BALTIMORE — It had been more than a month since the Los Angeles Rams had experienced the sense of emptiness that comes with losing a football game.
Falling 37-31 in overtime to the Ravens on Sunday wasn't easy to take, yet the Rams took consolation in knowing they gave the powerful Ravens everything they could handle before a 76-yard punt return by Tylan Thomas ended LA's three-game winning streak.
“We want to be able to come away with the win, but there are a lot of things you're looking at, we are going to respond the right way,” coach Sean McVay said. “It's OK to hurt right now. That's a gut-wrenching loss, but we're not going to let the Ravens beat us twice.”
In other words, the Rams (6-7) won't let this bitter defeat deter them from continuing their late-season surge toward a spot in the NFL playoffs. Los Angeles was 3-6 after losing to Green Bay on Nov. 5, but since then the Rams have proven they can play with anyone — even the Ravens, who are in contention for the top seed in the AFC.
On this day, Los Angeles was every bit as good as Baltimore (10-3), right up until that game-ending punt return.
“Our defense battled. That’s one of the most complete teams in the league,” McVay said. “They’re as good as anybody on both sides of the ball, they excel on special teams, they're coming off the bye and a great home crowd atmosphere.”
Kyren Williams rushed for 114 yards, Matthew Stafford went 23 for 41 for 294 yards and three touchdowns, and the Rams didn't commit a single turnover against the league's second-ranked defense. Stafford directed a 57-yard drive in the final minutes of regulation to force overtime, and Los Angeles finished with nearly a seven-minute advantage in time of possession.
After the Ravens went nowhere to start overtime, the Rams went three-and-out on their possession before punting. Wallace took the kick and zigged and zagged down the left sideline to end the game.
“I just saw what looked to be a decent kick and a lot of missed tackles at the point of attack,” McVay said.
That ruined an otherwise positive performance by Stafford, who brought the Rams back from late deficits of 23-22 and 31-28.
“Got it to overtime, our defense did a great job getting us the ball back and we weren’t able to get anything going there,” Stafford lamented. 'I’m disappointed we didn’t get the outcome we’ve wanted. But everybody in that locker room has been playing football a long time. We’ve got to learn from it, find ways to make sure it doesn’t happen again and move on."
The Rams could make some noise in the wild-card chase over the next three weeks against a trio of teams with losing records: Washington, New Orleans and the New York Giants. Their final game is at San Francisco in a game that could be meaningless for the 49ers.
“We had our chances as a team. The guys did a lot of good stuff,” McVay said. “We'll learn from it and respond the right way.”
There are no moral victories in the NFL, but it's a lot easier to handle a loss when you play well right up until a wild punt return ends it.
“I've never been a part of that. It's a tough way to go down after the way the game went,” McVay said. “It was two teams going back and forth. Being able to go toe-to-toe in a championship caliber game late in December ... let's see how we respond. This was a tough, hard-earned win for the Ravens today, but we're going to come back swinging.”