INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Exhausted, elated and admittedly a little bewildered, Rams head coach Sean McVay walked to the desk after a 17-16 win over Las Vegas on Thursday night.
“Just as we drafted it,” he said dryly.
The Rams acquired quarterback fallen from football grace Baker Mayfield on waivers Tuesday afternoon. Two days later, Mayfield completed a 98-yard touchdown with 1:45 left to tie the Raiders at 16 points with 15 seconds left. Kicker Matt Gay scored the extra run and safety Taylor Rapp intercepted Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr as time expired to seal the winning effort.
It was frankly unbelievable given the circumstances.
“I’m always kind of like, ‘what’s going on right now?'” McVay said.
Mayfield arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday evening, and it takes about an hour to travel from the airport to the team’s training facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
The Rams’ Wednesday practice (a “Friday” due to the short week) consisted mostly of red-zone work and throwing and receiving drills. Mayfield threw to a group of receivers currently without No. 1 and No. 2 Cooper Kupp (ankle) and Allen Robinson (foot), and shook hands with a group of offensive linemen who had 12 different combinations in 13 matches. McVay and his coaching staff set up two 10-game periods for Mayfield, running and passing, so he could at least start getting his feet wet in their offense. That’s it. They also had to give him a crash course in their silent count, because not only did Mayfield fit into their midweek plan, but the Rams also knew they would be hosting a loud and very crowd of Raiders. populated in their home stadium.
“What a quick study,” McVay said, “I mean, he arrived about five minutes ago. … I’m really happy for these players, these coaches. It’s a great testament to the resilience of this group. Man, you forget what winning looks like (after six straight losses), and it sure is fun.
All in all, Mayfield maybe, perhaps threw around 50 in his first 40 hours with his new team before taking the field in the first quarter on Thursday night, a series after substitute John Wolford (suffering from a neck injury) started the game and either released three times.
“I’ve never seen anything like what Baker did,” said right tackle and team captain Rob Havenstein. “He arrived, what, on Tuesday? Unbelievable. The hard work, effort and mindset of the boys, attack, defense and special teams actually put on a full performance there. … I couldn’t be happier for my boys. No matter what happened, everyone supported each other. »
Most of the game was lousy. The ending was sheer madness. But in the fourth quarter, the Rams played a complementary brand of football hardly seen from them this season.
The Rams defense allowed a touchdown throughout, which was helped a bit by an explosive 32-yard pass on that drive. Receiver Davante Adams had one of two 30-plus-yard catches against cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the first a remarkable one-handed effort. Outside of those two plays, Adams (three catches, 71 yards, no touchdowns) was unable to break the game. Technically, running back Josh Jacobs, who has run on every team for the past two weeks, wasn’t either. On Thursday, Jacobs had 99 yards — but on 27 carries, averaging 3.7 yards per carry. Inside linebacker Bobby Wagner said the Rams defense didn’t want to allow that many total yards (302), but was stingy in the red zone and even took the ball away once there, thanks to an interception from the end zone by the second-year linebacker. Ernest Jones.
After a Cam Akers touchdown with 3:25 left, the Rams defense forced a three-and-out on the other side. Wagner made the run stoppage on third-and-first and finished with a team-high 14 tackles. This set up Mayfield and the offensive effort.
“To be able to call on (the) defense it was about that third and 1 save – the defense did a hell of a job of making that save and getting the ball back to us,” Mayfield said.
Then the mess. In a historically troubled Rams season, it was finally the right kind.
At third-and-second with 1:37 remaining, receiver Van Jefferson drew a pass interference flag on a fly ball that would otherwise have been intercepted. Still alive. Mayfield was later sacked for a 9-yard loss, but Raiders defensive tackle Jerry Tillery fired an unsportsmanlike penalty and the Rams slid forward. Then, Mayfield hit sophomore receiver Ben Skowronek on a 32-yard fly ball down the middle, which Skowronek stretched and (notably) hooked as the other 11 players headed to the new line of scrimmage with the countdown. Mayfield again hit Malcolm Brown (raised from the practice squad) and Skowronek for a total of 17 yards, then hit the ball to stop the clock with 16 seconds remaining.
