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Depleted Rams in unfamiliar territory as heavy underdogs against Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald has many memories from the chaotic 2018 “Monday Night Football” victory against the Kansas City Chiefs, which is regarded as one of the greatest regular-season games of all time because the teams combined for 105 total points with three defensive touchdowns and seven turnovers.

“You make a big play, you sit down, then they make a big,” Donald recalled Friday about the high-scoring affair at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum. “We right back on the field. So, it was just back and forth, so it was definitely a crazy game.”

That was the first time Donald faced Chiefs star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, a then-second-year player in the midst of his first season as the starter. Donald left that memorable battle with plenty of respect for Mahomes, who has since won a league MVP and a Super Bowl – two awards that Mahomes could earn again with the way he and the Chiefs (8-2) are playing this season.

“(He) looks comfortable, like he doesn’t get rattled much,” Donald said. “(I’ve) seen that the year we played him (in 2018). He was still young then.”

Donald doesn’t need a quarterback evaluation for the second matchup against Mahomes. The Rams will enter Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday as 15½-point underdogs against Mahomes, star tight end Travis Kelce and the rest of the mighty Chiefs, who have won the last six AFC West titles with a seventh appearing imminent.

This was supposed to be a highly anticipated matchup between two potential Super Bowl contenders, but the Rams (3-7) have lost four consecutive games – six of their past seven – and are far removed from the playoff picture. The Rams will still get the star treatment with the FOX crew dubbing this “America’s Game of the Week.” The defending Super Bowl champions also have upcoming prime-time games against the Las Vegas Raiders (“Thursday Night Football” Week 14), the Green Bay Packers (“Monday Night Football” Week 15) and the Chargers (“Sunday Night Football” Week 17).

America won’t be happy about watching the injury-riddled Rams on prime time without wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who is on injured reserve with an ankle injury, and possibly no quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was ruled out against the Chiefs because he entered the concussion protocol for the second time in as many weeks.

The Rams are in rare territory as heavy underdogs, but they have embraced the role and will be looking to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season with Bryce Perkins at quarterback. Rams coach Sean McVay declined to name a starter this week, but all signs point to Perkins, a 2020 undrafted free agent, receiving his first career start Sunday.

“Let’s keep it real now,” Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said about being underdogs. “It is all you can do. We knew we were going to be the underdog, let’s keep it real with each other now. And none of us are going in thinking we weren’t going to be the underdogs. So yeah, it just is what it is. That don’t ever matter to me. I feel like that’s more of a gambling or social media thing.

“I don’t gamble, but that’s probably like what that is. I don’t think we really pay attention to that, whether we underdogs or not. Like I said, I don’t gamble, but I’m sure spread is in their favor, however that go. But regardless, we’ve got to go out there and play and try to get a win regardless and just do the best we can.”

The Rams have embraced being underdogs, but they also accepted that the final seven games of the season are more about developing younger players for next year. The team made that clear after they waived running back Darrell Henderson and outside linebacker Justin Hollins – two former veteran starters and pending free agents.

Rams rookie running back Kyren Williams will get an opportunity to show whether he’s worthy of being a focal point of the offense for next season. Running back Cam Akers will also likely get his fair share of carries, but perhaps his future will be with another team after a messy dispute with McVay earlier this season, which led to Akers being sent home for nearly a month.

The future is now and the Rams need to know whether wide receiver Tutu Atwell, a 2021 second-round draft pick, can build off his first career touchdown, which came last week on a 62-yard catch against the New Orleans Saints. The Rams also need to know more about third-year tight end Brycen Hopkins and undrafted rookie receiver Lance McCutcheon, who has displayed chemistry with Perkins in the preseason.

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