LOS ANGELES — This was Jared Goff’s moment. His Los Angeles Rams had the ball with a lead Sunday, at home against one of the NFL’s greatest teams, with Carson Wentz already ruled out for the game. It was first-and-10 at the Philadelphia Eagles’ 35-yard line at the eight-minute mark of the fourth quarter. All the Rams really needed was a sustained drive, the type that would give their defense enough breathing room to get after backup quarterback Nick Foles and seal a victory.
But Goff never saw Chris Long.
“I probably need to get rid of it a little earlier there,” Goff said. “It’s one thing you can learn from, for sure.”
The Rams ran play-action, and Long quickly got around Darrell Williams, an inexperienced backup who had replaced an injured Rob Havenstein at right tackle on the previous play. Goff didn’t see anyone open downfield, so he shuffled his feet up in the pocket. And that’s when Long, the former Ram, made his impact, sacking Goff and knocking the ball loose for the play that ultimately turned Sunday’s 43-35 loss to the Eagles.
Philadelphia finished the ensuing drive with a field goal, and Los Angeles never answered. The Rams went three-and-out, then punted with just more than two minutes remaining, allowed the Eagles to convert a key third down and got the ball again with only one second left, their desperate attempt at a trick play resulting in another touchdown for Philadelphia.
Rams coach Sean McVay later blamed himself for Goff’s fumble because a play-action pass with your starting right tackle out of the game — and Todd Gurley running the ball so efficiently — probably wasn’t the best idea in that situation.
“I’ve got to do a better job of putting our offense in better situations, be smart, have a little bit of situational awareness,” McVay said. “That was a mistake on my part.”
Goff was later told McVay took the blame for the fumble and shook his head.
“He told me the same thing,” Goff said. “He shouldn’t do that. He’s been doing a great job all year calling plays. Once the play comes in, it’s my job to execute it, and unfortunately we didn’t.”
The Rams gave up 21 unanswered points early in their highly anticipated matchup against the Eagles, a game that saw the Rams distribute a season-high 2,300 credentials and house a season-high 67,752 fans. Their offense came out firing in the third quarter, as has been the case for most of the season. But they lost, even though they led by as many as four in the final quarter and Wentz exited with what might be a torn ACL.
The Rams fell to 9-4, on a day when both the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks lost, and thus remained the No. 3 seed in the NFC.
McVay called it “a great learning opportunity” and said the Rams “can’t afford to allow them to extend drives by things that we can’t control,” a reference to key penalties.
The Rams had seven of them, giving up 102 additional yards in a game with very little margin for error. Each of the Eagles’ first two touchdown drives were aided by pass interference calls, the first on Alec Ogletree and the second on Trumaine Johnson. There also was leverage called on Aaron Donald on a 54-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, which only extended a drive that finished with a shorter field goal.
But the biggest penalty came at the six-minute mark of the third quarter, on a deep ball from Wentz to Alshon Jeffery that fell incomplete. Johnson — who finished the game in concussion protocol and thus was not available to speak with the media — was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, gifting the Eagles 15 yards to help set up a key touchdown.
“They weren’t even talking trash,” Rams cornerback Nickel Robey-Coleman said. “They were just talking football and they threw the flag.”
Jeffery saw it similarly.
“We know each other,” he said. “When he makes a play, he’s going to make some noise. When I make a play, I’m going to make some noise. It is what it is.”
Sunday’s game left a lot of room for second-guessing, especially with regards to Gurley, who averaged 7.4 yards per carry but received only 13 attempts. There were ill-timed penalties, a costly fumble, an imperfect run-pass ratio — but the Rams had their chance.
They had the ball again, down two with nearly four minutes left, at their own 25. Gurley lost three yards on a rushing attempt, Goff gained only those three yards back on a scramble, and a deep ball to Sammy Watkins fell incomplete. Punting on fourth-and-10, Goff said, “was the right move.”
But the Rams never really got another chance.
“It was definitely a really tight one and one that was a lot of fun to be a part of,” Goff said. “We would have liked to finish it a different way, but I think if we eliminate some of the stuff that we did that hurt us in the end there, it could be a different story. That Philadelphia team is really good. It’s a really good team and so are we. We knew it was going to be a dogfight and so did they. Four-quarter game, all the way to the end.”