Nearly halfway through the fourth quarter, hope still lingered.
Hope for the Los Angeles Rams’ upset of the 15.5-point favorite Kansas City Chiefs, hope for the defending Super Bowl champions’ unlikely return to the postseason, hope that in the absence of their starting quarterback and top two receivers, the Rams could somehow show a spark of life that left reason to believe.
With 8:55 to play, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes eyed his third-and-goal options, stepping up in the pocket to aid a clean throw. His toss traveled a clean path…into the hands of Rams safety Nick Scott.
The Rams, trailing by just 10 points, would reclaim the ball with a chance to threaten.
The hope was short-lived. Because two plays later, the Chiefs returned the favor intercepting Rams third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins with immediate positioning in the red zone.
The Chiefs would again swipe Perkins the next drive, this time courtesy a tipped pass and subsequent catch.
The game, and likely the season, were out of reach.
The Chiefs ultimately won 26-10.
Sunday was far from the first day the Rams' playoff outlook looked bleak, and, per The New York Times' playoff path simulator, it's not really their mathematical elimination. The Times' simulator runs 84,476 scenarios through its system to determine likely outcomes. The major swing, it appears, would hit the Rams next week should they lose to their division-rival Seattle Seahawks, who top the NFC West.
Win out after this week? The Times simulator pegs the Rams' chances at a playoff berth at 65%. Lose next week, then win out? The postseason viability falls to 1%.
And even those scenarios are generous: The likelihood the 3-8 Rams win out with a slate including two Seattle bouts and a visit to the Los Angeles Charger is hard to imagine.
Injuries and absurd turnover on the offensive line (think: 11 lineup combinations in 11 games) spearheaded the Rams’ path to this point. An ineffective run game and generally broken offense were symptomatic of those two root causes. The combination has generated momentum against the return this season of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who missed Sunday’s contest with a neck strain and second stint in concussion protocol (the Rams have not said he has a concussion).
Sunday’s loss to the Chiefs was simply the latest in a series of unfortunate events for Los Angeles, Mahomes’ 27-of-42 day for 320 yards, a touchdown and an interception in addition to 36 rushing yards enough to withstand this languishing Rams team.
The Chiefs more than doubled the Rams’ scoring and yardage output – Kansas City outgained Los Angeles 437 yards to 198 – erasing the Rams’ most impressive game element: their defense holding the potent Chiefs to 1-of-6 in the red zone.
Perkins threw his first career touchdown in his first career start. But on the day, he managed just 100 passing yards, a touchdown and two interceptions on 13-of-23 passing. He led the Rams on the ground, too, with 44 yards on nine carries.