On the next snap, Mayfield threw a nice pitch to Jefferson, whose man was stuck with him in the media coverage. Jefferson completed the touchdown catch, which only had a 30.4 percent completion probability, according to Next Gen Stats, making it Mayfield’s lowest probability completion of the night.
Mayfield’s throw to Jefferson was also the third-year wide receiver’s first game-winning touchdown of his career, at any level. According to Elias Sports, the 98-yard run was the longest two-minute touchdown run in the past 45 years.
Why the hell not?
The Rams made a “why not?” move when they acquired Mayfield this week, and they played a ‘why not’ kind of game. They let go, leaned on it. They made an informal visit to Thousand Oaks, Calif., just before loading team buses early Thursday afternoon, specifically to get through a two-minute situation. just in case they might need it. They had a short – Mayfield laughs, very short – call list for him that they knew he was comfortable with in case he got in the game (he wasn’t totally sure he would before the beginning). They threw it away (“we took that list out and got into some other stuff,” Mayfield said with a laugh). Center Brian Allen was constantly barking in Mayfield’s ear – reminders of the language, of the rules of the offense in that language. McVay chattered at high speed into Mayfield’s helmet, snap after snap. When I asked Havenstein what in-game communication was like, he just laughed.
“Some things we were kind of learning on the fly,” he said. “We were giving him a little synopsis, and he was like, ‘Okay, f—- it.'”
– NFL (@NFL) December 9, 2022
But in the end, during a rush situation with no timeouts left, performing a ball-timing cadence taught before in a training camp that he wasn’t there for, when he literally didn’t have nothing left to lose, Mayfield was at his liveliest.
“The ball is the ball,” added Mayfield. It didn’t hurt, of course, that the Raiders were called for two penalties on the drive, or that they lined up in tight critical-time coverage when a preventer shell containing the incoming Rams would have killed the rest of their clock and possibly smothered a look of touch.
“I was really shocked that they were rushing with like, 15 seconds left, knowing we had no more timeouts,” Mayfield said. Add it to the list for him this week.
As Mayfield exited his press conference and walked back through the locker room, he turned to the public relations manager next to him.
“Okay,” he said smiling. “Where the hell am I going? »
Next: Learn everyone’s names, a few extra pages in the playbook. A coffee on the way to work, the right way to turn off the elevator, even what the schedule is for the rest of the year.
Mayfield still has four weeks to put on the best tape he can as he will seek employment in 2023. The Rams signed him with the expectation that he would do enough to become a compensating pick for them, if he has got a new contract elsewhere. They have little or no thought about what future with Mayfield as a potential replacement quarterback would look like for them, several people familiar with their discussions said. They wanted to avoid further mortification on the court until the end of their season and he only cost $1.3 million to acquire. After that, who knows?
“To be honest with you, I just try to be the best version of myself I can be,” Mayfield said. “Learn, get better at this system, try to get away from a big group of guys (who) have been very successful… Just try to learn from everyone here. Take as many as I can, and drop the pieces where they can. I can’t control the future. I know I have the next four games here. I try to build on that and just be the best version of myself.
Mayfield doesn’t need to answer that question right now, and neither does the Rams. They have to live here, in this most improbable moment of an otherwise lost season on Thursday night. Leave them.
“I don’t know if you could write it better than that,” Mayfield said, with an exhale. “Obviously we would like to be a little less stressed, but it’s a really good story, I’ll be honest with you. It’s special.
So I won’t try to write it better, and they won’t try to say it better. Time to figure out the rest later. We’ll all leave this moment where it is – frozen in all its absurdly fantastical chaos, preserved so that the players who never left each other, who needed it most, could live in it a little longer.
(Baker Mayfield and Brian Allen top photo: Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)