It’s not ridiculous to contemplate the possibility of an unbeaten season for the Los Angeles Rams.
They stand at 8-0 halfway through their schedule. They are outscoring opponents by an average of 13.6 points per game. They have not one, but two MVP candidates on their offense in quarterback Jared Goff and tailback Todd Gurley. Their defense is formidable. They have a highly celebrated second-year coach, Sean McVay, to ensure that everything fits together properly.
But to chase an unbeaten season and the prominent place in history that would come with it, the Rams must win Sunday in New Orleans against the Saints, who just might be the league’s next-best team at the moment. It is a difficult assignment, even for a team as dominant as the Rams have been this season.
“The season that they’re having, undefeated, they’ve played exceptionally well on both sides of the ball,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said when he met with reporters this week. “Their scoring differential is off the charts. They’re scoring a ton of points on offense and not giving up very much on defense and just doing everything right that you would say is winning football.”
There will be further tests for the Rams even if they win Sunday. A Nov. 19 matchup in Mexico City with the Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, perhaps the MVP front-runner, looms. Consecutive games in December on the road against the Chicago Bears and at home against the defending Super Bowl champs, the Philadelphia Eagles, promise to be challenging.
The pressure would mount if the Rams get closer to surpassing the feat of the 2007 New England Patriots, who went 16-0 during the regular season and won two playoff games before losing to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, one victory shy of the first 19-0 season in NFL history. McVay would face a decision late in the regular season about either playing to win or sitting key starters like Goff, Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald if the top seed in the NFC gets wrapped up early.
But all of that comes only if the Rams beat the Saints, who are 6-1 and on a six-game winning streak. The Rams barely escaped from last Sunday’s game at home against the Green Bay Packers, winning by a score of 29-27 when Green Bay’s Ty Montgomery opted against a touchback and lost a fumble on a kickoff return to keep quarterback Aaron Rodgers from a chance at crafting a game-winning drive.
“I think they’re really good,” Rodgers said after that game. “I think we’re pretty good, too.”
The Green Bay defense frustrated the Rams in the first half with superb coverage on the outside receivers and some pass-rush pressure on Goff. But the Rams relied on Gurley thereafter. The Packers opened up their offense in the second half and made the Rams look beatable. But to Rodgers, there was no consolation in that.
“There’s no momentum gained from a loss, in my opinion,” he said. “We can play with anybody. But we knew that before this game. It wasn’t like there’s some revelation like: ‘Oh, okay now, yeah, we can probably play with the Rams.’ No, we can play with anybody. But I’m disappointed because our defense really played well and we were just really slow going in the first half and couldn’t get a lot of things going. And by the time we got back ahead, we just had one drive to finish the game off and didn’t come up with it.”
The Packers game led to questions about the sturdiness of the Rams defense, overseen by revered coordinator Wade Phillips. But the Rams made a move to fill their need for an off-the-edge pass rusher by trading for Jacksonville’s Dante Fowler Jr. shortly before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Fowler never has fulfilled the promise of being the third overall selection in the 2015 NFL draft. But he could thrive playing alongside Donald and fellow Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
“Every Wade Phillips defense I’ve gone up against has had a really good pass rush, and they manufacture ways to obviously get that pressure,” Brees said. “These guys, man, they’ve got a ton of great players up front, and then obviously they’re good on the back end as well. So they fly around. They play fast. They play aggressive. That’s what makes them so good.”
NFC supremacy won’t be decided Sunday in New Orleans. Much will remain to be play out even if the Rams prevail.
But whether the Rams can retain their opportunity to chase history will be at stake.
“It’s exciting,” Brees said. “It’s a great challenge. But here’s the thing: It’s one game. And yes, it’s a big game. Yes, it’s against a great opponent who is undefeated and is playing exceptionally well right now. But for us, it’s just another opportunity for us to take the next step, to continue to improve. I like the track that we’re on. But we can still get better.”
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