What exactly happened to the Los Angeles Rams during their bye week?
You surely remember the Rams' shootout victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, right? The 54-point explosion to put them at 10-1 at the bye? Well, since then the Fighting McVays have looked nothing like that team, barely beating the lowly Lions, getting smothered by the Chicago Bears and — on Sunday night — being badly outplayed most of the night by a weary Philadelphia Eagles team.
The Eagles, starting QB Nick Foles in place of Carson Wentz and stumbling in at 6-7, took control of the game in the third quarter in what would end up a 30-23 nailbiting victory over the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Philadelphia's playoff hopes took a big boost with the win. The Rams' chances of earning the top seed in the NFC just took a big hit. Now they have to do more work to ensure a first-round bye.
Foles hit on 24-of-31 passes for 270 yards and an interception in a mostly strong night of work in his first start since Week 2, when Wentz was cleared for action. But Wentz never really received the rushing support that Foles got on Sunday, with Wendell Smallwood (two TDs) and Darren Sproles leading the way, with Josh Adams also scoring on the ground. Foles and Alshon Jeffery (8-160-0 receiving) were just as strong a connection in this game as they were last last season.
But the Rams' defense has been an issue for big chunks of the season, so this isn't too surprising. The odd development since the bye has been the Rams' sputtering offense. Granted, they still flash some of their patented brilliance at time, as they did on a 90-yard TD drive to take an early 7-3 lead and in the final three series of the game, on which they clawed back from down two scores to run a final play from the Eagles' 18-yard line with a chance to tie or perhaps win with time expiring.
Jared Goff's pass to Josh Reynolds, however, fell incomplete. The Eagles are now back at .500 at 7-7 with two games remaining and a playoff shot still a possibility.
Goff finished the game with 339 yards passing, but it was not a good performance. He completed 35-of-54 passes and threw two interceptions. The Rams' offense hit a complete wall in the third quarter, with a total of 26 yards on 13 plays. The final two possession of that quarter, when the Eagles seized control of the game, the Rams turned the ball over on a pick and on downs.
Is it time to panic for the Rams? Their playoff spot is locked in, but they suddenly are reeling a bit. They looked sluggish against the Lions, fruitless against the Bears and way too scatter-shot against the Eagles. Eight of their 12 drives in this game failed to gain 40 yards. The Rams came into the game averaging a sliver less than 40 yards per drive this season, and it was at almost 44 per going into the bye — almost a dozen more yards per drive than the rest of the NFL at that point.
The Eagles started 10-1 last season before it appeared their season might unravel with Wentz suffering a torn ACL. Of course, we know what happened: Foles pulled off the greatest QB relief appearances in recent NFL memory in leading the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. So it stands to reason that the Rams remain in decent shape if they can tweak a few negative tendencies here and stay healthy.
Todd Giurley left the game briefly with a knee injury but still gutted his way to 124 yards from scrimmage and two scores. But perhaps the Rams would have been better off if he had shaved a few yards from that total. Gurley caught a pass from Goff on the final drive and opted to cur it back inside despite the Rams being out of timeouts.
Perhaps Gurley thought he could score, and we should credit the fine tackle of Eagles rookie Avonte Maddox on the play. But from a player who twice has gone down inbounds short of the end zone to preserve victories this season, that's an awfully boneheaded play that caused the Rams to lose valuable time in a crucial spot.
It's not fair to pin it on any one player. But the Rams simply haven't looked themselves since that nuclear arms race with the Chiefs. Can they rediscover that form before the postseason? They'd better hope so, because that feels more likely than the defense suddenly becoming a dominant unit, something we really haven't seen much of this season.