THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Sean McVay was "still in the process of processing" the abrupt end to the Los Angeles Rams' season when he met with the media at noon on Sunday. McVay engrossed himself in film shortly after the 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night, as he is prone to do. But his foremost takeaway was the same one he had in the immediate aftermath -- the Rams started with back-to-back three-and-outs, then muffed a punt, fumbled a kickoff and fell behind significantly with the time of possession, never able to attain much balance or rhythm offensively.
Said McVay: "The turnovers really ended up being the difference in the game."
McVay will address his players collectively one final time on Monday, then send them into their offseason. The Rams' coaches and executives will then get to work on figuring out the 2018 roster, a conversation McVay began with general manager Les Snead on Sunday morning.
The Rams have a lot of important players that could become free agents, including wide receiver Sammy Watkins, cornerback Trumaine Johnson, safety Lamarcus Joyner, center John Sullivan and outside linebacker Connor Barwin. Interesting contract decisions loom, seemingly with outside linebacker Robert Quinn, inside linebacker Mark Barron and wide receiver Tavon Austin. And then, of course, there's Aaron Donald, who's heading into the final year of his rookie contract and has proven worthy of becoming the game's highest-paid defensive player.
McVay's initial, forward-thinking thoughts centered on the importance of building depth, because the Rams can't count on another season of optimal health. He also noted that his offense was almost exclusively in "11" personnel down the stretch, highlighting the importance of developing his young tight ends.
Still, McVay said, "I think that this organization is going in the right direction. I think we've got a good foundation we can build on."
That sentiment dominated the locker room from players who came through after their end-of-season physicals.
"We've got a solid foundation built right now," inside linebacker Alec Ogletree added, "and we've just got to continue to build on it and learn from what we did good this year, and also bad."
The Rams went from 4-12 in 2016 to 11-5 in 2017, from last in the NFL in scoring to first. They were coming off 10 consecutive losing seasons, then claimed their first division title since 2003. Under McVay, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, Jared Goff emerged as a franchise quarterback and Todd Gurley vaulted himself among the game's best running backs.
"We put pieces together," Gurley said when asked if he believes the Rams have built a foundation for long-term success. "I wouldn’t say actually built, but we’re starting to."
"I think it’s just the beginning," Goff said. "We’ve got such a good, young group here and so many guys."
The Rams began the 2017 season as the NFL's second-youngest team. Goff and Gurley are only 23, and none of the receivers or tight ends who are expected back are older than 25. But the defense -- playoff ready under Snead and former head coach Jeff Fisher long before the offensive finally got it together -- is getting older and pricier, underscoring the importance of drafting and developing on that side.
Barwin believes the Rams had "the strongest foundation of any of the teams I've gone to the playoffs with," which only augmented the sting of a first-round exit.
"It's definitely something we can build off, and definitely things that we could learn from," Rams right guard Jamon Brown said. "Moving forward, you feel good about that, because we’ve set a foundation like this. And now we just build from here.”
Not much was expected of the Rams heading into 2017. The Seahawks were supposed to dominate the division, and the Rams were thought to be at least one year away from contention. But that was only on the outside. Inside, players quickly realized that McVay and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips would put them in schemes that could bring out the best in them.
The talent showed itself through organized team activities and during training camp, then players slowly, steadily convinced themselves that they could compete with anyone in their conference.
McVay first noticed his team's resolve after a Week 2 loss to the Redskins, when they quickly put it behind them, got ready for a Thursday night game on the road and won a back-and-forth contest against the 49ers. Woods realized this team was legit when it won on the road against the Jaguars in Week 6, then traveled to London and blew out the Cardinals in Week 7.
The Rams faced a daunting schedule over the final seven weeks, but they edged the Saints, handed the Seahawks their worst home loss in 20 years and won on the road against a desperate Titans team to claim the NFC West. The Rams went 8-1 away from Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, but only 3-4 at their own stadium, their last loss -- in front of an electrifying, season-best crowd of 74,300 -- ending their season.
McVay, the runaway favorite for Coach of the Year, called them "a special group of men that we got to work with this year."
"It's not something you expected, that the season's over now," he said. "I kind of don't know what to do with myself."