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The Rams have plenty of work to do in regrouping from their Super Bowl debacle

It was a Super Bowl in which the Los Angeles Rams perhaps did not rightfully belong. And they did little to take advantage of the special circumstances that got them there. But after losing Sunday night in Atlanta to the New England Patriots, the Rams were left with no choice but to vow to regroup and do their best to get back.

“It’s a tremendous experience,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “To be able to the play for the championship at every level of sports like I’ve had the opportunity to do, it’s something I’ll always cherish. It’s still a special experience …. [The goal is to] find a way to get better and find a way to improve the team and get back.”

When so little went right for the Rams, who failed to score a touchdown and fell, 13-3, in the lowest-scoring Super Bowl in history, it was easy to lose sight of the gains that have been made during Coach Sean McVay’s two seasons in L.A.

McVay made Jared Goff into a franchise quarterback. He elevated tailback Todd Gurley to being an MVP candidate. He transformed the Rams’ offense into one of the league’s most productive units and, maybe more than anyone else, is responsible for the NFL’s return to Los Angeles getting off to a strong start.

Yet when he admittedly was outmaneuvered badly Sunday by Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, it left room to wonder if the recent McVay mania has been a bit overdone. Yes, McVay is a terrific young coach who has rapidly established the Rams as winners and contenders. But he is not on Belichick’s level at this point, as Belichick made abundantly clear in Atlanta. Did teams that spent their coaching searches attempting to find the next McVay act too fast?

“You can always learn,” McVay said Sunday night. “Certainly this is going to be a very humbling, tough one that you learn from. But you have to demonstrate that mental toughness you talk about. That’s all I know how to do.”

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Clearly there remains work to be done. The Rams almost certainly would not have beaten New Orleans in the NFC championship game if not for the now infamous officiating blunder that victimized the Saints late in the fourth quarter. Given that reprieve, they went to the Super Bowl and did next to nothing against Belichick’s defense.

Goff, in particular, was made to look very ordinary by the Patriots. But Whitworth said he has no doubt his young teammate will rebound.

“It’s just how you respond to it,” Whitworth said. “And so for him, I think it’ll be important to respond the right way, which I know, knowing the kid, that he will. This will make him a stronger player. I have no doubt [about] this franchise and Sean and the direction they’re headed, and Jared’s gonna be a special player.”

There also were questions about Gurley, who was a non-factor in the offense in both the NFC championship game and the Super Bowl. He continued to insist Sunday night that he’s healthy after sitting out the final two games of the regular season because of knee inflammation.

If Gurley was hurt, the Rams probably won’t admit it, given the possibility that they could be accused of running afoul of the NFL’s injury disclosure guidelines. But if Gurley was healthy, McVay must figure out why the running back disappeared from the offense in the season’s most consequential games.

The Rams’ offensive line struggled in the Super Bowl after performing extremely well all season, and that unit might need reinforcements. Whitworth said he’s undecided about retiring or continuing to play. There also has been retirement speculation about center John Sullivan. Guard Rodger Saffold is eligible for free agency.

Other prospective free agents include defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, safety Lamarcus Joyner, linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. and running back C.J. Anderson. There has been talk that the team could release a high-priced cornerback, Aqib Talib or Marcus Peters, for additional salary cap flexibility. So the supporting cast entering next season for defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who was named the NFL’s defensive player of the year Saturday for a second straight season, could be in flux.

“In my mind, we were supposed to win this game,” Donald said Sunday. “But we didn’t. They made more plays than we did …. This is what you work for, to be playing in this game and to be on this stage. When you feel like you didn’t do enough to win that and be part of success, it just makes you want to work even harder. We lost. We fell short. But I’m going to get better and find ways to be better. I know we’ll be back. We just have to keep working.”

The Rams’ task is formidable. The Patriots on Sunday became the first team since the 1972 Miami Dolphins to win the Super Bowl after losing it in the previous season. It has never been easy to be the Super Bowl loser, and the Rams’ defeat was particularly unsightly. But some were doing their best to remember what went right for so much of the season.

“You’re talking to a guy who had never won a playoff game,” said Whitworth, who had played previously for the Cincinnati Bengals. “So it’s a good year when you made it to the championship and had a chance to hoist the trophy. We didn’t do enough. So you’re sick about that. You’re going to look at yourself harshly and see what it is that made us fall short. … You’ve got to take a lot of pride in what we were able to do and the football games we were able to win, which was a lot of them. … We just kind of wanted to finish it with a championship.”

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