Sean McVay provides compass for Rams to navigate past Super Bowl

Donald: My main goal is to get back to the Super Bowl (1:36)

Aaron Donald tells Sal Paolantonio that the Rams are trying to push last season's loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl out of their minds in order to truly improve this season. (1:36)

Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay approached Kevin Demoff at the NFL owners meetings with an excitable grin.

"Check it out," McVay said, as he showed the Rams executive vice president and chief operating officer his cellphone. "It's good, right?"

It was late March, less than two months after the Rams' demoralizing 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. The start of a new season remained more than five months away.

But neither the proximity of such a stinging defeat, nor the long stretch that remained until the start of a new season, dissuaded McVay from charting a path forward.

Demoff examined McVay's screen and nodded in approval.

Drawing from the leadership books stacked around his office, McVay had created a visual aid to forge ahead: a compass.

At the compass' center is McVay's signature phrase, "We Not Me," and in each direction are key words that embody what he preaches: character, standards, communication, process.

"It's something this offseason that he thought about, just moving in a new direction, forgetting about last year," Rams receiver Robert Woods said. "It's a whole new year and really I just think he's always constantly thinking about new plays, new offenses, new ways to build this team, different ways to show it."

As the Rams prepare for their season opener against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m ET Sunday, Fox), McVay's compass no longer lives only on his cellphone.

It's seemingly everywhere around the team's modular practice facility. It's printed on the back of T-shirts worn by coaches, players and staff members, plastered on the walls inside coaches' offices and meeting rooms, and perhaps the largest version, lives on a wall inside the locker room, where the graphic is about 12 feet tall and impossible to miss.

"This is something that coach has pulled together based on his beliefs of this team, what he wants the culture to be," Rams receiver Cooper Kupp said.

In two seasons, McVay has proven himself as a masterful leader. He inherited a team long entrenched in mediocrity and led it to back-to-back division titles and a Super Bowl appearance for the first time since 2001.

But now the 33-year-old coach must navigate the Rams through a path this group of players has previously not traveled, as they attempt to put a disappointing performance in the Super Bowl behind them, and move on.

"You're always trying to just learn a little bit more and figure out different ways to really give messages," McVay said. "This really kind of represents, 'Hey, how do we stay the course through a 16-game season?'"

The Rams return all of their stars from 2018, including two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald, two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Jared Goff and All-Pro running back Todd Gurley, though uncertainty remains about the long-term health of Gurley's left knee.

But even with the return of star personnel, this season is bound to be different. Opponents have a blueprint on how to slow McVay's high-scoring offense, and even the slightest roster turnover can impact the makeup of a team.

"We can only control what we do today," McVay said. "Because there's a tendency -- [people say] 'OK, you'll be right back,' all of those different things. I think our players and our coaches are all smart enough to know that this league is too competitive."

Over the past 10 seasons, each team that lost in the Super Bowl advanced to the playoffs the following season, with the exception of the Panthers who fell to the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

A return to the playoffs seems well within reach for the defending NFC champions, even with a schedule that features an improved NFC West and several transcontinental flights.

But the Rams must buck history to make a repeat Super Bowl run.

Since 1967, only seven teams coming off a Super Bowl loss have made a repeat trip, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and of those seven, only three teams went on to win a ring, including last season's Patriots, who lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2018.

Rams players say they have moved on from the Super Bowl loss, "You have to," defensive lineman Michael Brockers said.

Even if others haven't.

Inside the team facility, the Super Bowl is hardly mentioned. "Nobody talks about it," safety John Johnson III said.

But outside the team, it can become a constant nuisance -- from television commentators, fans, friends and even family members.

"I didn't," said Woods, when asked if he spent much time thinking about the loss over the offseason. "But a lot of people did and everybody reminds me about the score, or just how it played out, but everybody remembers that and I just try to let it go, get over it and try to get back and make more plays, and kind of like prove everybody wrong."

Throughout training camp and the preseason, the Rams showed no sign of lingering disappointment or an inability to forge ahead.

"It just makes us that much more hungry," cornerback Marcus Peters said. "We see exactly where we can be at if we just put our focus into getting better every day."

A graphic on a wall can inspire only so much.

Now it's on the Rams to prove they can navigate past disappointment and chart a course for a return trip to the Super Bowl.