February 29, 2024

Shortly after his midweek news conference, I reminded Sean McVay that the over/under for Rams wins in Las Vegas sportsbooks before the season was just 6½.

I was certain the Rams would fall short of that — way short, actually — and now I’m about to have to buy dinner for Artis Twyman, the team’s vice president of communications.

McVay howled with laughter when he heard that.

When training camp opened, McVay wouldn’t say whether the Rams could beat the 6½-win line. What about now, with the Rams 6-6 heading into their Week 14 showdown with the Baltimore Ravens? Would his affable V.P. of communications be dining out on me?

“One day at a time, man,” McVay said, still chuckling.

McVay’s spirit is particularly light these days, and not just because the Rams are unexpectedly in playoff contention. McVay wasn’t like this as a first-year coach. He wasn’t like this in his team’s Super Bowl season.

His most recent news conference featured relatively little coachspeak. The rapid-fire, jargon-filled speech that was once his trademark was replaced by something more conversational. Instead of sounding like John Q. Football Coach, he sounded like, well, a normal person.

At some point, McVay was asked about the anticipated rain and wind the Rams would face in Baltimore this weekend. He mentioned how windy it often is at the Rams’ practice facility in Thousand Oaks.

With a playful smile, he said, “The one week we won’t get the winds out here [is] when we actually could use them.”

Shaking his head, McVay punctuated his observation with an obscenity. The interview room broke out in laughter.

After a burnout-inducing five-win season last year, McVay is doing what he said he would do when he explained in March why he decided to return as the team’s coach.

“I think I’m better about [letting go of] the things you can’t control,” McVay said. “I’m more aware of when I get to those bad places [mentally], it’s, like, ‘Hey, you don’t want to be this, snap yourself out of it.’”

McVay is the heartbeat of the Rams. When he internalized his frustrations and withdrew from others last year, the negativity permeated the team. The opposite has happened this year.

“I feel like just the energy throughout this building is really positive,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “And that starts with him.”

That was McVay’s intention.

“I think I’m always going to work hard and be a competitor, but where I think I can really help is what type of influence are you having that can help guys have genuine and authentic confidence when they go play the games,” McVay said. You want to put the schemes together and [stuff] like that, but it’s about the players. I think that when I’m in the right place, one of the things I can help is create an authentic vibe and energy where they feel like they got the best opportunity to go play well and do it with an enjoyment where they’re not afraid to fail.”

That could explain how the Rams have won their last three games. They won’t win a championship this season, but they’re establishing the foundation for their next Super Bowl. They make the plays they’re supposed to make. They’re resilient. They’re short on talent in certain areas, but general manager Les Snead will be able to address that once they clear their books of the $80 million in dead money they have this year.

They also now have a head coach who is confident enough to where he doesn’t feel as if he has to sound like a football coach at all times, a head coach who is self-assured enough to be self-effacing in ways someone like Lincoln Riley can’t. Granted, McVay is playing with house money this season. He might not be as relaxed when his roster is reloaded and expectations are for him to lead the team to another championship.

But McVay has stared down his demons and not just survived but almost even thrived. He should be able to deal with whatever comes next.

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