August 2, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Who will Rams’ Sean McVay throw at Seahawks in playoff game?

As he prepared his team for the NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday against the Seattle Seahawks, coach Sean McVay kept the Rams’ quarterback situation shrouded in mystery.

Will he start Jared Goff or John Wolford?

The answer probably will not be revealed publicly until near kickoff at Lumen Field in Seattle.

But otherwise there are few unknowns when it comes to the Rams (10-6) and the NFC West-champion Seahawks (12-4): They are playing for the third time this season.

The Rams won 23-16 at SoFi Stadium in November. The Seahawks won 20-9 two weeks ago at Lumen Field.

“Now it’s more like the tiebreaker,” Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said. “They got the division, and they were happy about that. Now they have to see us again for a third time.”

Said wide receiver Robert Woods: “What better team and rival to go against?”

Veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth intimated that the scenario could favor the Rams.

“It’s a little more daunting on the team that probably won [the last game] because it’s more like, ‘Hey, you did enough to win that game, but you’re going to have to put that performance together again to win again,’” said Whitworth, who is expected to play for the first time since suffering a knee injury against the Seahawks in November. “It’s almost like having to knock out a guy again in a fight after you just beat him.”

The Rams traveled to the Pacific Northwest with the NFL’s stingiest defense. The Rams finished the season ranked first in fewest yards and points given up.

But the offense, the hallmark of McVay-coached playoff teams in 2017 and 2018, did not score a touchdown in the final two games.

Goff suffered a broken right thumb during the defeat to the Seahawks less than two weeks ago. He played through the injury and then had surgery the next day.

Goff sat out the regular-season finale against the Arizona Cardinals — the first meaningful game he missed since becoming the Rams starter in 2016 — and said this week he was “progressing.” But he did not proclaim that he would play in, let alone start, what would be his fifth playoff game.

In 2017, Goff started in a wild-card loss to the Atlanta Falcons. The next season, he led the Rams to playoff victories over the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints before losing to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

“I’m just continuing to feel good, get better and continue to heal this thumb and making sure it’s ready to go,” Goff said.

The running ability of backup quarterback John Wolford helps the Rams’ offense.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

On Sunday, in his first NFL regular-season game, Wolford’s first pass against the Cardinals was intercepted. But he settled in and helped lead the Rams to an 18-7 victory.

Wolford said this week that he was “less nervous” and more comfortable now that the first game is out of the way.

“You’re always confident in your abilities but, candidly, you never really know until you actually play in a game,” he said. “I think I’ve definitely gained some confidence by going out there and playing in a pretty meaningful game.”

McVay was coy about his plan, and joked he might not reveal the starter until 1:39 p.m., a minute before kickoff.

“You feel good about potentially having both these guys available,” he said.

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said he has confidence in Goff and Wolford and does not have a preference about who should start.

“I have faith in both those guys,” he said. “Whether its J.G. or John, I think we can get the job [done] with both of those guys or either of those guys.”

Ramsey and Donald lead a defense that will try to control Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a savvy ninth-year pro with a Super Bowl ring.

The Rams are familiar with the Seahawks. And the Seahawks are familiar with the Rams.

“When it comes down to that,” Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said, “it’s more like a pickup game at the YMCA.”

This is the first time that McVay, in his fourth season with the Rams, has had to prepare for playing an opponent a third time.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has experience. In 1997, he coached the New England Patriots to two regular-season victories over the Miami Dolphins, and another in a wild-card playoff game.

“It isn’t different, you just have more information,” Carroll said, adding, “It’s just familiarity.

“It’s really kind of a fun part of it for the coaches and all, because we have a lot of stuff to work with. They do, we do, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Rams safety John Johnson is among Rams players in the final year of their contracts. A victory Saturday extends the season and their Rams careers. A defeat might end both.

“There’s a sense of urgency out there,” Johnson said. “We want to play as long as we can. … It’s just like, ‘Hey this might be it.’

“And we don’t want it to be it.”