SPORTS DIGEST: Rams break fans’ hearts again in playoff opener


January 11, 2018

It’s like they never left.

The Rams made it official Jan. 6. They are back in Los Angeles and breaking hearts again, just like they did in the 1960, ’70s and ’80s before they packed up the vans and headed to St. Louis.

Back in the day, it didn’t matter if it was George Allen coaching them in the ’60s, Chuck Knox coaching them in the ’70s or John Robinson coaching them in the ’80s.

The Rams would raise the hopes and expectations of their fans and then shatter them with a devasting defeat in the playoffs.

This time it was the Atlanta Falcons, who defeated the Rams, 26-13, Jan.6 in the wild card round of the National Football League playoffs, ending a season too soon for Rams fans.

The Rams got off to a horrible start, turning the ball over twice on special teams in the first quarter that gave the Falcons a 10-0 lead.

And after the Rams fought back to trail only 13-10 at halftime, the Falcons dominated the third quarter with two drives that led to field goals and essentially put the game out of reach.

It might as well have been the Minnesota Vikings or Dallas Cowboys, teams that used to take turns breaking the hearts of Rams’ fans 40 years ago.

The Rams had made great strides in winning back the hearts of many fans in their second year back in Los Angeles.

Under first-year head coach, Sean McVay, the Rams shocked the league by going 11-5 and winning the NFC Western Division.

But the two early turnovers put the Rams in an early hole and the Falcons running game in the second half wouldn’t let the Rams dig their way out.

“We’re able to look back on this year and take some positive examples of things that we can draw upon as we move forward,” McVay said after the game. “But, anytime that you come into a game, you always have the expectation to try to win and we felt very confident, … our anticipation and expectation was try to win the football game. Certainly I know that we’re disappointed, our players and coaches alike and we didn’t do enough to get it done tonight.”

The Falcons won the game by dominating the third quarter, taking up 13 minutes and seven seconds of the clock on two drives that both led to Matt Bryant field goals.

During those drives, the Falcons ran 26 plays and gained 121 yards.

Trailing 19-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Rams cut the lead to 19-13 on a 32-yard field goal by Sam Ficken. But the Falcons responded with an eight-play, 83-yard drive that ended on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones, wrapping up the win for the Falcons with more than five minutes left.

“I don’t think this game was too big for our players,” McVay said. “We’re a young football team, we didn’t make enough plays tonight to be able to get it done, but I don’t think that means it was too big for our guys. I do think that they’ll look at it and say, ‘How can we learn from the things that occurred in this game if we’re fortunate enough to even be in this position again?’

“It’s so difficult to win in this league, let alone get into the playoffs where you give yourself a chance to compete. I think our players appreciate that and it’s going to be great motivation as we go into the offseason program leading into next year.”

The youngest coach in the league, McVay did a fine job with the Rams. He revamped the offense, developing second-year quarterback Jared Goff into a franchise quarterback. After a rough second year last season, running back Todd Gurley regained his rookie form from 2015 and became an all-pro running back, leading the league with 19 touchdown and more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage.

McVay hired veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to take over the defense and it led the way for most of the year.

Aaron Donald remains one of the top pass rushers in the league and the rest of the defense followed his lead.

So the Rams go into an offseason worry about tweaking their roster instead of planning an overall like last year. It’s a healthy position to be in. With McVay, the Rams may have an outstanding young coach who can guide the team for many years.

After a rookie year when he went 0-9 as a starter, Goff looked like an NFL quarterback this season. He has lots of offensive weapons.

The Rams should be in the playoffs again next year. The question, already, is will they disappoint their fans again.

Rookie Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball has had to deal with comments his father Lavar has been making about the Lakers all season. The latest controversy came last week when Lavar said coach Luke Walton had lost the locker room. (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Lakers)

SPORTS DAD: Lavar Ball continues to be a caricature of the stereotypical sports dad. You’ve seen him at the local Little League baseball or girls softballs diamond, or maybe in the gym at the local high school or in the bleachers at youth or high school football games.

He’s the loud mouth who is constantly criticizing coaches, officials, other players, but never his own kid.

Eventually, he wears thin on everyone.

Ball is at that point now. Even in Lithuania, where he took his two youngest sons to play basketball after removing them from UCLA and Chino Hills High, Ball is still making noise.

Last week, he told an ESPN reporter that coach Luke Walton had lost the Lakers locker room and that no one wanted to play for him.

The Lakers were on a nine-game losing streak at the time, so Ball’s comments reached across the Atlantic Ocean and became news here because Ball said it.

Ball is by no means a basketball expert. He averaged two points a game as a college player and moved around from West Los Angeles and Long Beach City Colleges to Cal State Los Angeles and Washington State.

He has coached his sons in AAU ball where they play a run-and-gun style that is long on showmanship and short on fundamentals and defense. In other words, he is not another travel ball dad with a big mouth.

I’m sure UCLA coach Steve Alford is happy Ball took his son and went to Europe. He doesn’t have the distraction anymore.

The Lakers still have the distraction and will as long as Lonzo Ball is still a member of the team and won’t tell his dad to shut up.

Rookie Kyle Kuzma quickly defended Walton after Lavar Ball’s latest outburst and Walton took to kidding about Ball in a recent postgame comment.

If there is one person who knows about loud, opinionated fathers it is Walton. His father is basketball hall of famer Bill Walton, who has been known to say an outrageous thing or two while commentating on games for ESPN and other media.

Walton should take Ball aside and say “I understand what it’s like to have a dad like that,” and let it go.

The Lakers have now won two in a row so we won’t hear Ball roar again for awhile. Here’s hoping reporters lose his phone number.

TOP SPORTS STORIES: The Los Angeles Sports Council is asking for the public’s help in selecting the top Los Angeles sports stories for 2017.

A media panel has picked the nominees and the public can vote between now and Jan. 26.

Among the nominees are: The 2017 Rose Bowl between USC and Penn State, the Chargers moving to Los Angeles, Team USA winning the World Baseball Classic last March, Allyson Felix winning three medals at the IAAF World Championships in London last summer, the Rams turnaround season, Los Angeles winning the right to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, Justin Turner’s walk-off home run to defeat the Chicago Cubs in game two of the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers winning the National league pennant and advancing to the World Series for the first time in 29 years, Anaheim Duck teammates Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame together and USC winning the Pac 12 football championship.

You can vote at http://www.lasports.org/lagreatest_moments/poll/details/nominees.php.

The winner will be announced Feb. 6 at the 13th annual LA Sports Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

 

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