Before the Super Bowl last season, Sean McVay made a telling comment about his future.
NFL coaches, and everyone involved with the game really, often hold back their true feelings. McVay's honest answer about his coaching future, and perhaps stepping away long before anyone expected, opened up a new storyline about his possible retirement before he even reached 40 years old.
"I know I love football and I'm so invested in this thing and I'm in the moment right now," McVay said. "But at some point, too, if you said what do you want to be able to do? I want to be able to have a family and I want to be able to spend time with them."
He quickly tried to put an end to that story, saying he was committed to the Rams. After the Super Bowl he had to state again he was committed commitment to coaching, with reports of Amazon offering him nine figures to join the broadcast booth. He'd be back as Rams coach, and at the time it just seemed like he'd done well to angle for a well-earned raise. That's just business.
Maybe McVay's words from before the Super Bowl, from a too-casual moment, were closer to the truth than we figured. Perhaps it foretold McVay losing a bit of focus.
The Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl defense is shaping up to be perhaps the worst ever. The 1999 Denver Broncos had a 6-10 record, but that came after John Elway retired. They're the only defending Super Bowl champ with double-digit losses. The 1982 San Francisco 49ers were 3-6, but that was a weird strike-shortened season. The 1987 New York Giants were also three games under .500 at 6-9. Other defending champs have had disappointing seasons. Some have started slow and came on late, so maybe there's hope for the Rams.
But they look broken. On Sunday they had nine first downs and 206 yards on offense, and 69 yards came on a Cooper Kupp touchdown. When the Rams needed a first down at the end of the game to seal a win, they went three-and-out. The offensive line is bad. They can't run the ball. The passing game has turned into Kupp or nothing. It is bad. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey let his frustration be known over having to go get another stop, which the Rams couldn't get as Tom Brady led a game-winning touchdown drive.
"The defense should not have had to go back on the field. Simple," Ramsey said according to NFL.com. "Gotta have some dogs who are gonna go get it. We shouldn't come to the sideline after a big stop like that and our coaches or the other side or whoever telling us, 'We gonna to need y'all one more time. We gonna to need y'all one more time.' Like what the f***? We just made a big stop, turnover on downs, with a minute and some change left and no timeouts for nobody.
"Gotta have some dogs who are like, man, f*** all that, we are going to end this game right now. Good stop. We are going to end the game for y'all. We gotta play off each other in that sense. You know what I mean? That's what I mean by we should not have had to go out there. It is what it is. It ain't the first time that this has happened. This has happened multiple times this year, really. S***."
And the coach, who is an undeniable star known for his offensive mastery, has no answers.
“I don’t necessarily think that it’s the panic button, but changes have to be made, adjustments have to be made, we can’t continue to go on like this and what that looks like, I don’t necessarily have the exact answers right now,” McVay said after the game. “What I don’t want to have anything to be misunderstood that I’m not in this with those guys, I’m a big part of this, I have to do better."
It's just easy to wonder if McVay lost just a little of his edge. That can happen when you're 36 years old, spend countless hours trying to get to the top of your profession and then you reach that peak. Even last week there were headlines about McVay's future, saying that when the core of the Rams (Kupp, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey) are gone that McVay would likely be done too, based on a comment on a radio show from Albert Breer of The MMQB. It wasn't a new report and it'll be years before all four are gone anyway, but it's yet another reminder that perhaps McVay isn't quite all the way in.
At very least, McVay has avoided a lot of heat for the Rams' poor start. It doesn't make him a bad coach. The three defending champs listed above who really struggled were coached by legends like Bill Walsh, Bill Parcells and Mike Shanahan. It happens. But the truth is, the Rams are 29th in points, 31st in yards and not getting better. Losing offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell to the Minnesota Vikings, where he's 7-1 as a head coach, is a factor. It doesn't explain everything. A McVay offense should never be ranked that low.
Regardless of who's to blame, this is where the Rams are. They're in danger of having one of the worst Super Bowl hangovers, record-wise, in history. The offense hasn't been good and a defensive star has started to complain. There are fundamental problems on offense that might not get fixed.
It's on McVay to turn it around. The question becomes, can he do it?
Here are the power rankings after Week 9 of the NFL season:
32. Houston Texans (1-6-1, Last Week: 32)
The $18 million Brandin Cooks is guaranteed next season made everything more complicated, but the Texans needed to figure out a way to trade him. He'll be 30 next season. They could have gotten valuable picks in return. The most shocking revelation of a busy trade deadline might have been that Cooks wasn't moved. Cooks already was out last week and even though he has returned to the Texans, that situation will linger.
