Rams have been NFL’s best, and if they win this week’s bat­tle against New Or­leans, is it time to think about . . .

The Washington Post Sunday - - NFL WEEK 9 - BY MARK MASKE mark.maske@wash­post.com

It’s not ridicu­lous to con­tem­plate the pos­si­bil­ity of an un­beaten sea­son for the Los An­ge­les Rams.

They stand at 8-0 half­way through their sched­ule. They are outscor­ing op­po­nents by an av­er­age of 13.6 points per game. They have not one but two MVP can­di­dates on their of­fense in quar­ter­back Jared Goff and tail­back Todd Gur­ley II. Their de­fense is for­mi­da­ble. They have a highly cel­e­brated sec­ondyear coach, Sean McVay, to en­sure that ev­ery­thing fits to­gether prop­erly.

But to chase an un­beaten sea­son and the prom­i­nent place in his­tory that would come with it, the Rams must win Sun­day in New Or­leans against the Saints, who just might be the league’s next-best team at the mo­ment. It is a dif­fi­cult as­sign­ment, even for a team as dom­i­nant as the Rams have been this sea­son.

“The sea­son that they’re hav­ing, un­de­feat-

ed, they’ve played ex­cep­tion­ally well on both sides of the ball,” Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees said when he met with re­porters this past week. “Their scor­ing dif­fer­en­tial is off the charts. They’re scor­ing a ton of points on of­fense and not giv­ing up very much on de­fense and just do­ing ev­ery­thing right that you would say is win­ning foot­ball.”

There will be fur­ther tests for the Rams even if they win Sun­day. A Nov. 19 matchup in Mex­ico City with the Kansas City Chiefs and quar­ter­back Pa­trick Ma­homes, per­haps the MVP front-run­ner, looms. Con­sec­u­tive games in De­cem­ber on the road against the Chicago Bears and at home against the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl champs, the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, prom­ise to be chal­leng­ing.

The pres­sure would mount if the Rams get closer to sur­pass­ing the feat of the 2007 New Eng­land Patriots, who went 16-0 dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and won two play­off games be­fore los­ing to the New York Gi­ants in the Su­per Bowl, one vic­tory shy of the first 19-0 sea­son in NFL his­tory. McVay would face a de­ci­sion late in the reg­u­lar sea­son about ei­ther play­ing to win or sit­ting key starters such as Goff, Gur­ley and de­fen­sive tackle Aaron Don­ald if the top seed in the NFC gets wrapped up early.

But all of that comes only if the Rams beat the Saints, who are 6-1 and on a six-game win­ning streak. The Rams barely es­caped from last Sun­day’s game at home against the Packers, win­ning, 29-27, when Green Bay’s Ty Mont­gomery opted against a touch­back and lost a fum­ble on a kick­off re­turn to keep quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers from a chance at crafting a game-win­ning drive.

“I think they’re re­ally good,” Rodgers said af­ter that game. “I think we’re pretty good, too.”

The Green Bay de­fense frus­trated the Rams in the first half with su­perb cov­er­age on the out­side re­ceivers and some pass-rush pres­sure on Goff. But the Rams re­lied on Gur­ley there­after. The Packers opened up their of­fense in the sec­ond half and made the Rams look beat­able. But to Rodgers, there was no con­so­la­tion in that.

“There’s no mo­men­tum gained from a loss, in my opin­ion,” he said. “We can play with any­body. But we knew that be­fore this game. It wasn’t like there’s some rev­e­la­tion like: ‘Oh, okay now, yeah, we can prob­a­bly play with the Rams.’ No, we can play with any­body. But I’m dis­ap­pointed be­cause our de­fense re­ally played well and we were just re­ally slow go­ing in the first half and couldn’t get a lot of things go­ing. And by the time we got back ahead, we just had one drive to fin­ish the game off and didn’t come up with it.”

The Packers game led to ques­tions about the stur­di­ness of the Rams’ de­fense, over­seen by revered co­or­di­na­tor Wade Phillips. But the Rams made a move to fill their need for an off-the-edge pass rusher by trad­ing for Jack­sonville’s Dante Fowler Jr. shortly be­fore Tues­day’s trade dead­line. Fowler never has ful­filled the prom­ise of be­ing the third over­all se­lec­tion in the 2015 NFL draft. But he could thrive play­ing along­side Don­ald and fel­low Rams de­fen­sive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

“Ev­ery Wade Phillips de­fense I’ve gone up against has had a re­ally good pass rush, and they man­u­fac­ture ways to ob­vi­ously get that pres­sure,” Brees said. “These guys, man, they’ve got a ton of great play­ers up front, and then ob­vi­ously they’re good on the back end as well. So they fly around. They play fast. They play ag­gres­sive. That’s what makes them so good.”

NFC supremacy won’t be de­cided Sun­day in New Or­leans. Much will re­main to be play out even if the Rams pre­vail.

But whether the Rams can re­tain their op­por­tu­nity to chase his­tory will be at stake.

“It’s ex­cit­ing,” Brees said. “It’s a great chal­lenge. But here’s the thing: It’s one game. And yes, it’s a big game. Yes, it’s against a great op­po­nent who is un­de­feated and is play­ing ex­cep­tion­ally well right now. But for us, it’s just an­other op­por­tu­nity for us to take the next step, to con­tinue to im­prove. I like the track that we’re on. But we can still get bet­ter.”


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