A day after their humiliating loss to the New York Jets, the Rams were licking both psychic and physical wounds.
Running back Cam Akers will miss Sunday’s crucial game against the Seattle Seahawks and maybe more after spraining an ankle in the 23-20 loss to the Jets, Rams coach Sean McVay said on Monday.
The rookie was hurt during the first half but returned to the game with his left ankle wrapped in bright white tape, and finished with 63 yards on 15 carries a week after his 171-yard outburst against New England.
“He’s a tough kid, man, the way he battled through,” McVay said. “But he does have a high ankle sprain, which usually is a couple of weeks. He’ll definitely miss this game, which is a blow to us.”
Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown will get more carries, as they did before Akers seized the No. 1 running back role this month.
Other Rams hurts wouldn’t show up on an MRI.
The Rams allow themselves 24 hours to wallow in disappointment, so the soul-searching had to come fast after the loss to the previously winless Jets spoiled their first crack at clinching a playoff spot.
Safety John Johnson had the bluntest assessment after a broadcaster asked if a young team like the Rams has to learn how to seize such moments.
“Certain teams, you’ve got that knack for winning. We’re still working on that,” Johnson said a few minutes after Sunday’s loss. “We’ve had success in the past. But games like that, you’ve got to come away with (a win). It’s a team thing, and it’s definitely a learning experience. You’ve got to build that culture.”
That’s not an obvious explanation for the Rams’ knack for losing close games and losing to teams they should beat.
They’ve won plenty in McVay’s four seasons, recording four above-.500 records and going to a Super Bowl. With two games left this season, they’re still a near-lock to go to the playoffs after missing out in 2019. They’ll be likely to win the NFC West if they beat Seattle.
But over the past two years, the Rams are 3-5 in games decided by less than seven points (15-7 in the rest). Those losses include pivotal division games at Seattle and San Francisco in 2019 and at home against the 49ers in 2020. And now the Jets.
Asked about Johnson’s comment, a subdued McVay said Monday he “can’t disagree with that.”
“We had opportunities to win and close out that game. And really, all of our losses, there’s been those opportunities,” McVay said. “We’ve got to figure out how to make those plays in crunch time.”
If it seems like the Rams beat good teams and lose to bad ones, that’s not your imagination. This season, the combined record of the teams they’ve beaten is 60-64-1 (.482), and the combined record of the teams they’ve lost to is 26-30 (.464).
Linebacker Troy Reeder said Monday the loss to the Jets is “just an example of how good this league is.”
“I feel like this is a team that does know how to win, and since I’ve been here we need to put an emphasis on that because we’ve been doing that,” said Reeder, in his second season with the Rams.
Kicker Matt Gay, the other Rams player available to reporters via Zoom on Monday, admitted the team might have let down against the Jets (1-13).
“They showed up, and we maybe overlooked them and didn’t come to play and play our best game,” Gay said. “I think there’s a natural inclination there when you have a team you’re playing that hasn’t had a great year, and you’re coming off some good wins, that naturally, you may take it lightly.”
But Gay, who joined the Rams five games ago, agreed with Reeder about the Rams’ culture.
“I think the culture of the locker room is great. Guys really have each other’s backs. I’ve seen that on the ups and I’ve seen that on the downs in the short time I’ve been here,” said Gay, who has made eight of 10 field-goal attempts and all 15 PAT conversions.
“These (opponents) are professional athletes. It’s not like you’re just playing against some guys on the weekend. Everybody in this league can play. That’s why you’ve got to show up every single week.”
At 9-5, second in the NFC West to the Seahawks (10-4) and fifth in the NFC seedings, the Rams have not yet officially qualified for the seven-team conference playoffs but are near-certain to do it.
They’d miss out only if they lose to Seattle and Arizona (8-6) and at least four of five remaining games involving Arizona, Tampa Bay (9-5) and Chicago (7-7) go the wrong way.
Their path to winning the NFC West is more difficult but clear: The Rams must beat the Seahawks, and then either beat the Cardinals or see the Seahawks lose on the road to the 49ers in the final week.
If the Rams have a history of momentum-killing losses in a season when they haven’t won three games in a row, they also have a history of bouncing back the following week.
“I love the way that we’ve responded,” McVay said, almost managing a chuckle as he added: “But you don’t want to have to respond too many times to these tough outings.”
PRO BOWL RAMS
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey have been picked for the Pro Bowl.
It’s Donald’s seventh time being chosen, joining a six-way tie for fourth on the Rams’ franchise list behind defensive lineman Merlin Olsen (14 selections), offensive lineman Tom Mack (11) and linebacker Les Richter (eight).
It’s Ramsey’s fourth Pro Bowl honor and second with the Rams.
Donald led at his position in fan voting that ended on Dec. 17. So did Rams punter Johnny Hekker. But the selection process includes NFL players’ and coaches’ voting as well.
The Pro Bowl, originally scheduled for Jan. 31, 2021, in Las Vegas won’t be played because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the selections count.
ENDS AND ODDS
The Seahawks were favored over the Rams by 2 points on Monday, with an over-under line of 47-1/2. … The Rams placed another player on the COVID-19 reserve list: Eric Banks, a defensive lineman who is on the practice squad. … McVay said neither linebacker Micah Kiser (knee) nor safety Taylor Rapp (knee) will come off injured reserve this week, but indicated Kiser could return later.