Certain moments are burned into your memory after covering a big event.
My memory of last year’s NFC Championship game at SoFi Stadium was less about what took place on the field and more about the scene after the Rams defeated the 49ers to advance to Super Bowl LVI.
Music reverberated from the Rams’ locker room adjacent to the postgame interview room and out spilled head coach Sean McVay from the wild celebration. Then came quarterback Matthew Stafford, who’d been acquired by the Rams before the season after toiling for 12 years in Detroit and winning nothing.
Then Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr. — two stars-for-hire the Rams brought in during the season as the final pieces to their all-in approach to win a title — took to the podium together.
Two weeks after that night, the Rams defeated the Bengals to win the Super Bowl at SoFi and it felt like the start of an extended run of success.
That run, however, ended abruptly. It ended in Week 1 this season, when the Rams were routed by the Bills, 31-10 at home.
That eye-opening result has bled out to a 3-6 record the Rams, who reside in last place in the NFC West, will bring to New Orleans on Sunday for a game they absolutely, positively must win if they’re going to keep alive their flickering chance to repeat.
At the start of the season, the Rams — by one statistical preseason analysis — had a 67 percent chance to make the playoffs. After their 27-17 home loss last Sunday to the Cardinals and backup quarterback Colt McCoy, the Rams’ chances of making the playoffs have dropped to 10 percent.
This has left them at a low point in the McVay tenure, which has been mostly defined by sustained success.
The Rams are ranked 31st in the NFL in offensive yards per game (282.7), 29th in scoring (16.4) and last in yards rushing (68.1).
Stafford is expected back in the lineup Sunday after he missed last week in concussion protocol, but he won’t have 2021 AP Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp to throw to. The team’s top receiver will be out at least four games after he suffered an ankle injury last week, had surgery and was placed on injured reserve.
What makes the Rams’ Super Bowl hangover most curious is the fact that they returned eight of the 11 starters on both sides of the ball. Two players not on the team this year include Miller, one of the league’s best pass rushers, and Beckham, who’s still recovering from the knee injury he suffered in the Super Bowl.
The Rams are entering dubious territory for Super Bowl winners.
Of the 56 Super Bowl champions, just 16 have missed the playoffs the following season. The last team to miss the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl was the Broncos in 2016, who had to deal with the retirement of quarterback Peyton Manning.
The Rams are on track to become just the seventh defending Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record — the last was the Buccaneers in 2003.
These are unsettled times in Los Angeles, where only months ago it looked like it would be sunny every day. With Stafford, Kupp and star defensive lineman Aaron Donald all contractually tied together for just two more seasons, the Rams’ window is slowly closing — particularly because they mortgaged so many draft picks to win it all last year.
Barring a significant turnaround in the coming weeks, the Rams are looking not only like one-and-done champions, but perhaps the most disappointing defending Super Bowl champion ever.