INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — One week ago, the Los Angeles Rams were considered the NFC favorites after beating the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Then the Arizona Cardinals came to town.
After three weeks of resembling the team that reached the Super Bowl in Sean McVay's second season as coach in 2018, the Rams looked liked the club that underperformed the past two years during Sunday's 37-20 loss to the Cardinals.
Many of the inconsistencies that plagued the Rams in 2019 and '20 showed up, including some questionable decisions by McVay.
The Cardinals were driving with 1:10 remaining in the first half when right guard Josh Jones was called for offensive holding after Kyler Murray threw an incomplete pass on third-and-4 from the LA 29-yard line. McVay accepted the penalty, a decision that backfired after Murray completed a 16-yard pass Rondale Moore.
Eight plays later, Matt Prater kicked a 23-yard field goal to extend Arizona's lead to 24-13.
"I wanted to move them back and put them out of field goal range. They ended up converting," McVay said. "I felt like that was the right decision at the time, but it didn't work out for us. I make no excuses about that."
The Rams (3-1) were down 34-13 in the fourth quarter when Matthew Stafford appeared to score on a scramble up the middle on second-and-goal from the Rams 8. Instead, officials ruled he was just shy of the goal line. Stafford was stopped for no gain on third down and then couldn't connect with tight end Tyler Higbee in the corner of the end zone on fourth down to turn it over on downs.
McVay said he was considering challenging the call on Stafford's run, but was advised by his coaches upstairs that the replay was inconclusive.
"We didn't end up punching that in, so there were a lot of decisions and a lot of things that I didn't do nearly a good enough job," McVay said.
Stafford, who came into the game second in the league in passer rating, threw for 280 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He completed a beautiful 35-yard pass to Cooper Kupp between two defenders in the second quarter, but misfired on some short passes.
Stafford completed nearly 76% of his throws within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage in his first three games, but was 6 of 11 against the Cardinals.
""This is a prove-it (sport), and you've got to go out there and do it every time. Just because our team won last week doesn't mean we're going to win this week," Stafford said. "Just because I made that throw (to Kupp) doesn't mean I'm gonna make the third-and-goal throw where the receiver is open on a 1-yard flat route. I put it over his head. You just got to go out there and prove it and do it every single time."
The Rams' defense, meanwhile, was No. 1 in the league last year under coordinator Brandon Staley, who left to become the Chargers' head coach. Under Raheem Morris, the Rams have slipped, allowing opponents to convert 50% of third downs, which is tied for 28th in the league. The Cardinals converted 8 of 13 opportunities, including four chances with 6 or more yards to go.
"I don't think coach can call things perfect all the time. Nobody can play perfect, but whatever he calls, there is a reason behind it. It's on us to go execute regardless of whether the play call may have been good or bad," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. "I don't think there was enough of that tonight on our part."