INGLEWOOD (News4usonline) – It was Matthew Stafford’s worst outing as a member of the Los Angeles Rams. In a primetime Sunday Night Football game, statistically, the final numbers Stafford put up against the Tennessee Titans, suggest the 13-year NFL quarterback had a decent performance.
Stafford finished the game with nearly 300 passing yards (294) and led the Rams to a couple of touchdown drives. That’s where the numbers can be deceiving. Those numbers mostly came in mop-up duty after Tennessee had sprinted out to an 18-point halftime lead, thanks in large part to two interceptions by Stafford.
“I basically spotted them 14 points,” Stafford said in a postgame press conference. “Can’t do that in the NFL, especially against a good team like that, that wants to get out in front, run the football, mix coverages, all that kind of stuff. Just wasn’t good enough early in the game.
“Turnovers really killed us. Those were on me. If I clean those up, I know I will, I got a lot of confidence in this team to go out there and play some really good football,” Stafford added.
The Titans’ lead was good enough to hold on to a surprising 28-16 win against the Rams at SoFi Stadium. Tennessee managed to pull off this caper with leading rusher Derrick Henry being out for the season. Afterward, Rams head coach Sean McVay put the onus of the team’s loss on himself.
“I didn’t do nearly a good enough job for our football team tonight,” McVay said. “We were uncharacteristic with the penalties, the turnovers. I really think the defense started off, they were giving us a chance. It was a big-time interception by (CB) Jalen (Ramsey). Then ultimately, really just the momentum and the flow of the game, I didn’t do nearly a good enough job of helping our players establish that, particularly on offense.”
McVay continued, “You go back, you look at yourself critically. We get these things corrected. That’s all I know how to do. That’s what we’ll do. I trust the character of this locker room to be able to respond the right way. Not nearly good enough and it starts with me.”
It’s been a long time since the Rams and the Titans last took the field against one another in a national spotlight football game. The Week 9 game between the two teams was the first time the Rams and the Titans played each other in a primetime contest since their Super Bowl XXXIV dance.
That meeting took place back in 2000 when Kurt Warner and the Rams prevailed over Steve McNair and the Titans with a 23-16 win. That game turned out to be one of the memorable Super Bowl contests ever played.
Who can forget the herculean efforts by the late great Steve McNair to bring his team back from a 16-0 halftime deficit to come within one yard of possibly tying the ballgame and sending the contest into overtime?
And who can forget that it was Warner who delivered the play of the game that broke the Titans’ back when he connected with wide receiver Isaac Bruce for a 73-yard pass play that went for the winning touchdown to give the franchise its first and only Super Bowl victory?
Ironically, Bruce, who caught six passes for 162 yards in Super Bowl XXXIV, was presented with his Hall of Fame ring in a pregame ceremony at SoFi Stadium’s American Airlines Plaza.
“It’s very special that we have this moment, this celebration, and at the same night be able to smash these Tennessee Titans once again,” Bruce told a throng of Rams fans. “Listen, love you guys, and let’s go get it.”
What happened over two decades ago happened then. This is now. The Rams and McVay came into this game tied with the Arizona Cardinals for first place in the NFC West Division.
By the time the Rams played their game against their AFC South opponent, Arizona had jumped ahead in the standings after the Cardinals had whipped the San Francisco 49ers earlier in the day. Then the game came and the Rams played like the moment was too big for them, at least on the offensive side of the ball.
Defensively, the Rams played stoutly, holding Tennessee to just 69 yards rushing and keeping quarterback Ryan Tannehill in check with 143 passing yards. The defensive unit even picked Tannehill off and sacked him three times in the game.
That effort became moot with Stafford’s early game miscues putting the Rams in a hole. Through the first half, the Rams totaled 94 yards of offense. That’s not good by any stretch of the imagination. Stafford served up two interceptions that led directly to two Tennessee touchdowns.
Before playing Tennessee, Stafford had been playing off the charts with 2,477 yards, 22 touchdowns and completing 68 percent of his passes on the season. Those numbers were downgraded by the Titans, especially in the first half.
Stafford threw for 62 yards and those two giveaways to go along with a 25.5 quarterback rating before the two teams went into the locker room for intermission. If you throw in the four sacks (five total for the game) the Titans registered through the first two quarters, Stafford had a pretty rough go of it on the night.
Those interceptions that Stafford threw were like daggers.
That’s because the Rams defense was pretty playing lights out themselves, recording an interception by Jalen Ramsey and holding Tennessee to only 65 passing yards in the first half.
So, let’s revisit what happened. In his own endzone, Stafford, who looked like he was about to be sacked, erroneously threw the ball right into the hands of Tennessee linebacker David Long Jr. which set up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Geoff Swaim.
On the Rams’ very next series, Stafford was undercut on a throw by Tennessee defensive back Kevin Byard, who picked off the pass and returned it 24 yards for a score, giving Tennessee a 14-3 lead. And just like that, the Rams found themselves in a double-digit deficit that would be hard to climb out of.
Tannehill, the beneficiary of those two gifts that Stafford provided to the Titans, said the two interceptions were big.
“Oh, it’s huge,” Tannehill said. “And the defense played huge all game and those plays early were unbelievable. You look at the pressure on the quarterback and then, (Titans LB) David (Long Jr.) making a play on the ball, and then (Titans S) Kevin (Byard) reading the pattern and getting underneath that out cut was huge. So hats off to them, they played a heck of a game. It was fun watching them make plays and, I’m proud of the way they played.”
Stafford, who did not practice Wednesday and Thursday leading up to the game because of an ailing back, just didn’t have it against Tennessee. In the previous eight games he started for the Rams, Stafford only coughed up four times via interceptions. As a result of Stafford struggling, the Rams’ offense could not get untracked.
“Our defense played good, good enough to keep us in the game,” Stafford said. “If we don’t turn the ball over twice it gives us a chance to win that one. I got to play better myself first and foremost.”
Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) feels the heat from the Tennessee Titans defense. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers the NFL, NBA, MLB, racial and social justice, civil rights, and HBCUs. Dennis earned a journalism degree from “The Mecca” aka Howard University. “I write on what I am passionate about.”