LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Los Angeles Rams learned an important lesson about how close the margin for error might be in the playoffs with their 43-35 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
The Rams were left hoping that penalties to extend Eagles' scoring drives and late turnovers won't ultimately cost them a chance to use that education this season.
Self-inflicted mistakes proved decisive in a game that looked, felt and played out like a postseason contest. Former St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long stripped quarterback Jared Goff to set up Jake Elliott's go-ahead 33-yard field goal with 3:45 remaining. Brandon Graham returned a fumble 16 yards for a touchdown on the last play, when the Rams tried a series of desperation laterals.
"It's a little too early to be talking about the lessons, you know, to be taken from this," center John Sullivan said. "It just comes down to we have to make a few more plays. Thankfully it's still the regular season, but we got to win those games."
Coach Sean McVay took the blame for the strip-sack, saying he should have been more cautious in calling a pass play immediately after right tackle Rob Havenstein exited with an ankle injury. Long overpowered backup Darrell Williams and knocked the ball out of Goff's hand, with another former Ram, safety Rodney McLeod, making the recovery.
"I don't regret ever being aggressive, but being more situationally aware and how I can put our team in a better spot I would say is probably the more appropriate term, and that's something I'll learn from," McVay said.
The Rams' defense was just as culpable, with its issues much more glaring. Cornerback Trumaine Johnson was called for unsportsmanlike conduct in the third quarter for jawing with Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffrey after an incomplete pass on third down. Instead of settling for a field goal attempt, Carson Wentz threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jeffrey eight plays later.
McVay said Johnson had been previously warned by the officials to cut the chatter.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was also called for illegal leverage on a field goal, allowing the Eagles to run an additional 2:01 off the clock in the fourth quarter and reducing the chances for the Rams to stage a late comeback.
"Against a great team like that, there's things that you can't do, and we cannot afford to beat ourselves," McVay said. "It's a great learning opportunity for us. There was a handful of things that took place in that game that we will learn from. We'll learn from our mistakes, including me. Starting with me. And this week provides a great chance for us to respond quickly."
The Rams face the Seattle Seahawks next Sunday in a game that could decide which team wins the NFC West. Some downtrodden Rams players perked up in the locker room after hearing about the Seahawks' 30-24 loss at Jacksonville. But Sullivan immediately recognized it as a lost opportunity to take a two-game lead in the division and reduce the possibility of the head-to-head tiebreaker coming into play.
"It's a game we would have loved to have won, put a little more distance in the division," Sullivan said. "But, at the same time, it was two really good teams going out there playing really hard and it went to the end of the game. We just didn't win this one. We'll go back to work. We're not going to panic, we're not going to do anything like that. We've been process-oriented this whole year, and we'll focus on what got us to this point, being in a competitive game at this point in the season. It's back to work and we're focused on going out and beating Seattle in their place."
It is a challenge the Rams might have to accomplish with a depleted secondary. Cornerback Kayvon Webster ruptured his right Achilles tendon in the first quarter, while Johnson was placed in concussion protocol during the second half.
Still, the Rams believe they will be better off in the long run, having proven they can compete with the other top teams in the NFC.
"This loss was definitely a learning experience late in the game, learning how to be a situational master, being smart and avoiding penalties, things like that," cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said. "It's going to make us better in the future.