ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Los Angeles Rams knew a third consecutive playoff appearance was at stake, but nevertheless they failed to appear Sunday at AT&T Stadium as they suffered their second blowout loss in a four-week span, falling to the Dallas Cowboys 44-21.
The Rams, 10 months removed from Super Bowl LIII, could not afford the misstep, as they entered Sunday trailing the Minnesota Vikings by one game for the NFC's final wild-card spot.
After the Vikings routed the Los Angeles Chargers, the Rams are two games behind with two games remaining, and they now teeter on the verge of playoff elimination, with a 5.1% chance of making the postseason, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
QB breakdown: Good Jared Goff, bad Jared Goff. It’s difficult to predict which version will show up, and unfortunately for the Rams, it was the latter (until fourth-quarter garbage time). Goff completed 33 of 51 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. He was unable to develop a rhythm through the first three quarters outside of a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter. With under two minutes to play in the first half, the fourth-year quarterback made a costly mistake when he threw a pass that Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee intercepted and returned 25 yards to set up a Cowboys touchdown that broke the game open 28-7. Goff led two touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter with some Cowboys starters on the sideline and the game well out of hand.
Gurley tracker: The Rams rushed for 3 yards in the first half and finished with a total of 22 rushing yards, as they failed to get Todd Gurley II moving. Gurley finished with 20 rushing yards, his fewest since Week 4 when he rushed for 16 yards. Gurley averaged 21 touches per game over the past four games but had 14 Sunday.
Biggest hole in the game plan: Defense. The Rams missed multiple tackles and appeared discombobulated at times. They had no answer for the Cowboys' top-rated offense, as quarterback Dak Prescott passed for 212 yards and two touchdowns and running back Ezekiel Elliott gashed them for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
Pivotal play: In the second quarter, outside linebacker Dante Fowler pursued Prescott but whiffed on a tackle, then slipped on the turf as Prescott threw to a wide-open Tavon Austin for a 59-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead. There were no defenders near Austin after defensive backs Darious Williams and Taylor Rapp collided. Austin’s touchdown jump-started a 30-0 scoring run. It was Austin's first receiving touchdown of the season, perhaps fitting it came against his former team.
Troubling trend: Penalties by veteran players. With under two minutes to play in the first half, Goff completed a 15-yard pass to wide receiver Robert Woods that was called back because left tackle Andrew Whitworth was penalized for holding. Two plays later, Goff threw an interception. On the ensuing Cowboys drive, the Rams made a third-down stop, but defensive end Michael Brockers was called for illegal hands to the face, which gave the Cowboys a fresh set of downs that resulted in a touchdown to blow the game open 28-7 at halftime. That sequence of plays proved crucial as the Cowboys blew the game open going into halftime.