Cam Akers a bright spot for Rams amid Super Bowl payback season

While Rams players underwent massages and treatments and tried to shower off disappointment at their 27-23 loss to Seattle on Sunday, a team staffer went through the locker room at SoFi Stadium to retrieve their discarded towels and water bottles. On the back of his T-shirt, beneath a Rams logo, was the slogan “2022 Write Our Next Chapter.”

It became clear a few weeks ago, as the Rams began a losing streak that lasted through Sunday six, that this chapter won’t be nearly as exciting or successful as the drama they experienced last season after pledging their future for the last few years and Get a string of top draft picks to win Matthew Stafford, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller in an all-in run for a championship.

Their Super Bowl LVI triumph inspired another slogan on another t-shirt worn by general manager Les Snead at the Rams’ championship parade. It proclaimed its disdain for building draft picks, using an expletive unsuitable for family viewing, but reiterated that it was right to prefer proven players to draft picks with limitless potential that might never materialize came.

Snead gave up a lot but won the ultimate prize and that’s the whole point. Why settle for being a team that makes the playoffs regularly but rarely goes far when it saw a chance to win it all?

The championship banner hanging at SoFi, the subcompact-sized championship rings earned by players and coaches, the line in the history books… winning everything that was worth everything he gave up.

But now the payment is due. After a long playoff run, it’s no surprise the Rams are severely weakened by injuries, particularly on their offensive line. Or that Stafford, with a patchwork offensive line trying to protect him, was injured and is now on injured reserve with a spinal cord injury.

Manager Sean McVay said on Sunday there was a good chance Stafford was ready for the season. There’s no point in bringing him back and risking additional injuries. The Rams are done too. But their troubles may be just beginning as salary cap dilemmas loom and there are no first- or fourth-round draft picks in 2023 to use or trade to speed up the needed rebuild.

Rams running back Cam Akers scores for a touchdown against Seattle in the first quarter.

Rams running back Cam Akers scores for a touchdown against Seattle in the first quarter.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“Those are the times when you really learn,” McVay said. “I know for me personally that this is the most challenging thing you’ve ever been through. It forces a lot of reflection that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

“I don’t want to go through that, but I’m grateful because when you have the right perspective, growth can happen and I want to be better for those players and for those coaches. That’s the thing about sports, man. When things are good, it’s easy. When things are challenging you are really compelled to act out what you are talking about.”

One thing McVay should have learned Sunday was that he had previously underutilized running back cam Akers, who had a season-high 17 carries for 60 yards and two touchdowns against the Seahawks (7-5).

Akers was banned from the Rams for about two and a half weeks in October and returned to training in early November. He was unhappy at how little he had been used and at being told in training camp he hadn’t shown enough intensity. He was instructed to stay at home. The Rams could not find buyers in trade talks.

On Sunday, when McVay needed the game in progress to assist backup quarterback John Wolford, Akers came through. He scored the Rams’ first touchdown, capped their first possession with a one-yard run, and charged into the end zone for the six-yard rush that gave them a 23-20 lead with two minutes and 56 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter brought in .

The defense couldn’t hold the lead, but Akers did his part well. It brought back memories of his exile, although he wouldn’t elaborate.

“A lot I’d rather not say. Only I learned from it,” he said. “I know what I can do. I know what I’m capable of; I know who I am.”

When a heated-up Bobby Wagner led the Rams’ defense with two sacks and an interception against his former team on Sunday, Akers was a touchstone on offense.

“I’m not a big singing guy. I’m more of a guy who goes out and does it, leads by example. Make the game. Try to make the game when it’s there,” he said. “I feel like our offense has a lot of leaders who are more likely to drive it by example, not loud types, and that’s something we need to get better at offensively, loud leaders.”

McVay spoke of seeing an improvement to hold onto as the Rams take on the Raiders at SoFi Stadium on Thursday in what sure sounds and feels like a Raiders home game.

“They don’t walk away with the moral victories, but I think we can all see the steps this group has taken. Lots of positives. But we want to win the football game,” McVay said. “It’s tough because of the amount of work these guys put into it. But we just fell short. Didn’t play enough games. But there were many things to build on.

“It’s challenging. But I’m proud to get through this with these guys and this is where real growth can happen.”

What they did to win last season was worth it, no matter how painful those last few games may be. Cam Akers a bright spot for Rams amid Super Bowl payback season

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