31. Carolina Panthers (2-7, LW: 29)
What a nightmare that loss on Sunday was for the Panthers. Any small strides they'd taken the past few weeks were erased. P.J. Walker will start at quarterback on Thursday night, and the bigger picture might be that we are forced into a Panthers game in prime time this week.
30. Detroit Lions (2-6, LW: 31)
Lost amid a nice win was the fact that D'Andre Swift was active but barely played. He had two of the Lions' 31 rushing attempts. He played just 10 snaps. If he's still hurt, sit him. If he's healthy, play him. Doing it halfway is confusing.
29. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6, LW: 30)
The Steelers made the right move trading Chase Claypool to the Bears for a second-round pick. The pick could end up being higher or about equal to the one the Steelers used on Claypool in the first place, and Claypool had seemingly lost favor in the organization since a promising rookie season. It's disappointing Claypool didn't blossom into a star, but the Steelers made a decisive move and got good value in return.
28. Las Vegas Raiders (2-6, LW: 27)
After blowing a third 17-point lead already this season, the Raiders get to face the Colts. If they lose to Indianapolis, which has first-time head coach Jeff Saturday on the sideline, the heat is going to get cranked up on Josh McDaniels.
27. Indianapolis Colts (3-5-1, LW: 23)
Frank Reich being fired wasn't too big of a shock. I laid out in Winners and Losers that Reich was trending that way. I'm not even sure where to start with the hire of Jeff Saturday. It's the most shocking coaching hire I can remember. Say this about the Colts the rest of the way: They'll be fascinating to watch, maybe in the car accident kind of way though.
26. Arizona Cardinals (3-6, LW: 22)
The Cardinals got a pick-six, and still lost by 10 at home. That's hard to do. This is a bad team. The offense is not good. The defense isn't either. Kliff Kingsbury can't be feeling very comfortable.
25. Chicago Bears (3-6, LW: 26)
The Bears have to be pleased with the progress that Justin Fields is making. It took too long but they've also figured out how to feature him. If they can keep seeing that improvement over the last eight games it will be a successful season for the Bears regardless of their final record.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6, LW: 28)
Get back on the Trevor Lawrence roller coaster. The Jaguars quarterback was good on Sunday after a few down weeks, completing 25-of-31 passes for 235 yards in a comeback win. Those performances keep you wondering if he can start putting it all together.
23. New Orleans Saints (3-6, LW: 21)
The Saints had a chance to get some momentum after beating the Raiders, but were blown out in a home loss to the Ravens. There wasn't a point in that game in which it seemed they were going to win. Coach Dennis Allen is going to be under a lot of pressure if this season doesn't get better.
22. Washington Commanders (4-5, LW: 20)
Taylor Heinicke has his moments, but he can't avoid the games in which it's clear he's really not a long-term answer. On Sunday he had 149 yards and 49 came on one play to Curtis Samuel. He threw an interception to Harrison Smith when he tried to do a little too much on a deeper pass over the middle and that was the turning point of the game. Everyone was quick to want to bury Carson Wentz and move on from him, but it's not like Heinicke is the solution.
21. Atlanta Falcons (4-5, LW: 19)
This has been said a million times, and a few times in this space, but can the Falcons really not get Kyle Pitts the ball? He was the second rookie tight end in NFL history to have 1,000 yards in a season. He has immense talent. Yet he had two catches for 27 yards on Sunday in a close loss. That happens too often.
20. Cleveland Browns (3-5, LW: 25)
Maybe last week's win will be the one that propels the Browns to the playoffs. Or, it might be a win that changed the Browns' mind from trading Kareem Hunt and getting a valuable mid-round pick, when that was the right move to make (especially with the talented D'Ernest Johnson behind Hunt).
19. Denver Broncos (3-5, LW: 24)
Sunday is a telling game for the Broncos. They are off the bye, playing at Tennessee. They showed some progress in their last game, a win over Jacksonville. Do they turn a corner and get a win at the Titans, or do they just sink back into the struggles they've had most of the season?
18. Los Angeles Rams (3-5, LW: 17)
The good news is that Cooper Kupp is as good as ever. He's on pace for 153 catches, 1,728 yards and 13 touchdowns. A great receiver.
17. Green Bay Packers (3-6, LW: 16)
The Packers are five losses behind the Vikings. They also just lost perhaps their best defensive player, edge rusher Rashan Gary, to a torn ACL. They scored only nine points against the Lions, who are likely the worst defense in the NFL. Injuries are piling up. If Matt LaFleur is a good coach — and I believe he is — he'll find a way to at least push things back in the right direction. Otherwise, this Packers season might get remarkably bad.
