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Rams left reeling as regular-season slide against 49ers continues in loss

From Super Bowl champions to super average. Mediocre. And trending perhaps toward … super bad?

That’s where the Rams find themselves after a 24-9 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night at Levi’s Stadium.

“However you want to cut it,” coach Sean McVay said, “we have to be better collectively.”

It marked the Rams’ seventh consecutive regular-season loss to the 49ers — the fourth in a row at Levi’s Stadium — dropping the Rams’ record to 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the NFC West.

For most teams, a .500 record is not cause for alarm. The NFL is set up to make it tough on the defending Super Bowl champion — and every team in the NFC West is now 2-2.

But under McVay the Rams are not accustomed to average.

Before this season, which started with a loss to the Buffalo Bills and a victory over the Atlanta Falcons, they had been at .500 only twice since the Rams made the then-30-year-old McVay the youngest coach in modern NFL history.

In 2017, they started 1-1 and then went on to finish 11-5 and make the playoffs for the first time since the 2004 season. But in 2019, the Rams were 3-3 en route to a 9-7 finish, and they missed the playoffs for the only time under McVay.

With 13 games left, Monday night’s result still might not be enough convincing evidence to conclude the Rams are suffering from a Super Bowl hangover. It might not portend disaster.

But with the 3-1 Dallas Cowboys coming to SoFi Stadium on Sunday, the Rams have plenty of issues.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford once again had a pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown against the 49ers. He also lost a fumble. Linebackers Justin Hollins and Takkarist McKinley had to be separated while arguing on the sideline. The offensive line is a mess because of injuries. And other than Stafford’s connection with Cooper Kupp and Tyler Higbee, the offense is not productive.

The loss on “Monday Night Football” was a “a gut punch,” Kupp said.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) scrambles against the San Francisco 49ers.

(Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)

“You can sit here and say we have to execute better,” said Kupp, who caught 14 passes for 122 yards. “We say that every week, but at some point you’ve just got to do it.”

A week after giving up only four field goals in a 20-12 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, the Rams managed only three field goals.

It was a poor performance by a team that had ended some misery against the 49ers by defeating them in January in the NFC championship game.

Stafford, operating behind a patchwork offensive line, was sacked seven times, four in the first half.

Center Coleman Shelton, playing again in place of injured starter Brian Allen, left the game after the second series because of an ankle injury, bringing on Jeremiah Kolone to snap the ball for a line that already included reserves Alaric Jackson and Bobby Evans at guard.

Stafford completed 32 of 48 passes for 254 yards but failed to pass for a touchdown for the second consecutive game, something that had happened only three times in his 13-plus NFL seasons and not since 2016.

And after playing error-free against the Cardinals, Stafford made a crucial mistake in the fourth quarter when 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga intercepted a screen pass and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown that sealed the victory.

Stafford made a similar mistake last season against the 49ers when safety Jimmie Ward intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown.

“It was like déjà vu,” McVay said, adding, “It’s very frustrating.”

Said Stafford: “That’s on me. I can do a better job there.”

Stafford was outplayed again by oft-criticized 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Garoppolo, cast aside during the offseason and training camp to make way for Trey Lance, rebounded from an embarrassing performance against the Denver Broncos and played typically well against the Rams in his second start.

Garoppolo completed 16 of 27 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown. Versatile Deebo Samuel scored near the end of the first half when he caught a short pass and ran through several would-be tacklers on his way to a 57-yard touchdown.

“He got the ball out of his hands and put it in playmaker’s hands,” Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner said of Garoppolo. “Last year, nobody thought he was going to be back on this team. Beginning of this year nobody thought he was going to be back on this team.

“And all he does is come out and make plays. That’s what he did [Monday], and we have to make sure next time we stop that.”

The Rams trailed 14-6 at halftime after managing only two field goals and giving up a 32-yard touchdown run by Jeff Wilson Jr. and Samuel’s touchdown.

But five plays into the possession, Hufanga stepped in front of a pass intended for Kupp and returned it to the end zone.

So, after getting routed by the Buffalo Bills in the opener, and then rebounding with victories over the Atlanta Falcons and Cardinals, the Rams remain in search of a consistent winning formula.

“It’s four games,” McVay said, “but that’s kind of where we’re at.”

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