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Matthew Stafford’s worst start for Rams too much to recover from in loss to Titans

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by Tennessee Titans defensive end Denico Autry.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is sacked by Tennessee Titans defensive end Denico Autry in the first quarter of the Rams’ 28-16 loss at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Matthew Stafford could not escape.

Early in Sunday night’s game against the Tennessee Titans, the Rams’ quarterback was sacked twice on consecutive plays. He also had passes intercepted on two plays in a row, one that was returned for a touchdown.

He looked nothing like the subject of NFL most-valuable-player conversation, and everything like Jared Goff during those stretches when the Rams’ former quarterback made coach Sean McVay’s blood boil and melted his hair gel.

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Stafford is regarded as one of the best comeback quarterbacks in the NFL. But this time the hole was bigger than the one that was dug to build $5-billion SoFi Stadium.

The Rams’ four-game winning streak ended with a 28-16 defeat before a crowd of 71,785.

With Titans star running back Derrick Henry out of the lineup, the Rams appeared to catch a break until the Tennessee defense put on a show.

“Felt like I kind of settled in in the second half,” Stafford said. “But at that point I had done too much damage, really, early in that game to get us out of it.”

The high-flying Rams offense that looked so great in the season opener against the Chicago Bears and a big win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium?

It produced a meaningless touchdown with less than 30 seconds left.

“I don’t think this is reflective of the type of football team that we are,” McVay said. “We had a rough night. And it really seemed like kind of that was the narrative of the night.”

When it was over, the Rams’ prospects for playing in Super Bowl LVI at Sofi Stadium suddenly appeared as foggy as the mist that crept into the stadium before kickoff.

The Rams dropped to 7-2 heading into next Monday night’s NFC West game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. It is the Rams’ last game before an open date, and it apparently cannot come soon enough.

The Titans were supposed to be handicapped by the absence of star running back Derrick Henry, who has run over and through opponents the last two-plus seasons.

 Rams head coach Sean McVay looks at the foot of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was injured in the fourth quarter.
Rams head coach Sean McVay looks at the foot of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was injured in the fourth quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

But they didn’t need him.

Not on a night when Titans defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry ran circles around — and right through — the Rams offensive line.

Stafford was sacked five times. The Rams were penalized 12 times for 115 yards.

“The thing they needed in this game was for us to make mistakes,” offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

Because of back stiffness, Stafford did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and was limited Friday.

Stafford had said he would be fine, and McVay echoed that he was not concerned because the 13th-year pro had experience managing and playing through injuries.

But Stafford looked out of rhythm against the Titans, who won their fifth game in a row to improve to 7-2.

“Did Matthew make some uncharacteristic plays? Yeah he did,” McVay said. “But I’m not going to say that’s a result of what occurred.”

Neither did Stafford.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 28-16 loss to the Tennessee Titans at SoFi Stadium on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

“It didn’t feel like that was an issue,” he said.

The Rams trailed, 21-3, at halftime after Stafford had two passes intercepted. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill converted the first one into a touchdown pass, and safety Kevin Byard returned the second for a touchdown.

“I basically spotted them 14 points,” Stafford said. “Can’t do that in the NFL.”

But Stafford appeared to get going in the third quarter.

On the Rams’ first possession, he drove his team 84 yards, connecting with Robert Woods, Van Jefferson and tight end Tyler Higbee for sizable gains before finding Higbee for an apparent short touchdown pass.

But upon review, officials determined that Higbee had stepped out of bounds before catching the pass. The Rams settled for a field goal that trimmed the deficit to 15 points.

Stafford was sacked again late in the third quarter, but Matt Gay’s 54-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth cut the deficit to 21-9.

With less than seven minutes left, Stafford faked a handoff and rolled to his left. He stumbled and then was hit by linebacker Bud Dupree as his pass fell incomplete. Stafford limped as he started toward the Rams sideline, McVay shaking his head in frustration.

The Titans, aided by two roughing-the-passer penalties, then launched a drive that culminated with Adrian Peterson’s one-yard touchdown run to seal the victory.

Stafford fired a three-yard touchdown pass to running back Sony Michel with 24 seconds left as the Rams avoided the embarrassment of failing to score a touchdown.

Stafford said he would “take a hard look at myself” and improve before the “Monday Night Football” matchup against the 49ers. Just as the Rams bounced back from a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, Stafford anticipates they will do the same after this defeat.

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he said. “Had a bunch of good games. Had a bunch of bad games before.

“I know what it takes to go out there and respond and play well the next week. I think our team does; we did it earlier this year, we plan on doing it again.”


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