If it happened once, consider it a mistake. An aberration.
When it occurs twice in row, perhaps that’s a coincidence. Maybe bad luck.
Three consecutive games?
That’s a trend.
On Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, for the third time in three games, Stafford committed two costly turnovers. For the third game in a row, an opponent returned an interception for a touchdown.
And the Rams lost, 36-28, before a crowd of 77,948 at Lambeau Field, extending their losing streak to three games.
The Rams, a star-laden team once regarded among the favorites to play in Super Bowl LVI at Sofi Stadium, instead dropped to 7-4 and fell further off the pace for a favorable NFC playoff seed.
At this point, with six games left, the playoffs also could be in doubt unless the Rams return to a semblance of their early season form.
“We’ve got six left for sure,” coach Sean McVay said. “That’s a lot of football and the story isn’t written yet.
“We’ve got the pen.”
McVay might have been tempted to poke himself in the eye with an implement after watching his hand-picked veteran quarterback put the Rams in what proved to be another insurmountable hole.
Stafford lost a fumble in the first quarter, and the Packers converted the miscue into a touchdown for a lead they never relinquished. After Stafford led the Rams back to within 13 points late in the third quarter, Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Last year those kinds of mistakes led a perturbed McVay to eventually call out former quarterback Jared Goff. Those kinds of mistakes ultimately got Goff traded to the Detroit Lions — for Stafford.
Asked at what point he would do the same with Stafford, McVay gave a feisty defense of his quarterback.
“I’m not interested in revisiting the past and some of the things that haven’t always gone the way we wanted to,” McVay said, adding, “I’ve got great confidence in this guy — and I’m not going to sit here and criticize our players. ... I have total confidence and belief in Matthew Stafford, and I think the narrative everybody wants to throw out, six turnovers — all of those have a totally different story and not all of those are his fault.”
Stafford denied a television report that he was struggling with back, ankle and arm problems. Before the Rams lost to the Tennessee Titans, Stafford sat out practices because of back stiffness. He suffered a left ankle sprain in that game, but it did not appear to hinder him in losses to the San Francisco 49ers and the Packers.
And his arm looked plenty strong on Sunday on a 79-yard touchdown pass to Van Jefferson and 54-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr.
Stafford completed 21 of 38 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’m feeling fine,” he said when asked about the report, acknowledging the time he missed because of back stiffness. “The rest of my body — is it 100%? No. Nor is anybody else’s in this league at this point in the season.”
Clearly, however, something is off with the 13th-year pro. Four weeks ago, he was at the forefront of the most valuable player conversation after leading the Rams to a 7-1 start. Now they have lost three in a row for the first time since 2019, the only time McVay’s team missed the playoffs.
Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, was asked if he ever experienced having interceptions returned for touchdowns three games in a row.
“I’ve had some tough stretches in my career, there’s no question,” he said. “Play this game long enough it will humble ya. ... Is it disappointing when you come out and play like that? Absolutely.
“There was some good things, but too many bad things for us to have a chance to beat a good team like Green Bay.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said last week that he was playing through a toe fracture. On Sunday he completed 28 of 45 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown as the Packers (9-3) remained in the hunt for the top seed in the NFC for the second season in a row.
Last season the Rams lost to the Packers at Lambeau Field in an NFC divisional-round playoff game. Aiming for a different outcome Sunday, they were foiled by Stafford’s turnovers and a fumble by punt returner J.J. Koski.
But along with the mistakes on offense and special teams, a defensive front that features Aaron Donald, Von Miller and Leonard Floyd recorded only one sack while going against an injury-depleted Packers line.
The Rams never came close to intercepting a pass.
Asked what the mood was like after a team with such lofty expectations suffered a third consecutive defeat, cornerback Jalen Ramsey said, “It’s not a good mood, I can say that.”
“We have guys that are way too good for us to be losing games like this,” he said, adding, “We just got to get it right.”
Perhaps they will do that Sunday against the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars at SoFi Stadium. Then it’s a trip to play the NFC-West leading Arizona Cardinals. The schedule also includes holiday-weekend road trips to play the Minnesota Vikings and Baltimore Ravens, along with home division games against the Seattle Seahawks and 49ers.
“They don’t stop the season right now,” Stafford said. “There’s a lot of ball left, and a lot of things can happen.”
For Stafford and the Rams, they'd better start to become good things again.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.