Rams quarterback Jared Goff lay sprawled, grasping helplessly at the legs of Miami Dolphins players before he lowered his forehead into the turf. The Dolphins were returning a fumble for a touchdown.
Less than 90 seconds later, Rams punter Johnny Hekker was on the ground repeating the same motions as Goff. The Dolphins were returning a punt for a touchdown.
Goff had two passes intercepted and lost two fumbles in the first half, and the Rams could not recover in a 28-17 defeat Sunday before a crowd of 12,397 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
“Not even close to good enough on my part and throughout the whole game,” Goff said. “Just need to be better — got to be better. I will be.”
On a day when the Rams stripped Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for a fumble on his first pass attempt, breakdowns in every phase made it otherwise easy for the No. 5 overall pick in the draft to lead his team to victory in his first NFL start.
The Rams finished the first half of the season with a 5-3 record. They have a week off before playing the first-place Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 15 in the first of five NFC West games in the final eight weeks.
“We’re good, we’re not great,” said wide receiver Robert Woods, who scored both Rams touchdowns. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Coach Sean McVay took most of the blame for his team’s worst performance of the season. Consider: The Rams’ four turnovers were half as many as they had in their first seven games combined.
“A hundred percent, didn’t do a good enough job on my part,” McVay said of the offense’s performance. “The turnovers were absolutely killer.”
Dolphins coach Brian Flores and defensive coordinator Josh Boyer — former assistants for a New England Patriots staff that shut down the Rams in the Super Bowl at the end of the 2018 season — once again helped develop a game plan that stifled coach McVay and Goff.
The offense failed to deal with the “zero” pressure blitzes from the Dolphins that kept Goff under siege. The Dolphins rarely played a safety deep and brought pressure from every angle seemingly every play.
“The key to the game was just attack Jared Goff,” said Dolphins end Emmanuel Ogbah, who had a sack that forced a fumble.
Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers could not believe the frequency of the zero blitzes.
“I’ve never seen that before that many times,” Brockers said. “It was a little crazy to look at because I was like, ‘Man, this is crazy, you know: They going to keep zeroing us like that?’ ”
Goff completed 35 of 61 passes for 355 yards. He was sacked twice and, in addition to the interceptions and fumbles, had several passes deflected. Others were nearly intercepted.
“They did a good job of applying some pressure — that’s kind of how they’re built,” Goff said. “And we did not respond quickly enough or well enough, and that starts with me.”
Tagovailoa completed 12 of 22 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown as the Dolphins improved to 4-3 with their third victory in a row.
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey did not play because of illness, but the Rams' defense was not the problem against a Dolphins team vastly exceeding preseason expectations.
The Rams, playing in front of fans for the first time this season, got off to a fast start when defensive lineman Aaron Donald sacked Tagovailoa and caused him to fumble, setting up a short touchdown run by Woods.
“When you start the game off like that, you have momentum — the defense is feeling it,” Brockers said. “We were on a high right there at that point in the game. We didn’t know what else was going to happen.”
The Dolphins converted a first-quarter interception into Tagovailoa’s first touchdown pass to tie the score.
Then the Rams contributed to the Dolphins scoring 21 unanswered points on linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel’s 78-yard fumble return, Jakeem Grant’s 88-yard punt return and Myles Gaskin’s short touchdown run one play after Goff fumbled for the second time.
The Rams trailed 28-10 in the second half before Goff and the offense finally found some rhythm. Goff’s touchdown pass to Woods pulled the team to within 11 points with just less than 10 minutes left.
The Rams got the ball back with 6:30 remaining and drove into scoring position. Veteran kicker Kai Forbath, recently signed to replace inconsistent rookie Samuel Sloman, had made a 23-yard field goal near the end of the first half but this time badly missed a 48-yard attempt.
The Rams started their final possession at their five-yard line with 1:08 left and no timeouts. The drive ended at their 40-yard line as time expired.
Now they are looking forward to the off week.
“It’s good that we have a bye week right smack dab in the middle,” safety John Johnson said. “Get rested, really reflect on the first eight games. ... We’re seeing some good flashes, but we really want to play our best football in late November and December, so that’s what we’re working towards.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.