The Rams, tipsy after their Super Bowl victory last February, proclaimed to the world their desire and intent to “run it back.”
Seven months later, after a season-opening 31-10 defeat by the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night at SoFi Stadium, here’s the early uninspiring rundown:
The Rams allowed Bills quarterback Josh Allen to run through — and fake out — a defense that includes three possible future Hall of Famers. Allen passed for three touchdowns and rushed for one.
Former Rams edge rusher Von Miller and the Bills defensive front ran right over the Rams offensive line and sacked quarterback Matthew Stafford seven times. Forget the condition of Stafford’s much dissected right elbow. It’s the rest of his 34-year-old body that will be sore after absorbing a pounding and having three passes intercepted.
The Bills ended Rams coach Sean McVay’s run of season-opening victories at five. None of the Rams’ first opponents in those games finished with more than six victories. The Bills are one of the favorites to emerge from the AFC and end the franchise’s long history of Super Bowl frustration.
On a night when the Rams unveiled a Super Bowl banner, they came up with anything but a banner performance before a crowd of 73,846.
“We weren’t ready to go,” McVay said, adding “This was a humbling experience.”
It marked the second-worst defeat by a defending Super Bowl champion since the league started featuring them in the first game of the season in 2004.
“Obviously, wasn’t the way you want to come out and start a season,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said, adding, “It’s one game, so everybody wants to act like the season’s over, but we have 16 games left.”
It’s way too early to diagnose the Rams as suffering from a Super Bowl hangover, but McVay and his staff must find a tonic quickly as the Rams move forward to play what is regarded as one of the league’s toughest schedules.
“It’s too early to say that,” McVay said when asked if he saw signs of a Super Bowl hangover. “We’re going to get an opportunity to respond.”
The Rams have 10 days to recover and get ready for the Atlanta Falcons, a team with a far lower ceiling and far fewer fans that travel than the Bills, who went into the game as a 2 1/2 -point favorite.
Because of their mostly blue jerseys, Bills Mafia fans were not as visually obvious as the San Francisco 49ers fans who took over SoFi Stadium last season. But they were loud, forcing the Rams to once again go to a silent count in their $5-billion stadium.
“It wasn’t something we haven’t done before,” Stafford said.
Stafford had said that he had worked through tendinitis and felt “great” heading into the game. But he did not look like the quarterback who led the Rams on a playoff run that culminated with a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium.
Stafford completed 29 of 41 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown. He made what appeared to be an obvious error on a second-quarter pass that was intercepted. Two other interceptions came on tipped passes.
Receiver Cooper Kupp caught 13 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. New receiver Allen Robinson had one catch for 12 yards. Stafford also was victimized by several dropped passes from other receivers.
“Play more efficient,” Stafford said when asked what he could do better. “Try to get the ball out quicker.”
The Rams defense produced three first-half turnovers — linebacker Ernest Jones forced a fumble and linebacker Terrrell Lewis and cornerback Troy Hill intercepted passes — but the offense turned only one into a field goal.
The defense, however, could not stop Allen or the Bills on third down. The Bills converted nine of 10 third-down opportunities.
“Anytime you let a team be 90% on third down — no matter how many turnovers you get — you’re not going to win the game,” Wagner said.
After the Rams started the second half by going three and out, Allen seized the opportunity.
His short touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie put the Bills ahead, and then Miller started doing exactly what the Bills hoped when they outbid the Rams for his services.
When Miller sacked Stafford for the second time, it all but eliminated any chance of the Rams producing any momentum.
Allen made them pay, directing an 89-yard drive highlighted by his 41-yard strike to Gabe Davis and his four-yard scramble for a touchdown that put the Rams behind 24-10.
The Rams’ chances for a textbook Stafford-led comeback ended when Stafford’s no-look pass to Kupp tipped off the receiver’s hands and fell into the arms of safety Jordan Poyer.
Allen then fired a 53-yard touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs to seal the rout.
“We’re going to fix this,” McVay said, “and that’s all we know how to do.”