RENTON — On Sunday in Inglewood, California, the Seahawks will come face to face with the latest — and one of the most extreme — examples of how difficult winning consistently in the NFL can be.
A season after their run to the Super Bowl title, the Los Angeles Rams sit at 3-8 and in disarray, without quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Aaron Donald and receiver Cooper Kupp due to injuries — players who account for more than $59 million of their $196 million salary cap for 2022.
“This has certainly not been ideal,” said Rams coach Sean McVay, who due to injuries has also had to start 11 offensive-line configurations in 11 games this season.
In Sunday’s 1:05 p.m. game against the Seahawks at SoFi Stadium, McVay will start John Wolford to replace Stafford, who is out because of concussion and neck injuries. The Rams also are expected to give some snaps to another backup, Bryce Perkins, who started last week.
Unless the Rams have a significant rebound in the last six weeks of the season, they are likely to go down as the worst defending Super Bowl champ of all time, a distinction held by the 1999 Broncos, who went 6-10 in the year after John Elway retired following consecutive titles.
But excuse the Seahawks if they have little sympathy for the Rams, having learned a few lessons of their own about the challenge of consistently winning in the NFL the past few weeks.
After four consecutive victories that improved their record to 6-3 and started to make the playoffs seem like almost a sure thing, the Seahawks have lost two in a row to the Bucs and Raiders. Seattle enters Sunday’s game outside the playoff picture.
“We have to get back on track and get going,” coach Pete Carroll said this past week.
Seattle, at least, is catching some breaks with injuries bedeviling the Rams — the Las Vegas line started with the Seahawks favored by three this week, and it was at seven by Friday after the news that Donald and Stafford were ruled out.
Wolford, 27, has just three career NFL starts. One came in the 2020 NFC wild-card playoff game against the Seahawks when Jared Goff was dealing with a thumb injury.
Wolford led the Rams to the Seattle 20-yard line on the second drive before he was knocked out of the game via a hit from Jamal Adams. Goff came on to lead the Rams to a 20-9 win. Wolford has started just one game since — a 36-24 loss to Arizona on Nov. 13 in which he suffered a neck injury.
To put it simply, the Seahawks have no excuse for not winning this game.
But then, that felt like the case last week against a Raiders team that came in at 3-7 and had played an overtime game the week before while Seattle was on its bye.
Instead, the Seahawks gave up 283 rushing yards, including 229 to Josh Jacobs — the most they have allowed to a running back in a game — and lost 40-34 in overtime.
The Seahawks were undone not just by a defense that gave up 576 total yards — including 86 to Jacobs on the winning play in OT — but a rushing offense that managed just 65 yards on 23 carries. That was the fewest yards allowed by the Raiders this season and the second consecutive week the Seahawks had no real rushing offense.
Seattle was also just 3 of 9 on third downs and is 4 of 18 the past two games.
“It’s really as a team, we are not focused enough,” receiver DK Metcalf said this past week. “I think we make too many little mistakes that come back to bite us in the third or fourth quarter, or late in the season. We have to be consistent and do our job first and worry about everything else later.”
It has put Seattle in an especially precarious position regarding a playoff berth that at the beginning of the season seemed unlikely. Now it would be a disappointment if the Seahawks don’t reach the playoffs.
Thanks to last month’s victory over the Giants (7-4) and a schedule among the easiest in the NFL, Seattle still has a 66% shot to make the playoffs, according to fivethirtyeight.com. That rises to 81% with a win Sunday and drops to 44% with a loss.
So yes, Sunday looms significant — an opportunity maybe far greater than envisioned before the season when the Rams appeared still a Super Bowl-caliber team. It also is a game that now seems like a must-win.
Quarterback Geno Smith, though, said this past week that the team’s mood remained the same as ever, while understanding the stakes of Sunday’s game.
“What’s great about this organization is that things never change whether we win or lose,” Smith said. “We are right back to work, and obviously there is a big sense of urgency though.
“We have to get things going in the right direction, get some wins in that column, because we are right in the thick of it now. Everyone is pretty much the same. No one has really changed, or no panic, or any frenzy, or anything like that, but there is definitely a sense of urgency, and guys are feeling the need to really be on it this week from a preparation standpoint and also from an execution standpoint once Sunday comes.”