By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFL Writer
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Rams sorely missed three players who proved critical to the team’s successful Super Bowl run on this very field a year ago.
All three were in the building.
Retired left tackle Andrew Whitworth hosted a pre-game ceremony where the Rams unfurled the Super Bowl banner. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr., still recovering from offseason ACL knee surgery, hoisted the Vince Lombardi trophy during that ceremony.
And the other player, edge rusher Von Miller, wreaked havoc on Whitworth’s replacement, left tackle Joe Noteboom, in a humbling 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills in a Thursday night contest to open the regular season at SoFi Stadium.
The game was supposed to be a coronation — a celebration of everything the Rams accomplished last season. Instead, the contest degenerated into a nightmarish passing of the baton to the team that many NFL observers believe will hoist the Lombardi for the upcoming season in the Bills.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Rams.
Matthew Stafford was sacked seven times, the most in a single game during his tenure with the team.
McVay’s offense could muster just 243 total yards and Stafford turned the ball over three times.
Defensively, the Rams allowed the Bills convert 90 percent of the time on third down. They had no answer for Buffalo’s bulldozer of a quarterback in Josh Allen, who finished 26-of-31 for 297 yards with three touchdown passes.
Allen also ran for another 56 yards and a score. His 84 percent completion percentage was the highest for a Buffalo quarterback in franchise history for a Week 1 contest.
The Rams gave up five passing plays of 20-plus yards, including a 53-yard touchdown by Stefon Diggs where Jalen Ramsey was the closest defender in coverage, and a 26-yard score to Gabriel Davis on a play-action pass where Ramsey also was the closest defender in coverage.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey allowed a perfect passer rating of 158.3. He was targeted seven times, allowing six receptions for 124 yards and two scores.
Ramsey talked about the difficulty of defending Allen, who’s dangerous as a runner and a thrower once he leaves the pocket.
“It’s even tougher when you do play a lot of zones,” said Ramsey, who stated the Rams played only two snaps of man defense. “Because when you’re in your zone and he starts scrambling, then you have to find someone near you to attach yourself to. So it’s extremely tough.”
L.A. managed to force three turnovers but could only convert those scores into three points.
Among the litany of mistakes made by the Rams, the most troubling was the play of the offensive line.
Whitworth, the team’s Pro Bowl left tackle, retired during the offseason and the Rams lost right guard Austin Corbett in free agency.
Noteboom, a third-round selection of the Rams in the 2018 draft, signed a three-year, $40 million extension as L.A.’s left tackle of the future. Coleman Shelton replaced Corbett at right guard.
Noteboom struggled to block Miller. According to Pro Football Focus, Noteboom allowed three sacks and 10 pressures against the Bills. Miller finished with four combined tackles and two sacks.
Not only did the Bills get home, but they did so without needing to dial up added pressure.
Both right tackle Rob Havenstein and Stafford acknowledged there could have been a combination of things that led to his team’s struggles up front.
“Any time that happens in a game, I’m going to have a handful that I think I can do a better job of,” Stafford said. “I’ve got to make sure I’m taking what the defense gives me, while still trying to be aggressive. And on a night like this where we’re playing a little bit of catch-up and they’re doing a nice job of rushing, I’ve got to do a better job of getting it out in certain instances, there’s no question about that. That’s not an offensive-line stat. That’s a team stat on offense.”
Added Havenstein when asked about his group’s poor performance: “Honestly, you’ve just got to be a man about it. You watch it. You understand what went wrong. You address it in practice. You address it in the weight room, or wherever you need to address your issues. We had a lot up front today.”
McVay took responsibility for the loss. It was the first time during his head-coaching tenure that he lost a season opener, falling to 5-1 in those contests.
While McVay emphasized turning the page during the offseason and training camp, the Rams certainly appeared to be experiencing a Super Bowl hangover — at least in the opening week of the NFL regular season.
“My favorite part of sports is the opportunity to respond,” McVay said. “This is just Chapter 1 of the 17 chapters that we have. And I’m looking forward to coming out and swinging with these guys to the best of our ability.”
Added Ramsey: “We can’t worry about Week 1. It’s a long season. Thankfully, nobody’s going to the Super Bowl, no one is going to the playoffs, based on the results from Week 1. We’ll be all right.”
Eric D. Williams is an NFL writer for FOX Sports. He has covered the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @eric_d_williams.
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