Rams fall short of Super Bowl title, but likely contenders for years to come

Hasselbeck: Goff, Rams offense were 'inept.' (1:25)

Tim Hasselbeck says that the Rams' poor offense is the reason that they lost the Super Bowl. (1:25)

ATLANTA -- The Los Angeles Rams ended the season with a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. Here's a recap of 2018 and what's next:

Season grade: Near perfection. It was Super Bowl or bust from the outset after the Rams made several aggressive trades and acquisitions to bolster their roster. Their goal came to fruition after a divisional-round win over the Dallas Cowboys followed by an overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl LIII. Although they fell short of securing the organization's second Super Bowl title, the season must be considered a resounding success. The Rams finished the regular season 13-3, won a second consecutive division title for the first time since 1979 after they swept their NFC West opponents, and made their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2001 season. The organization, including general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay, must be commended for the team's meteoric rise after spending more than a decade mired in mediocrity.

Season in review: Snead made offseason headlines when he traded for All-Pro cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and receiver Brandin Cooks, then signed All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh in free agency. The expectation turned from a playoff run to a Super Bowl with a roster that also included Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald -- who signed extensions to become the highest-paid running back and defensive player in NFL history, respectively. The Rams won eight straight behind superb play from Gurley and quarterback Jared Goff, who both ascended into the Most Valuable Player conversation, and appeared poised to make a run at a perfect season. However, Drew Brees and the Saints dealt the Rams their first loss in Week 9. They rebounded against the Seattle Seahawks, then put on a show in a historic 54-51 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. But following a bye week, Goff hit a three-game slump as the Rams lost back-to-back regular-season games for the first time under McVay. The mid-December addition of veteran running back C.J. Anderson provided an unexpected spark, as the sixth-year pro provided outstanding performances in the final two games of the season with Gurley sidelined because of inflammation in his left knee. When Gurley returned in the divisional round against the Cowboys, he and Anderson provided a one-two punch for an offense that relied heavily on the run. And as the Saints shut down the run, Goff led the Rams to a come-from-behind victory, as they dug out of a 13-point hole to defeat the Saints in overtime at the Superdome. Donald finished the regular season as the NFL's sack leader, with 20.5 sacks, and Gurley scored a league-best 21 touchdowns. Donald also won his second straight Defensive Player of the Year award.

He said it: "We have a confident team, but you like that, you like that confident swagger. But you also want to make sure that there's a humility that exists where you understand you got to earn it every single day with how competitive this league is with great players and coaches." -- coach Sean McVay, before the season on how to handle expectations and player personalities

Offseason questions

What are key contracts to monitor on defense? On paper, the Rams put together an all-star defense. However, the results through the regular season were underwhelming. The defense ranked 20th at 24 points per game, and ranked 19th in average yards allowed at 358.6. Decisions must be made on contracts for Suh, outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. and safety Lamarcus Joyner. Suh signed a one-year, $14 million deal and was considered a season-long rental. He produced in the playoffs, but his production through the regular season was not outstanding -- 4.5 sacks -- which could make a decision to replace him for a younger player at a less expensive rate an easy one. Fowler was acquired in a midseason trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He produced added pressure from the edge, including two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, but is on an expiring rookie contract after the Jaguars declined to pick up a fifth-year option. Joyner played the season on the franchise tag after the two sides were unable to come to terms on a long-term extension. He had a sack, an interception and three deflected passes but could fall outside the team's budget.

Who will become Goff's new quarterbacks coach? With the expectation that Zac Taylor will be named the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, Goff will be on to his fourth quarterbacks coach in four seasons. Chris Weinke coached Goff in 2016 before he was fired; Greg Olson handled the post in 2017 before he left for the Oakland Raiders; and then it was Taylor, whom McVay promoted to quarterbacks coach after he served a season as an assistant receivers coach. Through three seasons, all the turnover has seemed to have minimal impact on Goff's development. This season, he passed for 4,688 yards and 32 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions, and posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 against the Minnesota Vikings. McVay champions developing coaches and promoting from within, so it would not be surprising if Goff (who is now eligible to begin contract negotiations) is soon working with a familiar assistant already on the staff.

How will the offensive line shake out? The Rams featured one of the most consistent offensive lines in the NFL, starting the same five players all 16 games. However, left guard Rodger Saffold's contract is set to expire, and the age-related concerns over left tackle Andrew Whitworth, 37, and center John Sullivan, 33, remain. The Rams would like to work out a deal with Saffold, 30, but it's likely the veteran will be able to command a price in free agency that is outside the Rams' range, and they could settle on promoting Joseph Noteboom or Brian Allen to a starting spot. However, that still would require the organization to line up at least a couple of reliable backups, in case Whitworth and Sullivan are unable to go all 16 games.