Amid the flashbulbs and pomp of a Hollywood opening night, the reigning Super Bowl champions began their defense with a dud.

The Los Angeles Rams were left crestfallen by the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night, losing 31-10, as the 2022 Super Bowl favorites made a statement at the expense of the 2021 Super Bowl winners.

“We weren’t ready to go, I take a lot of pride in that, and that’s on me,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said after the game. “I gotta do better, there were a lot of decisions that I made that I felt like didn’t put our players in good enough spots. This was a humbling experience, but we’re going to stay connected, we’re going to look inward, we’re going to do a better job of moving forward, but you give credit to the Bills, and then we’ve got to understand that we’ve got to have that mindset and mentality to be able to move forward accordingly.”

While the Bills besting the Rams wasn’t surprising, the lopsided final score surely was. It added up to a defeat of historical note.

The 21-point margin of loss checks in as the second-largest margin of defeat in a season opener for a reigning Super Bowl champion, trailing just the 2013 Baltimore Ravens’ 22-point loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, per NFL Research. Manning torched the Ravens on that day to the tune of seven touchdown passes on his way to winning the AP NFL Most Valuable Player and the Broncos earning a Super Bowl berth. The Ravens, meanwhile, went on to finish 8-8 and didn’t make the playoffs.

On Thursday night, Bills quarterback Josh Allen didn’t have quite as extraordinary a showing as Manning all those years ago, but he still ran — and passed — roughshod over the Rams. Allen turned in his 21st career game in which he passed and rushed for a touchdown, tallying four total scores on the evening. Buffalo racked up 413 yards, scored 21 straight second-half points to end the game and didn’t punt all evening.

Meanwhile, the Rams offense mustered just 243 yards and never got in sync, turning it over three times and allowing seven sacks. Adding to the puzzlement was that running back Cam Akers had just three carries for zero yards and prized offseason acquisition Allen Robinson had only one catch on two targets.

“Yeah, we just didn’t get in much of a rhythm tonight, so it was tough to get anything,” McVay said. “I’d like to get Allen more involved, I’d like to get a lot more guys involved. Overall, it was just a tough night for us.”

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There’s nary a reason to panic for a team after just one loss, of course.

Nonetheless, this is unexplored territory for McVay and the Rams. He dropped to 5-1 in season openers and is astonishingly below .500 for the first time in his already stellar career.

However, as is accustomed, McVay put the accountability of the loss upon his shoulders.

“The bottom line is, I didn’t do a good enough job at getting us ready to go to our capabilities,” McVay said. “I have total belief and confidence in what we can do moving forward, whether we won tonight or whether we had a humbling experience like this, we’ve got 16 games guaranteed left. We’re going to dust ourselves off, we’re going to look ourselves in the mirror, we’re going to be accountable to the things that we all can do better within the framework of our roles, and we’re going to move forward the right way. And that’s all I know how to do.”

There will be plenty more questions of doubt the Rams will be asked in the coming week, and 10 days before they can begin to answer them against the Atlanta Falcons back at SoFi Stadium.

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2022 NFL season, Week 1: What We Learned from Bills’ season-opening win over Rams on Thursda

Allen, Bills make statement. Technically, Josh Allen didn’t have a perfect night. He took a sack and threw two interceptions, after all. But anyone watching Thursday’s game knows that the first one was clearly on the receiver; chalk the second pick up to a great play by Rams cornerback Troy Hill, who read the throw beautifully. Before and after that, however, Allen was a machine. Once he was able to use his legs more in the second half — both on scrambles and designed runs — the Rams had no answer for him. Through three quarters, there were zero passes of 20-plus air yards. Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, Allen faced a Cover-0 blitz and dialed up a deep ball to Gabe Davis for 47 yards. Three plays later, he launched into the end zone. How do you stop him? Two picks couldn’t do it. Allen, everyone’s MVP favorite, is off to a blazing start.

Is there reason for Stafford concern? It’s easy pickings to wonder if Matthew Stafford is fully healthy. After all the offseason stories about his elbow, how could we not? There were times in the game where he threw more over the top than I can remember, but that’s hardly proof he’s somehow favoring it with his throwing motion. Stafford’s first interception looked like a miscommunication with tight end Tyler Higbee — hard to know who’s to blame. On the second INT, Stafford tried to dial up his Super Bowl magic with the no-look (three-quarters arm angle) pass to Cooper Kupp, but Stafford was high and off-target with it. Was it a pretty outing? Not in the least. But the Rams’ blocking issues and inability to run the ball out of 11 personnel made his job a lot harder. There might be a physical element to Stafford’s Week 1 struggles, but let’s not just default to that assumption after one game.

Hats off to the Bills’ defense. Much of the talk coming in was how the Bills’ young corners might struggle. But rookies Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford (a sixth-rounder who played FCS ball a year ago) held up extremely well, and Dane Jackson had a pick. The Rams, hard as they tried, just couldn’t get the Bills out of those two-high looks most of the night. When you can’t run the ball, that’s tough. It seemed to frustrate Stafford and Sean McVay from a big-play standpoint — the opportunities were few and far between. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier technically operates with an old-school mentality: make the offense matriculate down the field eight, 10, 12 plays at a crack. The thinking is that mistakes will happen. That philosophy panned out in a big way Thursday. The Bills got good pressure most of the night (especially early) from Von Miller and what looks like a much deeper defensive line group. The Rams helped them by pass-protecting poorly, and they had only one drive longer than 38 yards in the game’s first 55 minutes. But credit is deserved for a Buffalo defense that hauled in three picks and seven sacks. It was a tremendous effort.

Dorsey has impressive debut. Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was in his bag early on in his first regular-season game as a play-caller. Those concerns about losing Brian Daboll are yesterday’s news (for now). Dorsey had Allen running some rollout plays that Cam Newton used to with the Panthers back when Dorsey was his QB coach. On the TD drive that put the Bills up 17-10, Dorsey used Allen as a runner a few times, resulting in his highlight-reel stiff-arm of Rams safety Nick Scott. Mix that in with the outside zone toss plays — a Kyle Shanahan staple — that appear to be a new wrinkle and Dorsey was able to keep the Rams’ defense off-kilter several times. So, he’s drawing from other team’s concepts while also keeping the core of the playbook that Allen excelled with the past few years. It’s hard to argue with that formula.

Where was Cam? The Rams used running back Darrell Henderson extensively early in the game — and on all eight plays of the opening drive — while Cam Akers mostly sat. This was after Akers declared earlier this week that, “I know I’m healthy.” He added: “Everybody else will just get to see (Thursday). I’m not trying to go show anybody that I’m healthy. I’m just going to play my game.” Akers’ first carry came a few minutes into the second quarter, resulting in a no-gain. He’d finish with two carries for zero yards. Is it too early to be concerned? Of course. It’s Week 1. The Rams have 10 days until they face the Falcons. Some of his usage can be attributed to the score getting a bit out of hand. Perhaps the soft-tissue injury Akers dealt with in the preseason is still barking a bit, too. But how the Rams use their backs early this season will be worth monitoring. Akers’ fantasy owners certainly will be. 

Next Gen stat of the night: The Bills did not blitz on any of Matthew Stafford’s passes Thursday night. The only other zero-blitz games by a defense (in the NGS era) were also by the Bills in games against the Chiefs in 2020 and 2021.

NFL Research: The Rams’ 21-point loss was the second-largest all time for a defending Super Bowl champion, just one point fewer than the Ravens’ 22-point loss at Denver in 2013 (Peyton Manning’s first game with the Broncos).
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