The Rams waited 10 days to respond, a seeming eternity for a defending Super Bowl champion embarrassed in its season opener.
Coach Sean McVay and his players were eager to show that signs of a Super Bowl hangover were vastly overstated. They looked forward to demonstrating they could punch back.
And as it turned out Sunday, they also needed to survive nearly blowing a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Atlanta Falcons.
All-Pro safety Jalen Ramsey all but ensured the win with a late interception in the end zone, and the Rams came out on top of a wild finish for a 31-27 victory at SoFi Stadium.
“Holy hell,” McVay said. “I need a couple drinks.”
McVay probably wasn’t the only one.
It was last February when an inebriated group of Rams players and coaches stood on a stage after a Super Bowl parade and proclaimed their desire to “run it back” and become the first team in nearly two decades to repeat as Super Bowl champion.
But an embarrassing 31-10 defeat to the Buffalo Bills at SoFi Stadium put McVay and his players on the defensive.
“Until you get punched in the face,” McVay said last week. “You really find out about people. And that’s what I love is the opportunity to respond.”
On Sunday, the Rams initially came out and looked like a Super Bowl contender. A diversified offense that included receiver Ben Skowronek lined up in the backfield and receiver Allen Robinson getting targets moved the ball and scored points. The defense came up with big plays and shut down the Falcons.
Then it all started to unravel.
“That was definitely an interesting one at the end,” said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who passed for three touchdowns, with two interceptions. “Probably not the craziest I’ve been a part of but, you know, it happens.
“This is NFL football. It’s hard to win.”
And sometimes it won’t be pretty.
“It’s an ugly win, but it’s a win,” safety Nick Scott said, adding, “It was on display, who we are and who we can be.
“We just got to be able to sustain that on defense, offense and special teams. Just got to do it the whole game.”
The Rams made it look easy through three-plus quarters.
Stafford tossed two touchdown passes to Cooper Kupp and one to Robinson, the high-profile offseason addition who had been all but invisible in the opener. Running back Darrell Henderson ran hard for a touchdown.
Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant intercepted a pass and returned it 51 yards to set up a touchdown. And the defense limited the Falcons to a field goal as the Rams built a 28-3 lead.
But after the Rams took 31-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, the mistakes began.
The Falcons returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to pull to within 31-25. Kupp’s fumble after a reception gave Falcons the ball at the Rams’ 37-yard line.
With under 90 seconds left, quarterback Marcus Mariota threw a pass toward receiver Bryan Edwards in the end zone but Ramsey leaped, caught the ball and returned it 23 yards.
“He let it float up there for his receiver,” said Ramsey, who rebounded from an admittedly subpar game against the Bills, “and when I get an opportunity like that, I feel like I can go up there and get it as well.”
The Rams ran three plays before receiver Brandon Powell took a snap and ran backward to take a safety and run time off the clock. Justin Hollins sacked Mariota before he could throw a desperation pass from midfield to end the game.
McVay said the Rams have “many things to clean up.”
Despite the victory, his team must be more poised and resilient, he said.
“Very uncharacteristic, but it happened and we still found a way,” McVay said. “And unless they tell me you get more points for being able to win by more points, I don’t really care.
“We found a way to get it done.”
His players agreed.
“Obviously, that’s not exactly how we would like to finish game,” Ramsey said, “But for us to not play our best, especially down the stretch, and still come out with a win, that’s something that we can be glad and be happy about.”
After splitting two games at home, the Rams now embark on consecutive trips to play the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers in NFC West games.
Their goal is to return to the Super Bowl and do what no team has done since the 2004 New England Patriots repeated as champion.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner played 10 seasons and won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks before he signed with the Rams last March.
How the Rams won the game Sunday does not matter, he said.
“At the end of the season, when all is said and done, you won’t remember that,” he said. “You won’t remember the ugly or pretty.
“You’ll remember a win.”