Rams’ Super Bowl repeat quest begins with ugly whimper vs. Bills

Seven months ago on this field, the Rams celebrated under a blizzard of confetti.

Thursday night, they were the confetti.

Shredded, shot into the air, and left in tiny pieces on the SoFi Stadium floor.

In their first game since winning the Super Bowl championship here in February, the Rams provided not an exciting encore, but a sour sequel.

Did we really need another Hangover?

It’s a long season and little can be gained from making broad assumptions from one game, but suffice to say, the Rams opened their 2022 season as if they were still sweating out that boozy championship parade.

The Buffalo Bills are Super Bowl favorites and a team on a mission and blah, blah, blah but, seriously, their 31-10 victory looked and felt more like a Rams loss.

Everything the Rams were in defeating the Cincinnati Bengals on their last game on this field…they were not.

Everything the Rams are supposed to be in attempting to become the first team in nearly two decades to repeat as champions…thus far they are not.

Before the game, on the giant videoboard, the Rams superimposed one of their championship rings on the head of a Bills fan.

In response, the fan angrily flashed his middle finger.

It never got any prettier.

“Tonight was a humbling night,” said coach Sean McVay.

The evening started with the unveiling of the 2021 championship banner, hanging in one end zone next to the 1999 St. Louis Rams title banner, gloriously shining.

By the end of the night, that banner was shrouded in darkness.

“We can definitely play better than that,” said quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Hope so.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by Bills defensive end Gregory Rousseau in the third quarter.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by Bills defensive end Gregory Rousseau in the third quarter. Buffalo finished the night with seven sacks.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Bills bludgeoned their way to a 10-0 lead, the Rams pushed back to a 10-all halftime tie, then the Bills completely dominated the second half in exposing all sorts of cracks in the Rams glittery armor.

On a day when news broke that Stafford’s elbow injury was perhaps more serious than first believed, he was erratic and limited, throwing short, throwing wide, and throwing three passes that were intercepted.

“I can try to get the ball out quicker, get it to them in better spots…play within myself as much as I can… keep leading, keep fighting,” said Stafford.

The Rams running attack, with Cam Akers carrying the ball just three times for zilch, was barely visible, collecting just 52 yards and none of significance.

The Rams offensive line, in the wake of the retirement of leader Andrew Whitworth, was awful, allowing seven sacks of a harried Stafford.

“That’s not an offensive line stat, that’s a team stat,” said Stafford. “I need to do a better job of helping those guys out.”

The Rams defense, with Aaron Donald quiet and new leader Bobby Wagner even quieter, was steamrolled. Even though they had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries, they also allowed 413 yards including 56 yards rushing from Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who simply ran over people, including shoving his way four yards for a touchdown.

It was ugly. It was unusual. For a championship franchise that rarely loses games or moments like this — McVay was 5-0 in season openers — it was surprisingly unbecoming.

Midway through the fourth quarter, some idiots ran on the field waving red smoke bombs, but even the red clouds weren’t enough to obscure the mess.

McVay blamed it on himself. Of course, he did. He always does.

“There’s no way to put it than, I didn’t do a good enough job,” he said. “It starts with me.”

The Rams indeed seemed out of rhythm, back on their heels, rarely engaged in the fight. Their play calling appeared to consist entirely of Stafford handing the ball to Darrell Henderson Jr. or passing it to Kupp. Their celebrated new wide receiver Allen Robinson? He was targeted twice and caught one ball.

“You’ve got to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I got to be better within the framework of my role,’’ said McVay. “That’s exactly what I’m going to do, that’s what I know our coaches are going to do, that’s what our players are going to do.”

McVay was aware of opportunity lost, of the blown chance to put on a celebration show for a national television audience.

This was the night the Rams could announce to the football world that, “We’re back!”

Instead, it was, “Where are they?”

And now it’s, “Where are they going?”

“I feel a sense of letting a lot of people down that I care about,” said McVay. “I’m not going to run away from the mistakes I made tonight. We’re going to fix this.”

The Bills marched 75 yards on the game’s first drive, jamming the ball down the Rams’ throats for eight plays before fooling them with a play-action pass from Allen to a wide-open Gabe Davis for a 26-yard touchdown.

Midway through the second quarter they added a 41-yard field goal by Tyler Bass after a 45-yard drive following an interception by Dane Jackson off a horrible Stafford pass that sailed woefully behind Tyler Higbee.

But after the Rams tied it up, the second half began with more Bills’ domination.

After Stafford fumbled and took his fourth sack on a third-down play, the Bills took over and steamrolled the Rams defense for 58 yards on eight plays that led to a go-ahead seven-yard touchdown pass from Allen to Isaiah McKenzie.

At one bruising point during the drive, Allen finished an eight-yard run with a brutal stiff-arm of Nick Scott.

At another bruising point, Devin Singletary finished an eight-yard completion by running over David Long Jr.

The Bills then reeled off an 89-yard touchdown drive to start the fourth quarter, followed by a 53-yard touchdown pass that Stefon Diggs caught beyond the reach of Jalen Ramsey. On this night, even the Rams superstars were not immune to embarrassment.

The Rams comeback attempt appropriately ended with a high Stafford pass that Kupp tipped into the hands of Jordan Poyer, and the stands quickly emptied.

“Just chapter one of a guaranteed 17 chapters we have,” said McVay. “Looking forward to coming out swinging.”

This is indeed only the beginning, and coming out swinging is good. But goodness, that was one whopper of a strikeout.

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