PITTSBURGH — Aaron Donald’s homecoming was spoiled, as the Los Angeles Rams’ hopes of returning to the playoffs, never mind the Super Bowl, faded quickly into the chilly Pittsburgh night.
The offense faltered, the defense produced two turnovers and scored a touchdown but couldn’t overcome the stubborn Pittsburgh Steelers in a 17-12 loss.
The Rams, who at 5-4 remain in third place in the NFC West, have struggled to find their way in 2019 following a discombobulating loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
On Sunday, they had extra time coming off a bye week to prepare for the uneven Steelers, who have rallied behind backup quarterback Mason Rudolph. However, preparation didn’t appear to be the issue, as the same inconsistencies the team has suffered throughout the season, mostly on offense, appeared once again.
Entering Sunday, the Rams were 10-0 against teams in the AFC in the regular season since Sean McVay took over as coach in 2017. This loss ended that streak.
Describe the game in two words: Who needs two words when one will do? UGLY. The Rams turned the ball over four times, had 10 penalties for 95 yards and were unable to establish any offensive momentum.
QB Breakdown: Behind an offensive line that struggled to keep the pressure away, Jared Goff struggled to hold onto the ball and connect with receivers. Goff completed 22 of 41 passes for 243 yards, with two interceptions. The Rams were 1 of 14 on third-down conversions. In the second quarter, Goff was sacked and fumbled, as safety Minkah Fitzpatrick recovered and returned the takeaway 43 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead. On the opening series of the second half, after converting on third down for the first in nine tries, Goff threw a pass that was intercepted by Joe Haden.
A game after receiver Cooper Kupp caught seven passes for a career-high 220 yards and a touchdown, the Rams’ go-to slot receiver did not catch a pass despite Goff targeting him four times. The offensive line, which lost center Brian Allen in the first quarter to a knee injury and later right tackle Rob Havenstein, provided their quarterback no favors, as Goff was sacked four times and under duress throughout the game. With the game on the line, Goff was picked off by Fitzpatrick on a deflected pass with 20 seconds left, sealing the Rams’ fate.
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Promising trend: The defense forcing takeaways and scoring points. The Rams produced two turnovers and nine points. Outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. set the tone on the opening series, when Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey airmailed a bad shotgun snap that Fowler recovered and returned 25 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a quick 7-0 lead 14 seconds into the game.
Fowler, who is playing on a one-year deal worth up to $12 million, is having a career-best season that includes 6.5 sacks. Later in the first half, cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman stripped receiver James Washington after a 34-yard catch. Linebacker Cory Littleton recovered the fumble. In the fourth quarter, with the Steelers deep in their own territory, Donald sacked Rudolph for a safety, pulling the Rams to within 14-12. Donald, playing in Pittsburgh for the first time in his six seasons as a pro, finished with a half-sack and three quarterback hits.