But we did not play well. And if we played like this two weeks ago against the same team, we would have lost as well.”
The Rams fell behind 13-0 thanks to two special teams gaffes by Pro Bowler Pharoh Cooper. Todd Gurley got going too late to help, although he did finish with 101 yards rushing. Goff made some nice passes, but also had some misses and watched his teammates make some drops.
Cooper fumbled on a kickoff return late in the first quarter when he was hit by Damontae Kazee, with Kemal Ishmael recovering at the Rams 32.
Devonta Freeman capped the short drive with a 3-yard scoring run to give the Falcons a 13-0 lead.
Matt Bryant kicked field goals of 29 and 51 yards in the first quarter.
The Falcons, who blew a 28-3 lead in last season’s Super Bowl, had their first score set up by a special teams blunder by the Rams that allowed Atlanta to almost completely flip the field.
With the Falcons forced to punt from their 14, Cooper was indecisive and let the ball bounce at about the L.A. 40. It hit off Blake Countess’ foot during a wild scramble that ended with LaRoy Reynolds recovering at the Rams 17.
The Falcons had to settle for Bryant’s 29-yarder. He kicked a 51-yarder on Atlanta’s next possession.
Cooper took the blame for the miscues. He said he should have protected the ball better on the kickoff return. On the punt, he said he needed to take control of the situation by yelling “Poison,” as in, get away from the ball.
“They’ve been so good for us all year,” Goff said. “They’ve won so many games for us. You can go look throughout the whole season how many games those guys, in particular Pharoh, have contributed to and put us in good field position. The first one was a freak one and the second one I know he’d like to have back. He’s a Pro Bowl returner and has done such a good job this year. I know we wouldn’t want anyone (else) back there.”
The Rams had gone from 4-12 in 2016, their first season back in Los Angeles after 22 years in St. Louis, to 11-5 and the NFC West championship under first-year coach Sean McVay.
The Rams were hosting their first playoff game in the Coliseum since Jan. 7, 1979, when they lost 28-0 to the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC championship game. It was their first playoff game in Southern California since Jan. 4, 1986, when they beat the Cowboys 20-0 at Anaheim Stadium.
McVay was born 20 days after that game.
The Rams moved to St. Louis after the 1994 season and won their only Super Bowl after the 1999 season.
They moved back to L.A. prior to the 2016 season.
“It’s hard,” Goff said. “We didn’t want this to end at all. We’ve got such a special group of dudes in there, coaches and everybody. It’s such a special group. You don’t want it to end this early by any means. But I think we have a good, strong core group we’ve built this year.”
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