Los Angeles has one hell of a football team on its hands.
The Rams, playing in front of tens of thousands of empty seats at the Coliseum, beat the Saints on Sunday to improve to 8-3 on the season — and to establish themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Yes, I just said “Rams” and “Super Bowl” in the same sentence. Los Angeles absolutely has that kind of team. These aren’t Jeff Fisher’s Rams.
It starts with quarterback Jared Goff, last year’s first overall draft pick who was absolutely awful as a rookie. This year, playing for new coach Sean McVay in a much better offensive system, Goff looks great. His 354 yards yesterday against a very good Saints pass defense represented maybe his best game to date. Over his last four games, Goff has 1,245 passing yards, nine touchdowns and one interception. This kid is good.
It helps that the Rams have three talented receivers in Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins, although yesterday against the Saints the Rams were playing without Woods, their No. 1 receiver, and they didn’t miss a beat. It also helps that the Rams have one of the NFL’s most talented running backs in Todd Gurley. And it helps that the Rams signed left tackle Andrew Whitworth this offseason, one of the most important free agent signings in the NFL this year.
But the Rams may actually be better on defense and special teams than they are on offense. McVay made a great move when he hired Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator, and Phillips has done a superb job with the Rams’ defense this year. That defense is led by Aaron Donald, a defensive player of the year candidate. And the Rams’ special teams is led by one of the best kickoff returners in the league in Pharoh Cooper, one of the best kickers in the league in Greg Zuerlein, and one of the best punters in the league in Johnny Hekker.
So Los Angeles has one of the best teams in the league. The big question facing the NFL in its Los Angeles experiment is whether they can get SoCal to care. Last year, when the Rams first announced they would move from St. Louis, ticket sales were strong. But that interest faded because the Jeff Fisher Rams were a bad team with a boring offense. Now the Sean McVay Rams are a good team with a thrilling offense, but the fans aren’t back. It would be a shame if these Rams didn’t get the appreciation they deserve.
Here are my other thoughts on Sunday’s game.
The Patriots dynasty keeps marching along. By winning their ninth game of the season on Sunday, the Patriots clinched their 17th consecutive winning record, the most for any franchise in NFL history. For the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady Patriots to do that in this age of NFL parity is incredible.
Julio Jones is sensational. Jones had his third career 250-yard receiving game for the Falcons on Sunday. He’s the only player in NFL history who has more than one 250-yard receiving game. The last six 250-yard receiving games in the NFL have been by Julio Jones, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson. Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson being on that list shows how rare a 250-yard receiving game is.
John Fox looks done. The Bears’ 31-3 loss to the Eagles Sunday felt like it could be the loss that signaled the end of the John Fox era in Chicago. No one was expecting the Bears to win, but they don’t even look like a professional football team. They were thoroughly dominated on both sides of the ball. Everyone knew the Bears were a rebuilding team, but they should have shown more improvement in three years under Fox than they have shown. It’s just not working.
Mohamed Sanu is the king of small sample size passing stats. Sanu, the Falcons’ No. 2 receiver, didn’t match Jones’s sensational receiving stats, but he did make a great throw on a trick play for a 51-yard touchdown pass to Jones. Sanu has a great arm and has thrown six passes in his career, completing all six of them for 228 yards and three touchdowns, with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Sanu also became just the second player in NFL history to have two games of 50 yards receiving and 50 yards passing. The first was Tom “The Bomb” Tracy of the 1950s and 1960s Steelers.
Nothing goes right for the Browns. Things are just miserable in Cleveland, where the Browns are now 0-11. Even when something appears to go right — DeShone Kizer made maybe the best throw of his young NFL career on Sunday — it goes wrong: Corey Coleman dropped that beautiful Kizer pass in the end zone. The ball went through Coleman’s hands, hit him in the chest right between the numbers, and fell to the ground. And not that it’s a big deal compared to all the Browns’ other draft mistakes, but Zane Gonzalez, the rookie kicker they drafted in the seventh round this year, is pretty terrible. Cleveland continues to be the worst franchise in the NFL.
Los Angeles may host two playoff games. I already talked about the Rams, but the Los Angeles Chargers are now just a game out of first place in the AFC West after the Chiefs lost on Sunday. And while I mentioned that the Rams are struggling to sell tickets, that’s nothing compared to the Chargers, who have virtually no fans at all in their new home. The Chargers play in a tiny 27,000-seat soccer stadium, and even there they can sell out only when several thousand fans of the road team take a trip to Los Angeles. It would be truly embarrassing for the NFL if both Los Angeles teams hosted playoff games and both teams failed to sell out their stadiums, but that might just happen in six weeks.