Rams confidence unshaken after season’s first loss

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald stood calmly in front of his locker while he answered for his unit’s worst performance this season.

He sounded disappointed, but not discouraged.

“This is just one game. We will fix it,” Donald said after the Rams yielded a season-high 487 yards in their first loss, 45-35 at New Orleans. “We aren’t panicking. We’re not worried. We will make the corrections to fix it and continue to be better.”

The Rams hoped their vaunted defensive front could pressure Drew Brees and slow the Saints‘ prolific offense.

It didn’t happen. Los Angeles (8-1) went without a sack — another first this season.

The Rams were unable clamp down on Brees and company for more than a few series.

“It’s easier said than done when you’ve got arguably one of the best receivers and one of the best running backs in the game who has power and balance,” safety Lamarcus Joyner said.

Michael Thomas finished with a New Orleans-record 211 yards receiving, including a 72-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach. Alvin Kamara had 82 yards and two touchdowns on the ground to go with 34 yards receiving and another score.

And Brees went 25 of 36 for 346 yards and four touchdowns.

“When you play against a quarterback like that, you’ve got to try to get as much pressure as you can on him,” Donald said. “At times we did, but we’ve just got to be more consistent.”

Both teams scored touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, starting with Kamara’s 11-yard run and Todd Gurley’s 8-yard score.

Gurley’s score have him a TD in a Rams-record 12 straight games, passing Hall of Famer Elroy Hirsch.

The tenor changed when outside linebacker Samson Ebukam stripped Saints running back Mark Ingram and Donald recovered on the Saints 22. But four plays later, Johnny Hekker was ruled down just short of a first down on a fake field goal.

“We came into this game feeling like we needed to be aggressive. We wanted to be aggressive. That kind of embodies the identity we do have,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “It didn’t work out today, but that’s not going to stop of us from continuing to fight and make sure we’re making aggressive decisions that are also smart.”

New Orleans reeled off three consecutive touchdown drives following the stop, while Los Angeles missed a field goal and turned the ball over on an interception.

The Rams defense adjusted effectively in the third quarter, coming up with two straight stops while Los Angeles’ offense roared back into rhythm, eventually erasing a three-touchdown deficit and tying it at 35 on Jared Goff’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp and Gerald Everett’s 2-point conversion.

But Brees and Thomas stepped up when New Orleans (7-1) needed a big play.

“The offense came out and got points on the board and got an opportunity to get back in the game and win,” Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “But we just didn’t make the correct stops at the correct times.”

Thomas’ long touchdown reception with 3:52 left was followed on New Orleans’ next possession by Kamara’s clinching 2-yard run on fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes to play.

If the race for the top playoff seed in the NFC comes down to a tiebreaker between New Orleans and Los Angeles, the Saints will have it.

Sunday’s game might have been a preview of a future matchup between the teams with even more at stake.

“They’re the upper echelon and we are too in the NFC,” Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “They’re a great football team. Tremendous football team.”