Slowly, awkwardly and reluctantly the Rams reported to their Thousand Oaks practice facility early Sunday morning. The abruptness and finality of their season coming to a screeching halt the night before was apparent immediately after their frustrating wild-card round loss to the Atlanta Falcons. But now, as they gathered together in Thousand Oaks, reality was setting in.
There was no game to prepare for next week. No opponent to dive into or game plan to devise.
Instead, they were undergoing season-ending physicals, turning in individual iPads and exchanging heartfelt goodbyes with Rams staffers
But nothing confirmed the end of their remarkable season quite like the large plastic bags awaiting them on a table in the middle of the locker room.
In which players were emptying the personal belongings of their lockers.
“Man….” Rams guard Jamon Brown signed, trying to make sense of the pit at the bottom of his stomach.
He really didn’t need to say anything else.
The suddenness of a season ending far earlier than anyone anticipated lingered painfully Sunday. In the interim the Rams will try to manage the agony and disappointment. But soon enough it will be the fuel that motivates them to work a little harder this offseason and push through OTAs and the grind of training camp and the marathon of next season.
As much as everyone wanted to dwell on the final chapter of their spectacular season – the wound of what happened the night before was still incredibly raw – there was also a bigger book from which to reflect.
And the positive nature of it made it easy to peek forward to a future the Rams believe is exceedingly bright.
They entered this season facing more questions than any team in the NFL.
But they supplied decisive answers to every one of them
Jared Goff established himself as a legitimate NFL quarterback.
Todd Gurley re-emerged as an MVP candidate.
Sean McVay is one of the bright young head coaches in the game after turning a morbid offense into a juggernaut and a longtime dismal team into NFC West champions.
A young, talented group of wide receivers is as dynamic as any in the game.
The offensive line went from one of the worst to one of the best.
And Aaron Donald, Alec Ogletree and Michael Brockers are the nucleus of a playoff-worthy defense.
So while Sunday represented a painful end to one leg of the Rams journey, you couldn’t help sense the beginning of one even more important.
At long last the Rams have a foundation in place….