Indianapolis — Search Rams history, and it would be hard to get off to a more encouraging start than Matthew Stafford’s explosive passing performance in last weekend’s 34-14 win over the Chicago Bears.
But a debut compares: Sean McVay’s first regular-season game as Rams coach, a 46-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts in 2017.
What happened next for that 2017 team provides a lesson McVay can’t forget as he drafted the Rams for the second game of this season, incidentally, against the Colts. The Rams charged in Week 2 in 2017 and lost 27–20 to Washington. Jared Goff threw a late interception to snuff out a rally.
“Going back to ’17, we didn’t show up and played well, and in the second game we didn’t do a good job for us after a good opener against the Colts,” McVay said this week.
This time, the Rams (1-0) will try to face the Colts (0-1) at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday at 10 a.m. PDT, and will confirm their first impression against the Bears.
No one doubted that Stafford was genuine when he scored touchdowns covering 321 yards, 67, 56 and 2 yards, and no interception, earning NFC Player of the Week honors.
But in general, evaluating season openers can be tough.
How good or bad was the team that Ram defeated? (Keep an eye on the Bears’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.) How much did the sudden bounce help the Rams? (A deflected pass that turned into an interception, followed by a fumble recovery that put the Bears off the scoreboard early.) How much of the tactical element of surprise will be lost after the first game? (You can shock the world only once with Van Jefferson’s deep pass.)
Then there’s the question of whether any shortfall in street play is inevitable between the Rams’ emotional victory in the first regular season game with fans at Sophie Stadium and the home game of the measuring stick against Tom Brady and next Sunday’s Super Bowl. Is. Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp recalls the ups and downs of the first two weeks of 2017, which marked his Rams debut as well as McVay.
“That’s football, isn’t it? You’ve got ups and downs throughout the game, throughout practice, throughout the season,” Kupp said on Monday. Stay in, understanding what our process is, and understanding that whatever the outcome, good or bad, we have a process that we have set out and followed.”
In 2017, the Rams handled that early take very well, beating the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3, winning 10 of their next 13 regular-season games, and making the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
McVay said he doesn’t expect to deal with a Week 2 letdown this time around.
“I have full faith in the team, I have faith in the leadership of the team, in this coaching staff,” he said. “And I think we are all self-conscious enough to know that you have to produce. You enjoy (beating the bear), but it is time to move on.”
If the Rams need a reminder that they can’t stand slip-ups, they can find it in the standings, which saw the four NFC West teams all go 1-0.
They can even flash back on their flaws against the bear. Stafford was not immune.
“There were just a few plays in the game that I wish I was a little better, I wish I could have maybe a little quieter in the pocket and progressed and got a different[receiver]. There was a couple that wasn’t completed which I wish I could do was,” said Stafford, who completed 20 of 26 passes.
Stafford would be going up against a Colts defense that gave Russell Wilson a record 254 yards and four touchdown passes without interception, but three sacks in his 28-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday.
Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (251 yards, two touchdowns, no interception, three sacks, 23 yards on four carries against the Seahawks) can be tough to handle as a forward removed from surgery on his foot in early August.
The Rams fully contained Wentz in Week 2 last season, when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles, but is now with a team that leads 11-5 and has made the playoffs.
Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris expected the Rams to upset the Colts’ ball-control offense, led by Jonathan Taylor.
“If we can find a way to off-schedule these people to go out and set the terms, I like our chances,” Morris said.
With a win, the Rams could make them a weakness from 2020, when some of their best wins were followed by some of their worst losses.
McVay thinks his 2021 team is different.
“The last thing that worries me is that our team is in any kind of lull. I think, if anything, the urgency has increased, knowing that people are happy with the win,” he said. “I don’t think I need to worry about setting complacency with this group.”