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Rams’ offense squanders opportunities in loss to Bengals

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CINCINNATI — The Rams were presented with a perfect opportunity to steal a road win at Paycor Stadium on Monday night. The Cincinnati Bengals limped into the game, both figuratively after dropping the first two games of the season and literally with quarterback Joe Burrow nursing a calf injury.

But even as the defense presented it with multiple chances, the Rams’ offense could do little with them.

The Rams failed to convert on a third down until there was 1:03 left in the game, and on their first three red-zone opportunities. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was off target, missing receivers and throwing two interceptions. The offensive line didn’t make his life any easier, allowing six sacks. And when the Bengals took their first lead in the third quarter, the Rams managed just 11 plays across their next four possessions.

So rather than come home above .500, the Rams (1-2) fell, 19-16.

“There was just a lot of self-inflicted wounds,” Coach Sean McVay lamented. “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.”

The Bengals (1-2) made a litany of first-half mistakes that should have helped the Rams. Tight end Tanner Hudson fell over on third down on the opening drive, forcing the Bengals to attempt a 56-yard field goal that sailed wide left. Three false starts on third down led to a three-and-out and a field goal, and that’s the short list of miscues.

But for all of those gifts from their overly gracious hosts, the Rams could not take advantage.

There was Stafford being sacked on first-and-goal from the Bengals’ 2-yard line after a 21-yard Tutu Atwell end around on their first drive that initially looked like a touchdown before being ruled short. The Rams had to kick a field goal rather than put Cincinnati on notice.

The Rams then went through the air again on third-and-1, with Stafford missing Kyren Williams. It was one of four straight off-target throws to the running back to open the game, including one on a goal-line situation that led to another field goal.

So despite the defense limiting Cincinnati to 3.75 yards per play and a 3-for-10 third-down conversion rate, with Burrow’s mobility limited, the Rams’ offense could only manage six points in the first half.

So when the Rams’ defense finally broke, allowing the Bengals to drive 75 yards in 10 plays for a Joe Mixon rushing touchdown, it was with a three-point lead instead of a couple of possessions.

Suddenly, the Rams were down after one bad drive by the defense.

Stafford threw his second interception two plays into the next drive, when the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The Bengals added a field goal to make it a seven-point game, then took the ball back after another three-and-out.

The Rams nearly got a third-down conversion on that drive, but backup right guard Tremayne Anchrum – in while Joe Noteboom tended to a knee injury – was called for a facemask that negated the play.

The Bengals looked poised to blow the game open, but Witherspoon reached in with his right arm to grab a pass out of Tyler Boyd’s hands, coming down with the Rams’ first interception of the year and injecting some life into the team.

“That was a special play right there,” safety Jordan Fuller said. “It was definitely needed.”

But the Rams were unable to turn it into points. Instead, they lost 15 yards on consecutive sacks, the first as backup left tackle Zachary Thomas – in for Alaric Jackson (thigh) – barely got a hand on Trey Hendrickson coming off the edge.

“Defense is playing as good as they’re playing, we’re staying in the game, got a chance to win it,” Stafford said, “nobody’s happy-go-lucky sitting over there on the sideline when we’re not executing the way that we can.”

The Rams had to punt out of their end zone, and the Bengals used the short field to tack on a field goal that made it a two-possession game.

After 10 unsuccessful tries, the Rams finally converted on a third down on a touchdown pass to Atwell with 1:03 left. Trailing by three with just one timeout left, Brett Maher came in for an onside kick. But Cincinnati recovered without issue and was able to run out the clock.

“There were a lot of things that just weren’t good enough tonight,” McVay said, “and a lot of things we can learn from.”

Tutu was so close to scoring here…

📺: #LARvsCIN on ESPN 

📱: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/NkpBC1YFYJ pic.twitter.com/q6w0XKuBID

— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2023

Hello Joe, I’m Aaron. #RamsHouse

📺: #LARvsCIN on ESPN 

📱: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/NkpBC1YFYJ pic.twitter.com/Phy6xVl0cy

— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2023

Ahkello Witherspoon took it with one hand 😤

📺: #LARvsCIN on ESPN 

📱: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/NkpBC1YFYJ pic.twitter.com/WzASkDWvbG

— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2023

.@RamsNFL make it a three-point game with 1:03 to go.

📺: #LARvsCIN on ESPN 

📱: Stream on #NFLPlus https://t.co/NkpBC1YFYJ pic.twitter.com/2Y2dEwzM3N

— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2023

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