MINNEAPOLIS -- Most of the Los Angeles Rams' players couldn't see it. Their 24-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was still too fresh, the avoidable mistakes that plagued them still too raw. They couldn't sense the impact that experiences like these can have on what comes next, on who they might become.
But Andrew Whitworth could.
The Rams' 35-year-old left tackle has played in 12 NFL seasons and has been on six different playoff teams, an experience level that provides him with a firm grasp on the bigger picture. He verbalized some of it Sunday afternoon, in the middle of a silenced visitors locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"The reality is we needed this," Whitworth said. "We needed some adversity. It’s not to say that we didn’t need to come back and win that game, but you know what, some of the adverse situations in that game -- on the road, in a really hard place to play, against probably one of the best defenses in the league -- to play the kind of game that we were in, and for this team to be in the game we were in, I think it shows you that we’re legit and we’re the real deal."
The Rams -- the NFL's highest-scoring team when Week 11 began -- were held in check by a sound, well-rounded Vikings team that is now 8-2. They played in one of the NFL's loudest environments, in a late-season game that seemed to bring with it a playoff-like level of intensity. And they got a sense of what it's like to navigate through a slim margin for error, the type they hardly experienced while outscoring teams by 103 points during a four-game winning streak.
It's something they should start getting used to.
Sunday's game marked the beginning of a seven-game stretch that makes up the NFL's second-hardest remaining schedule. The Rams' next contest, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, will come against the 8-2 New Orleans Saints. They'll also host the first-place Philadelphia Eagles and travel to face the division-rival Seattle Seahawks before their season comes to an end.
"We knew the challenge we were going up against," Rams running back Todd Gurley said. "These next couple of games are the teams above .500 and looking to be in the playoffs. Hopefully we see these guys again. We definitely don't want to lose to them twice."
Gurley was limited to 56 scrimmage yards, 31 of which came on the opening drive. After that initial touchdown, the Rams were held to 179 yards, 10 first downs and zero points. They were hurt by the early injury-related departures of two cornerbacks, Kayvon Webster and Nickell Robey-Coleman. But two key mistakes by Cooper Kupp, a fumble at the 1-yard line and a drop on third down, loomed largest.
"I think we're a better team than what we were out there," Kupp said. "I think I'm a better player than what I showed out there."
The Rams entered this season as the NFL's second-youngest team, behind only the winless Cleveland Browns. The Rams' only players with postseason experience were six of the veteran players they added over the offseason -- Connor Barwin, Lance Dunbar, John Sullivan, Tyrunn Walker, Webster and Whitworth.
Aaron Donald, mired in lackluster Rams seasons over the past three years, agreed with Whitworth's claim that this team needed a little bit more adversity.
"But I still wish we would've pulled out a win," he said, "because losing sucks."
U.S. Bank Stadium was predictably deafening, forcing the Rams to burn a couple of early timeouts and prompting a delay of game penalty.
Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph combined to haul in 15 of 22 targets for 213 yards, taking their turns picking on a Rams secondary that had to cut into its depth like never before. Case Keenum went 27-of-38 for 280 yards and zero turnovers, continuously avoiding sacks by slithering his way out of the pocket. And the Vikings' defense was as aggressive and ferocious as advertised, creating constant pressure for Jared Goff while limiting him to 1-for-7 on 15-plus-yard attempts.
Whitworth called that defense "the best we've played."
He thinks it'll help the Rams moving forward.
"If we get this opportunity again in the playoffs, if we get a chance to get in, we’ll be prepared for it," Whitworth said. "And that’s the kind of games you’re going to play. If you want to play after the regular season, if you want to play late in the year in big games, this is the atmosphere you’ll have to learn how to play in and win."