Rams' turnaround comes up short, but their future looks bright

The Los Angeles Rams ended their season with a 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the wild-card round of the playoffs on Saturday night. Here’s a recap of the Rams' season and a look at what’s next:

Season grade: above average.

Season in review: The Rams far exceeded expectations in their first season under Sean McVay, the youngest head coach in modern NFL history at age 31. They improved from 4-12 last season to 11-5 this year, snapping a string of 10 consecutive losing seasons and winning their first division title since 2003. The Rams also became the first team in the Super Bowl era to go from last (14.0 points per game) to first (29.9) in scoring from one season to the next. Jared Goff emerged as a legitimate franchise quarterback, Todd Gurley put himself in the running for league MVP, Aaron Donald made a legitimate case for Defensive Player of the Year, and the Rams made significant strides in the nation's second-largest media market. The season ended abruptly, but Donald called it "something great to build off."

Biggest play of the season: Already leading 27-0 at CenturyLink Field with less than a minute remaining before halftime, Gurley took a handoff and surged past the Seattle Seahawks' entire defense, going untouched for a 57-yard run in the Rams' 42-7 rout on Dec. 17. That was a big play mostly for what it represented: It sealed the win that gave the Rams full control of the NFC West, and it seemed to signal a changing of the guard in the division.

He said it: "I think we have a good, strong core and good people, good players and good coaches. Sure, it’s exciting to look forward. But right now it’s tough to sit here and say that directly after this game. We didn’t want it to end this quickly. We felt like we had a good enough team to go as far as we’d want to. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough." -- Goff, following Saturday's playoff loss to the Falcons

Key offseason questions

Biggest draft need: cornerback. The Rams added a long-term answer last offseason in Kayvon Webster, whose season ended prematurely because of a torn Achilles tendon. But Trumaine Johnson, their No. 1 corner, is headed for free agency. So is Nickell Robey-Coleman, who's really effective in the slot. And the Rams don't have a whole lot of depth behind them.

Free-agency targets: It'll be interesting to see what the Rams do at outside linebacker. Connor Barwin is headed for free agency, and Robert Quinn's contract is structured in a way that the Rams can save on almost his entire salary for the next two seasons. They could turn to free agency to replenish there, regardless of whether Quinn returns. Another question is at center, with 32-year-old John Sullivan a pending free agent.

Contract questions: Aaron Donald is heading into the final year of his rookie contract and deserves to be the game's highest-paid defensive player. The Rams seem willing to make that happen, but will they pay him enough to avoid another holdout? They also want to extend safety Lamarcus Joyner, who increased his value significantly this season. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins could be kept with either a franchise tag or a transition tag, but that remains to be seen. And what about Johnson? He has been franchised twice. Do the Rams finally decide to pay him like a top corner?