His eyes were red, fresh from the sting of recent tears. As he stood in front of his locker in front of a melee of reporters, Rams returner Pharoh Cooper did his best to avoid direct eye contact with any of the hands that were extended in front of his face with microphones in tow.
"I'm going to be thinking about this all offseason," Cooper said. "You always have to protect the ball. It's always about the ball, and I didn't do a good job protecting the ball tonight. I already told my team this is my fault. I can't let that happen."
His words came just minutes after the Los Angeles Rams remarkable bounce back season came to a sudden and crashing end at the hands of the reigning NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons.
Yes, Matt Ryan played like the reigning NFL MVP.
Yes, Julio Jones played like the unstoppable wide receiver we've always known he was.
Yes, the running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for over 100 yards.
But it was Pharoh Cooper's fumbles—or responsibility for those fumbles—that fans will always remember, and it's in those moments of silent reflection at your locker, that the agony of defeat stings the most.
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"It's humbling," Cooper continued. "I promise it's not going to happen again, especially in a big situation like this. I'm going to learn from it."
Sometimes in those moments, proclamations such as that seem hollow, but for some reason coming from the Pro Bowl special teams player, playing in just his second season in the NFL, it felt real.
The 2017 Los Angeles Rams are a captivating story. One year removed from arguably one of the worst seasons in franchise history, one that saw Jeff Fisher get fired in the middle of it, the Rams revived a stale and static offense with one of the best seasons in the last 15 years.
They won the NFC West for the first time since 2003. They hosted a playoff game in Los Angeles for the fist time since 1986, and for the first time at the Coliseum since 1979.
Yet they failed to reach their goal of playing in a Super Bowl, or even winning a single postseason game. For all the accolades, for all the milestones, for all the records they broke, at the end of the night on Saturday, it was all for naught.
"It sucks we fell short," said Robert Woods who led the team in receptions. "We had big goals and aspirations for this team. It's unfortunate it came to an end like this. We'll just have to pick it up next year."l
The Rams are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and they definitely were one of the biggest surprises of the 2017 NFL season. However, just because you had success with a collection of talent in one season, does not guarantee success in the seasons to come.
Just ask the Oakland Raiders who went from 12-4 in 2016, to 6-10 in 2017. Just because you ascend the mountaintop, does not mean that you'll continue to climb back up it.
The Rams have not won back-to-back NFC West Division titles since the 1978and 1979 seasons. Nor has any NFL team repeated as Super Bowl champions since the New England Patriots did it in 2004 and 2005. Even Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will tell you just how difficult it is to build a dynasty.
There's a lot of work to be done in the offseason for the Rams, a lot of players that need to be re-signed in order to get back to reaching their goal of hoisting a Lombardi Trophy. Saturday was a great first step, but it does not guarantee the same success in 2018.
Many of the faces will be the same for the Rams next season, including that of their 31-year-old head coach Sean McVay, but with more time and tape to study on the young offensive-minded coach, teams will only develop similar strategies on how to stop him.
The Rams now must go through the difficult task of forgiving themselves for this heartbreaking loss, and never forgetting the valuable lessons they learned from it.
Put in extra work in the offseason and return more motivated than ever before. For if there's any team in the NFL who knows this the most, it was the Rams opponent the Atlanta Falcons.
Less than a year removed from the biggest collapse in Super Bowl history, the Falcons could have remained in a melancholy fog all season long. Instead, they rallied around each other in a shared goal of redemption, and they took their first step to getting back to the top of the mountain with their win over the Rams.
Not only can the Rams learn from this loss, but they can learn from the Falcons overall. Nothing is guaranteed. Nothing is promised. Nothing should be taken for granted. Work hard for everything you want, and you will reap the rewards.
For as every fan of 31 NFL teams says at some point in the year: "There's always next year."