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5, LW: 18)
The Buccaneers are lucky the Rams couldn't get a first down and close out a win. We're talking about Tom Brady's great game-winning drive, and not how the offense was absolutely miserable for 59 minutes. The issues aren't getting fixed and probably won't. But the Bucs play in the NFC South so they should be fine.
15. Los Angeles Chargers (5-3, LW: 15)
The Chargers aren't known for overcoming adversity and grinding out wins but that's what they're doing. The injury situation is awful and they're 5-3. I don't know if they can stay in the playoff race given the players they're missing, but being 5-3 right now isn't that bad for them.
14. New York Giants (6-2, LW: 11)
The Giants had a bye and then get the Texans at home, so they're likely going to be 7-2. Then they get the Lions at home. So it's very possible they're 8-2 for a Thanksgiving game at the Cowboys.
13. New England Patriots (5-4, LW: 13)
The Patriots had nine sacks, including three each from Matt Judon and Josh Uche. We haven't heard much the past couple weeks about the quarterback controversy, mostly because the defense has been really good and is winning games.
12. Cincinnati Bengals (5-4, LW: 12)
Joe Mixon was due for a big game, but 211 yards and five touchdowns? That's amazing. The Bengals need that element in their offense, definitely while Ja'Marr Chase is out and even when he returns.
11. Tennessee Titans (5-3, LW: 9)
Mike Vrabel's defensive plan for the Chiefs was very good and it should have resulted in an upset win. But the offense? I'm not sure how you run a conventional offense with rookie quarterback Malik Willis after it was clear he wasn't going to complete enough passes. Where were the designed runs?
10. New York Jets (6-3, LW: 14)
The win Sunday over the Bills legitimizes all the progress the Jets have made this season. Robert Saleh weathered the storm and a lot of (justified) criticism and now looks like a very good hire. The defense is awesome, led by Defensive Rookie of the Year favorite Sauce Gardner, who looks like the league's next great cornerback. The Jets are in great shape to make the playoffs, and that's one of the NFL's best stories this season.
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-3, LW: 10)
Looking back, every NFL team completely whiffed on cornerback Tariq Woolen. How does a 6-foot-4 cornerback who runs a 4.26-second 40-yard dash last until the fifth round of the draft? Even the Seahawks drafted five players ahead of Woolen. Woolen was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month in October and the arrow is pointed straight up for him.
8. San Francisco 49ers (4-4, LW: 8)
Deebo Samuel returned to practice after missing a game. We should see the 49ers' offense look mostly complete. Now we can see what the 49ers can do with this impressive collection of talent.
7. Miami Dolphins (6-3, LW: 7)
Tua Tagovailoa's 17-game pace this season is 4,809 yards and 36 touchdowns, and that counts the Bengals game in which he suffered a concussion before halftime. The Dolphins have to be relieved. Even if Tagovailoa isn't Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert, their pick looks fine now.
6. Minnesota Vikings (7-1, LW: 6)
We don't need to have a long debate about the Vikings' legitimacy. Their next four games: at Bills, vs. Cowboys, vs. Patriots, vs. Jets. We'll know a month from now how good they are.
5. Baltimore Ravens (6-3, LW: 5)
The Ravens blew three leads earlier this season. That seems like the fluke. What seems legit is that they've led every game by double digits this season. The smackdown they put on the Saints on Monday night was a statement.
4. Dallas Cowboys (6-2, LW: 4)
The Cowboys play at Green Bay this weekend, which means it's Mike McCarthy's return. He tried to play off the emotional aspect of the return but nobody on the planet believes it wouldn't be extra sweet for McCarthy to beat the Packers and Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.
3. Kansas City Chiefs (6-2, LW: 3)
Patrick Mahomes threw 68 times on Sunday night. The NFL record in a game is 70. Mahomes is great but that's not ideal. The problem is the Chiefs had 13 running back carries for 14 yards. What should Andy Reid do, try to force a running game that isn't good, or put it all on one of the greatest quarterbacks we've seen?
2. Buffalo Bills (6-2, LW: 1)
The Bills can't lose games like Sunday. They were double-digit favorites. Give the Jets a lot of credit; they played well and won it. But the Bills have Super Bowl hopes this season, and that's the type of loss that can cost a team the No. 1 seed. But, really, the top seed and Super Bowl talk ends if Josh Allen's elbow is seriously injured.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (8-0, LW: 2)
Why are so many people impatiently waiting for an Eagles slump that might never come? It seems like every time an Eagles opponent gets a first down, certain corners of social media act like that's a sign that the defense is a fraud and the Eagles are being propped up by a bad schedule. The Eagles are good. No, they didn't blow out the Texans. But ask the Bills, and even the Chiefs, if wins over big underdogs are easy.