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Column: Matthew Stafford wishes he was better in sorry performance against Cardinals

Three times during a postgame news conference that lasted roughly six minutes, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said he wished he had done something differently and better during the Rams’ 37-20 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

First, he said he regretted not finding a better spot to place a pass intended for DeSean Jackson, a throw that was intercepted by Byron Murphy Jr. and led to Arizona’s first touchdown.

“If there’s a throw out there that gets completed, the one I picked to try and throw wasn’t the right one,” Stafford said after his first loss with the Rams (3-1).

“That’s one of those plays where I’m sitting there going, ‘Man, I wish I’d have seen it a little bit different and put it to a different spot.’ DeSean did a great job of getting open. I’ve just got to find the right throw there and get it to him.”

Stafford also was sorry he couldn’t find Cooper Kupp on a third-and-four play with the Cardinals leading 21-10 in what seemed to be developing into a back-and-forth game at SoFi Stadium. All the Rams got out of it was a field goal by Matt Gay. With Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray at his dynamic and scrambling best, that wasn’t nearly good enough.

“He ran a great route,” Stafford said of Kupp. “I kind of tried to hold the safety in the middle of the field and by the time I peeked back I felt like he was stumbling out of his route just a little bit so I threw it to a spot. And again I’m sitting there going, ‘I wish I’d have.’ ”

Stafford used his third “wish” on his inability to establish a consistent connection with his receivers, praising them and accepting the blame for his ineffective performance. He completed 26 of 41 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He was spared another interception in the third quarter, when a roughing-the-passer call on Arizona’s Isaiah Simmons allowed the Rams to keep the ball. Not that they got anything out of it, as Gay’s field goal attempt went wide right.

“I’m just trying to spread the ball around to where I feel the ball should go. I think those guys do a great job of running and expecting the ball on every play. You never know where it’s going to go,” Stafford said. “I’m just happy those guys were running and doing what they can do. I just wish I could have played better and given them more opportunities.”

Rams coach Sean McVay had his own unfulfilled wishes after losing to an NFC West rival. “There’s a lot of decisions and things that I wish I would have done a better job for our football team with,” McVay said. We’ll look at ourselves critically and we’ll move forward.”

All the wishes in the world won’t change that the Rams were off in every part of their game. Sometimes it was by the slightest margin but it was always just enough to see what they might have accomplished if they’d executed with the sharpness they’d showed in winning their first three games. Murray and Arizona (4-0) posed the challenge the Rams expected, but the Rams had no chance when wishing was their main weapon.

McVay called Stafford “gutsy,” but acknowledged the quarterback missed some crucial opportunities. Among them a poor throw to tight end Tyler Higbee in the end zone on third-and-five on the Rams’ first possession, which ended with a field goal by Gay. Stafford regretted that one, too.

“Just give him a chance. Don’t leave that one where nobody can catch it,” Stafford said. “There’s a few in there that I sit and think about those. Those are just physical errors. You don’t want to live with them but you kind of have to. And you’ve got to learn from them and try to figure out why they happen and just go be better from there.”

McVay chose to emphasize the positive. “There was a couple things that he didn’t play up to his level early on, but you talk about being able to will us down the field when we ended up coming short on that fourth down and one where we just missed [Higbee],” McVay said.

“But some of the individual plays that he made, the look in his eye, I’ll ride with that guy any day, and I feel that way about our football team. And I think these are moments when you can really see a lot about how people are wired the right way and this guy is everything you can ask for in a quarterback and I can’t wait to go back to compete with him on Thursday.”

At least Stafford didn’t have to wish for time to fly before he can put Sunday’s clunker behind him and reward the teammates he praised for protecting him so well Sunday that he was never sacked. “This is a prove-it game. You’ve got to go out there and do it every time,” he said, referring to football as a whole and not any particular matchup.

The Rams didn’t prove much on Sunday other than merely wishing won’t get a ball into a receiver’s hands — and that they have a lot left to prove.

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