Los Angeles Rams
Free-falling: Rams on pace for worst Super Bowl hangover in NFL history
Los Angeles Rams

Free-falling: Rams on pace for worst Super Bowl hangover in NFL history

Updated Jan. 17, 2023 10:58 a.m. ET

Sean McVay is traveling down unfamiliar territory just one season after experiencing the ultimate high of a Super Bowl victory.

The defending-champion Los Angeles Rams dropped to 3-8 and the NFC West division cellar after last week's road loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The setback was L.A.'s fifth straight, and the Rams now have the most losses in one season since McVay took over the team in 2017.

Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for L.A. this season. Quarterback Matthew Stafford dealt with lingering elbow tendinitis during the offseason that required an anti-inflammatory injection, limiting his reps during training camp. Then during the regular season, the 34-year-old QB missed two games in November because of two stints in the NFL's concussion protocol over the past three weeks. Stafford also is nursing a neck injury.

What is wrong with the Rams?

After Week 10, the "FOX NFL Sunday" crew discussed the problems facing last year's Super Bowl champs.

L.A.'s top receiver, Cooper Kupp, is on the injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain that required surgery. The team's No. 2 receiver, Allen Robinson, is out for the year with a foot injury.

The Rams have been ravaged by injuries along the offensive line, playing 11 different combinations in 11 straight games. And now All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald has a high-ankle sprain that could keep him out of Sunday's home contest against the Seattle Seahawks (4:05 p.m. ET on FOX).

Only 11 of L.A.'s 22 projected starters at the beginning of the regular season are healthy enough to be expected to play this weekend. 

Even McVay took one on the chin last Sunday, getting hit in the jaw when eager tight end Roger Carter Jr. slammed into him while trying to enter the game from the sideline. McVay, who kept coaching after the collision, joked that he's limited this week.

Facing his former team in the Seahawks for the first time, veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner understands there's no room for excuses in the NFL. 

"Obviously, when you lose it's frustrating," Wagner said. "There's really nothing to be happy about. You're proud of how we fought. But at the end of the day, the name of this business is winning. So, if you don't win, it's not a great feeling." 

Asked if he's considered shutting down his frontline players like Stafford, Kupp and Donald for the rest of the season based on where his team sits in the standings, McVay said he will take it on a case-by-case basis.

"There's a lot of stuff that goes into these games," McVay said. "And I think as a competitor, for those players and really for our guys, you want to be mindful of all the things that go into that, while also being smart. So, those are factors, but we also want to compete to get the results that we want. But it certainly has been something that I don't think anyone could have predicted. When it rains, it pours." 

The Rams are in danger of making some dubious history, headed toward the worst season by a defending Super Bowl champion ever. The current record holder is the 1999 Denver Broncos. That team finished 6-10 a season after Denver won the second of back-to-back NFL titles, finishing the regular season 14-2 in John Elway's final year. 

Only six defending Super Bowl champs have finished with losing records, although 16 have failed to reach the postseason the following year. The most recent defending champ to not reach the playoffs was Denver (9-7) in 2016. 

Much like the Broncos more than two decades ago, McVay's Rams are looking at a significant rebuilding effort this offseason. They've already started that process by evaluating young players during the final stretch of games — like rookie running back Kyren Williams, speedy receiver Tutu Atwell and quarterback Bryce Perkins

McVay will have to decide if he wants to go along for the ride. The 36-year-old coach signed a new deal last offseason, but he also had offers to pursue a career in TV as an NFL analyst. That gig could be a temptation rather than the arduous challenge of rebuilding the Rams.

Veteran stars like Stafford and Donald could mull retirement against the uphill climb of revamping the Rams. Other high-dollar players like Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Floyd could be possible trade chips to move for draft compensation as the team looks to create more young depth on both sides of the football. 

According to Over the Cap, the Rams are $5 million over the projected salary cap for next year, making the rebuilding process tougher for McVay and general manager Les Snead. 

The Rams have no first-round pick in 2023 because of the Stafford trade, but they still own six selections overall (four after the fifth round) along with a projected four compensatory picks because of players lost in free agency. 

Los Angeles may have to tweak its "F--- them picks" roster-building philosophy of securing premium players in their prime for premium draft choices in favor of a more traditional draft-and-develop approach to turn things around. 

"Once this season does end, you are really able to take a step back and use the entire inventory of information that you've gathered to absolutely apply these in a tangible way that can hopefully elicit the desired results," McVay said. 

"So that these are things that you can avoid and try to say, ‘I never want to go through something like this ever again.'"

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Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.


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