Getting into the end zone seemed tougher for the Los Angeles Rams when it mattered most on Monday night.
The Rams suffered a 19-16 loss to the Bengals in their first regular-season rematch of the Super Bowl after the 2021 season. While the Aaron Donald-led defense kept Cincinnati without a touchdown in the first half, the Rams' offense behind a young, banged up offensive line couldn't capitalize.
“I think the biggest thing for us tonight was missed opportunities early in the game in the red zone,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “If we can come away with some sevens there it’s probably a little bit of a different game later on.”
The Rams (1-2) were 1-of-4 in their red zone trips. Their lone touchdown came in the final two minutes of the game when Tutu Atwell went in from the 1-yard line to close the deficit to three points, but the ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful.
Stafford got Los Angeles off to a good start going 2 for 2 to begin the game and Atwell ran the ball to the Bengals’ 2-yard line. But Stafford was sacked and threw two incompletions, and the Rams had to settle for a field goal.
Similar situations arose on the Rams’ third drive when they marched to the Cincinnati 5-yard line but had to settle for a field goal early in the second quarter.
“You definitely want to be out there (when the) defense is playing as good as they’re playing, we’re staying in the game, got a chance to win it, nobody’s happy-go-lucky sitting over there on the sideline,” Stafford said. “Even when we’re not executing the way that we can, it's everybody just pulling the same direction, trying to be as good as we can, try to get better and go from there.”
Coach Sean McVay said he thought the Rams had a good chance to strike back after cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon intercepted Joe Burrow with just more than 10 minutes left to play.
“It did feel like we were in striking distance,” McVay said. “I thought the defense kept us in the game the whole night, and I thought it was really unfortunate, especially early on where we had to settle for field goals where we had some of the looks and some of the opportunities to be able to execute and we just weren’t able to get it done.”
Los Angeles’ struggles extended to third-down plays as it converted just once in 11 tries.
"There (were) just a lot of self-inflicted wounds,” McVay said.
Stafford was 18 for 33 for 269 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. His pick in the second half led to a Cincinnati field goal.
The Rams averaged more yards per play than Cincinnati — 5.6 yards to 4.2 — but they couldn’t string enough plays together.
“There was frustration,” McVay said. “There was a lot of things that just weren’t good enough tonight and a lot of things that we can learn from. This is a long season and fortunately for us, we get a chance to be able to learn on a short week and be able to get an opportunity to go compete against Indianapolis this week.”
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, left, and Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford shake hands following an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, in Cincinnati. The Bengals won 19-16. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)