May 18, 2024

The Rams weren’t so much beaten by the Pittsburgh Steelers as they were beaten by themselves, and Sean McVay didn’t conceal his frustration.

“We didn’t help ourselves,” McVay said. “There were a lot of things we didn’t do to be able to finish this game.”

As McVay cataloged the mistakes the Rams made Sunday in the 24-17 defeat at SoFi Stadium, however, he sounded … upbeat?

He described the setback as an opportunity. He spoke of the challenges ahead.

This version of McVay had vanished from these parts in recent years, as the once-animated coaching wunderkind gradually was beaten down into an almost unrecognizable form.

Now, one of the NFL’s most dynamic personalities has reappeared in the most unlikely of places, on the sideline of a relatively inexperienced team with a 3-4 record.

“This is a blessing,” McVay said. “I love it. I’m having a whole lot of fun.”

Fun?

What happened to the tortured soul who considered walking away from the Rams after they won Super Bowl LVI? And again last year after a 12-loss season?

The 37-year-old McVay is doing what he said he would do when he decided to return for a seventh season. He’s not allowing himself to be swallowed by the magnitude of his job or the scale of his ambition.

He’s turned his attention to details — by focusing on the process rather than the results, by concerning himself only with what he can control, by appreciating his good fortune to hold a job of which he always dreamed.

Essentially, the father-to-be is practicing what he preaches to his players.

“The challenges are what you really love about the NFL,” McVay said. “I’m excited about responding to this challenge because these setbacks are … setups for an opportunity to be able to respond and be that person that I’ve talked to you [reporters] about.

“Not going to sit here and pretend that I’m gonna be perfect but I absolutely love this, love working with this team, and we’re gonna keep swinging.”

Rams defensive end Michael Hoecht celebrates after sacking Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Rams defensive end Michael Hoecht (97) celebrates after sacking Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first half Sunday.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

As the loss to the Steelers showed, the challenges are formidable. The Rams aren’t as bad as many predicted, but they aren’t very good either. They’re a .500 team.

The Rams don’t have much depth, their worn-down defense conceding a couple of fourth-quarter touchdowns to a low-scoring Steelers offense.

The Rams were let down again by kicker Brett Maher, who missed field-goal attempts of 53 and 51 yards, and an extra point.

Earlier in the week, McVay had to deal with an entirely different kind of headache, as cornerback Derion Kendrick was arrested and then charged with two gun-related misdemeanors. McVay decided to play Kendrick against the Steelers, describing the incident as a mistake rather than a reflection of Kendrick’s character.

McVay nonetheless sounded enthusiastic about the upcoming weeks.

“We’re gonna get ourselves off the mat, we’re gonna go back to work, and we’re gonna be a resilient group,” he said. “This is a disappointing deal [Sunday]. All I know how to do is be able to respond and I trust that those guys in the locker room will do the same thing.”

Whatever the team’s record, this is a critical development. The Rams might not be Super Bowl contenders this season but they might be next, when they will be sufficiently under the salary cap to acquire impact players.

McVay remains the most important figure in the franchise, more important than Matthew Stafford or even Aaron Donald. If the Rams are to be successful again any time in the near future, McVay will have to be in a positive headspace.

At the moment, he is.

His team looked as if it stopped Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett short of a first down on a fourth-and-one with a little more than two minutes remaining, but the officials ruled that he reached the marker. McVay couldn’t challenge the play because the Rams were out of timeouts.

Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson acknowledges Pittsburgh fans during Sunday's win over the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson acknowledges Pittsburgh fans during Sunday’s win over the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Asked what he thought of where the ball was spotted, McVay replied, “It doesn’t matter what I think. That was the spot they made.

“I’m not gonna sit here and make any excuses about stuff that didn’t go down there. Those plays, shouldn’t have come down to that if we executed like we were capable of.”

McVay transformed the Rams once already. He’ll soon have to do it again.

He sounds as if he’ll be ready when the time comes.

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