ATLANTA — Jared Goff trudged to the Los Angeles Rams‘ bench, his face a mask of confusion and despair while the Patriots celebrated their interception behind him.
Sean McVay left the sideline and leaned into his ear. The coach didn’t say much, but he encouraged his quarterback to learn from the Rams’ offensive flop.
McVay and Goff are likely to be together for many more years, and they hope they’ll remember their embarrassing 13-3 loss in the Super Bowl on Sunday night as a springboard to the future, not the crushing flop that it felt like immediately afterward.
Goff’s 19-of-38 performance for 229 yards and a key fourth-quarter interception played a large role in the Rams’ defeat, but almost nothing went right for a team that has been frequently brilliant with the ball in its hands. A remarkable year ended with a big-game performance that looked nothing like most of the past two seasons while the Rams matched the lowest-scoring performance in Super Bowl history.
The Rams led the NFL in points per game over the past two seasons, yet they became just the second team in NFL history to fail to score a touchdown in the Super Bowl.
"It’s the toughest loss I ever had," Goff said. "It kills. It’s terrible. It’s a game I wish I would have played better. I wish I could have a million plays back."
Casual football fans who hadn’t watched the Rams during the past two years would have no idea how they got to the Super Bowl after watching this tentative, inconsistent performance.
All of Los Angeles’ recent success came to a weird anticlimax at Mercedes-Benz Stadium with its lowest-scoring performance in 36 games under the 33-year-old head coach.
Los Angeles managed just 260 yards, got only 14 first downs — just six in the first three quarters — and punted a season-high nine times. But even putting the raw numbers aside, the Rams’ miserable execution left them looking unprepared for a stellar defensive game plan from Bill Belichick.
"I’m pretty numb right now, but definitely I got outcoached," McVay said. "I didn’t do nearly a good enough job for our football team. … This one is going to stick with you. It just stings in your gut."
Though Goff’s teammates and coaches refused to blame him, Los Angeles’ 24-year-old quarterback had one of the rougher performances in Super Bowl history. Along with his 19 incompletions, he was sacked four times and finished with a 57.9 passer rating.
Goff’s ability to execute McVay’s offensive innovations and clever play-calling put the Rams (15-4) back in the Super Bowl for the first time in 17 years. His highs have been outstanding, but his lows are frequently disheartening — and this game appeared to be among his worst.
The Rams all seemed to know exactly what New England had done against them defensively. The Pats showed deceptive fronts before the snap, and they frequently retreated into zone pass defences that forced Goff to find open receivers in a confusing coverage.
Although McVay strenuously blamed his play-calling for putting his players in untenable positions, Goff realized he needed to make more consistent throws and better decisions, particularly at the line of scrimmage. His underthrown pick near the New England end zone crushed the Rams’ hopes for a tying touchdown with 4:17 to play.
Goff had only nine completions in the first three quarters before getting 10 more in the fourth while the Rams’ rally fell short.
"We were moving the ball well at times, but we just couldn’t get that one play," Goff said. "We know what type of offence we have, and to not be able to show that, it’s tough."
The Rams’ first eight drives in the Super Bowl ended in punts and resulted in only 72 net yards. Johnny Hekker punted for the eighth time early in the third quarter, a record for punts in a game during McVay’s two seasons.
Despite their ineptitude, the Rams’ defence was playing brilliantly. Los Angeles still could have taken the lead late in the third quarter when Brandin Cooks broke wide open on a post route, but he stood waving in the end zone while Goff saw him too late and uncorked a throw that took far too long to get there, allowing New England to knock it down.
"I was surprised he was that wide-open," Goff said. "I tried to get it to him as quickly as I could. It was too late."
Goff was in the midst of his best drive right before his interception. He hit Josh Reynolds in perfect stride for an 11-yard gain and a first down with just over five minutes left, and he found Robert Woods with another beautiful long pass on the next snap.
But under pressure from blitzing Duron Harmon, Goff wound up and flung a high pass in the general direction of Cooks. The ball was underthrown, and Cooks lost a fight for the ball with Stephon Gilmore, who picked it off.
Just like everyone in the Rams’ locker room, Cooks took the blame on himself.
"I’m great enough to make that play," Cooks said. "I’ve still got to make it, no matter what."