Rams limp into matchup against Chargers looking to build on big win last week

INGLEWOOD, CALIF. - DEC. 25, 2022. Rams head coach Sean McVay watches the team warm up before the game.
Coach Sean McVay and the Rams defeated the Broncos 51-14 last week. They take on their SoFi Stadium rivals on Sunday with the Chargers looking to improve their playoff position. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The so-called Fight for L.A. never meant anything to the Rams.

In 2017, the team's executive branch brushed aside the Chargers’ marketing slogan and did not look back as coach Sean McVay’s teams made four playoff appearances in five seasons, a Super Bowl appearance in 2018 and then won Super Bowl LVI last season.

The Rams won the Super Bowl in owner Stan Kroenke’s SoFi Stadium, also home to the Chargers.

The Rams will be visitors when the teams play there Sunday. And though Rams players have no emotional stake in what others might deem a rivalry, it is a certainty that Kroenke could not stand losing to his tenant in his stadium.

That would be the case in any season, but perhaps especially this one.

The Rams are in the final stages of an embarrassingly lost season. They are 5-10 and will be home for the playoffs for only the second time under McVay.

The Chargers, led by coach Brandon Staley, record-setting quarterback Justin Herbert and other stars on offense and defense, are playoff bound for the first time in four seasons.

McVay and Staley, the Rams defensive coordinator in 2020, no doubt want to beat the other in their first regular-season matchup.

McVay said the Chargers' game-day branding in the stadium would not be uncomfortable, and the prospect of being the visiting team was only a minor inconvenience.

“They stay in the same team hotel the night before the game, so we’ve got to go stay in another team hotel,” McVay said before jokingly adding, “Damn it, Brandon.”

This will be the second regular-season game between the teams since 2017, when — a year after the Rams returned to Los Angeles from St. Louis — the Chargers moved from San Diego to L.A.

In 2018, the Rams defeated the Chargers 35-23 at the Coliseum.

The Rams went on to finish 13-3. The Chargers, under coach Anthony Lynn, finished 12-4. The New England Patriots beat both teams in the postseason — the Chargers in the AFC divisional round and the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

The Rams missed the playoffs in 2019 but won the Super Bowl two years later. The Chargers missed the playoffs two years in a row and replaced Lynn with Staley before last season.

Now, with a team that features Herbert, running back Austin Ekeler, receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, and defensive stars Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa and Derwin James Jr., the Chargers are currently the sixth-seeded team for the AFC playoffs.

The Rams, with quarterback Matthew Stafford, receivers Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson, and star defensive lineman Aaron Donald out for the season because of injuries, are preparing for an offseason reboot.

The Rams, however, are riding a high of sorts after defeating the Denver Broncos 51-14 Sunday.

Running back Cam Akers rushed for three touchdowns, quarterback Baker Mayfield tossed two touchdown passes to tight end Tyler Higbee, and the defense intercepted four passes. Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant returned one of his two interceptions 85 yards for a touchdown.

Neutralizing Herbert, however, will be a major challenge.

The third-year pro has passed for 4,254 yards and 21 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. His 13,604 yards passing in his first three seasons is more than any quarterback in NFL history.

“He’s been able to display the toughness, the poise and the leadership that you must have in your franchise quarterback if you want to be a world champion,” Staley said.

Herbert, 6 feet 6 and 236 pounds, has impressed the Rams with his accuracy.

“He can make all the throws,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said, “puts it on the money, good ball placement, it's usually on a line, like usually a dart.”

Herbert’s ability to make plays from every angle also stands out.

“There's not too many quarterbacks that can roll out to the right and then throw across their body, across the field, accurate and 60-plus yards down the field,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said.

Wagner emphasized the rarity.

“I'm pretty sure that's not in the quarterback manual,” he said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.