March 8, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Rams’ season ends in emotional NFL playoff loss to Packers

As the final minutes ticked off the clock, Aaron Donald stood on the sideline trying to fight back tears.

Going into Saturday’s NFC divisional-round playoff game against the top-seeded Green Bay Packers, a Rams defense led by its star defensive tackle had carried the team.

But with Donald limited because of a rib injury, the Rams had no answer for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The leading MVP candidate and future Hall of Famer looked every bit the part, passing for two touchdowns and running for another to send the Rams to a 32-18 defeat before a crowd of 7,439 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.

“This defense has been stout and phenomenal all year,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “It’s a tough result and it’s a tough finality of the season.

“But I don’t think it takes away from how great they were and how instrumental they were in us even getting to this point as a team.”

The Packers advanced to the NFC championship game, where they will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Rams’ season ended on a day with temperatures in the mid-30s and light snow.

“I love the scars that we were able to respond from,” McVay said. “There was a lot ebbs and flows this year.”

Most of the high points came courtesy of a defense under the direction of first-year coordinator Brandon Staley. The Rams led the NFL in fewest yards and points allowed. They were first in passing defense and second in sacks.

But with Donald playing reduced snaps, Rodgers and the Packers showed why they were the league’s highest-scoring offense.

Rodgers completed 23 of 36 passes for 296 yards. Early in the second quarter, he connected with star receiver Davante Adams for a one-yard touchdown. On the Packers’ next possession, he pump-faked a pass before running for a one-yard score.

Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers (90) and cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) walk off the field after Saturday’s season-ending 32-18 playoff loss to the Packers.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Rodgers iced the game with a 58-yard strike to receiver Allen Lazard with just under seven minutes left.

“Any type of defense we were in, he would just look up and whatever he saw, he would do the opposite of what we were showing, and it ended up working,” Rams safety John Johnson said.

The Rams did not sack Rodgers, and they hit him only once.

“I don’t know if I got touched hardly at all the entire night, other than scrambles getting outside the pocket,” Rodgers said.

The few times the Rams pressured Rodgers, he escaped and made plays that helped the Packers amass 484 yards, the most given up by the Rams this season. It was only the second time this season they gave up 30 or more points.

“He was doing what he does,” Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. “You try not to get caught up in it. You try to rush and you get after him, and he still makes those plays.

“You’re like, ‘Damn.’ You just hope he doesn’t find an open receiver — and it seemed nine out of 10 times he does.”

The Rams missed the few opportunities they had to create turnovers. Late in the first half Johnson and safety Troy Hill nearly intercepted passes. In the second half, the Rams forced running back AJ Dillon to fumble, but it bounced right to Rodgers.

“Being on the road, different weather, all-time great quarterback — we had some opportunities … but didn’t cash in,” Johnson said. “And that might have been the difference in the outcome of the game.”

Rodgers had help. Running back Aaron Jones rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown. Jamaal Will-iams rushed for 65 yards and Dillon added 27.

That was more than enough to offset a Rams offense, without injured receiver Cooper Kupp, that got another standout performance from rookie running back Cam Akers but missed several opportunities.

Quarterback Jared Goff, wearing gloves to protect his surgically repaired right thumb, completed 21 of 27 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown.

But that was no consolation for Goff.

“My job is to win the game,” he said. “There’s absolutely no moral victories, especially in the playoffs.”

The Rams wasted a chance to score a touchdown in the first quarter when, on a fourth and one at the Packers’ 14-yard line, guard Austin Corbett was penalized for a false start. The Rams were forced to settle for a field goal that tied the score 3-3.

“To unfortunately get a penalty and not get seven points there, I mean what a huge difference that could have been right there in the fourth quarter,” Rams lineman Andrew Whitworth said.

The Rams trailed 19-10 at halftime. The Packers extended their lead early in the third quarter after Jones broke off a 60-yard run on the first play of the second half, and then finished the drive with a touchdown run.

But the Rams pulled to within 25-18 on a touchdown run by Akers from the wildcat formation, and a hook-and-ladder lateral play to Akers for a two-point conversion.

“When we cut it to 25-18 and had that momentum starting to swing back our way, you could feel it,” Goff said.

Said McVay: “I really thought that was going to be our chance to get back and potentially go drive and score and tie the football game up — and you never know what happens.”

After a Packers punt, the Rams started at their six-yard line and got to the 32 before Kenny Clark sacked Goff on second down, forcing the Rams to punt.

“That was kind of our chance to really get back in the game and put some points on the board,” Goff said, “and unfortunately we missed it.”

The Rams forced Dillon to fumble on the second play of the ensuing possession, but Rodgers scooped up the ball. Three plays later, he faked a handoff, dropped back and hit Lazard in stride for a touchdown with 6:52 left.

The Rams’ last possession ended with Goff being sacked with just under five minutes left.

“There’s never a good way to have feelings right now, when there’s such finality to it and you’re not expecting it,” McVay said.