Despite Rams regressing, Sean McVay won’t hit panic button yet

It should be the start of the Rams’ second-half sprint.

After a win and an open date, they were confident. With several starters returning from injuries, they were stronger. The defending Super Bowl champions seemed poised to finally make their proclamation come true to reset it.

But the Rams are undeniably running backwards.

They run with no direction, trying to possibly lock themselves out of a post-season opportunity.

And coach Sean McVay and his team continue to lose — on a seemingly endless loop — to the San Francisco 49ers.

A 14-31 loss on Sunday at Sofi Stadium extended the Rams’ streak of regular-season frustration against the 49ers to eight games.

It’s been nearly half a decade, circa 2018, since McVay outsmarted and outsmarted his friend and mentor Kyle Shanahan in an NFC West game.

The Rams can point to a win over the 49ers in last season’s NFC Championship game at SoFi Stadium, but that’s a one-off — and thanks to a dropped interception by the 49ers — a fluke — no indication the Rams have what it takes aim to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the 2004 season.

Sunday’s loss lowered the Rams’ record to 3-4, a first for McVay.

“This is a different situation,” McVay said, “but that doesn’t mean you hit the panic button.”

History says McVay may be right. The Rams won the division last season without defeating the 49ers in the regular season — and won the Super Bowl.

But in 2019, under McVay, they missed the playoffs for the only time.

One positive aspect of Sunday’s loss is that the Rams don’t have to face the 49ers again this season.

On October 3rd, the 49ers defeated the Rams 24-9 at Levi’s Stadium. On Sunday, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford struggled for a rare touchdown and threw a touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp before the Rams took a 14-10 halftime lead and were shut out in the second half.

“It has nothing to do with the whole story, whatever it was,” McVay said. “They outplayed us in the second half.”

Stafford said: “Just because you have a good drive here or there doesn’t mean the game is going to go that way – it’s a four-quarter game for a reason.”

Tight end Tyler Higbee is in his seventh season with the Rams, so he’s been around long enough to remember what it feels like to beat the 49ers in the regular season.

“We have to find out,” Higbee said. “They perform and play well every time we play them and we don’t.”

Edge rusher Leonard Floyd repeated Higbee.

“We fight like we do every time we play them for some reason,” he said.

However, it’s “still early,” said Floyd, who recorded his first two sacks of the season.

“We’ve got time to make some real noise,” he said, “if we turn it around now.”

It will be a challenge for a team that lost twice this month to the 49ers and also to the Dallas Cowboys. The Rams narrowly escaped the 0 for October by defeating the struggling Carolina Panthers.

That win came two weeks ago when Christian McCaffrey was still playing for the Panthers.

A few days later, the 49ers outbid the Rams in a trade for the versatile star running back.

And on Sunday, the Rams felt the pain of that rare loss in every way.

McCaffrey rushed for the touchdown. He caught a touchdown pass. He also threw for a touchdown and accounted for 183 of his team’s 368 yards of offense.

San Francisco's Christian McCaffrey evades a tackle attempt by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the third quarter.

San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey evades a tackle attempt by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the third quarter.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

Despite a 49ers offense without star running back/wide receiver Deebo Samuel and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, as well as defensively absent lineman Arik Armstead and linebacker Dre Greenlaw, the Rams still haven’t won.

Nick Bosa, the 49ers’ star defensive end, said he was “kind of surprised” when the Rams “gave up a little early” and tried to get the ball in a third and 16th game with less than six minutes left to run.

“I guess they didn’t have the confidence to come back,” he said.

The Rams’ confidence could erode further if the ankle injury sustained by Kupp late in the game knocks him out of the lineup.

In addition to being the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, Kupp is also perhaps the Rams’ greatest rushing threat.

Estranged running back Cam Akers has not played for the second straight game as the Rams continue to search for a trade partner. Darrell Henderson only got four carries. Practice Team Call-Up Ronnie Rivers started and ran for 21 yards in eight carries.

The Rams' Cooper Kupp can't make that pass in the end zone because the 49ers' Charvarius Ward is lagging behind.

The Rams’ Cooper Kupp can’t make that pass in the end zone because the 49ers’ Charvarius Ward is lagging behind.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

“Up close – we have to let the ball run better,” said Kupp. “I just think there’s no getting around it.”

Whether the traditionally active Rams will make a move for a running back, edge rusher, or other position by Tuesday’s close remains to be seen.

“We have a lot of things that we need to address,” McVay said.

Their next game is in Tampa Bay on Sunday. It’s the first of five remaining games outside of SoFi Stadium, including back-to-back trips to New Orleans and Kansas City, a Monday Night Football matchup in Green Bay, and the season finale against division leader Seattle.

After seven games of inconsistent performance, the next 10 could qualify as McVay’s biggest challenge.

“I look forward to being the right one for these guys,” he said. Despite Rams regressing, Sean McVay won’t hit panic button yet

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