GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- This isn't the story the Los Angeles Rams expected to be telling at this point.
It wasn't supposed to involve demoralizing turnovers, inexplicable lapses in concentration and a team full of stars moping after humbling losses. The Rams were too loaded for these types of problems, too flush with big-name talent. Now they're facing their first significant challenges and how they respond will ultimately determine how far they go.
The Rams (7-4) left Green Bay on Sunday night with a 36-28 loss.
That's now three straight defeats for a Los Angeles team that started 7-1, and what's most troubling is who those losses have come against. The Titans and 49ers took turns pummeling the Rams in their two previous games. The Packers took advantage of them in a different way, by dominating the time of possession and maximizing on L.A.'s self-inflicted wounds.
It wasn't that long ago that Los Angeles had defined itself as the trendiest of picks to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. The major question surrounding the Rams today is when they'll start looking like a team that can still handle other playoff contenders in this league.
"There are still six games left," Rams head coach Sean McVay said. "The only thing that we can do is get ourselves back in alignment, have a good week of preparation and try to get back on track against the Jaguars. We have six left for sure and that's a lot of football. This story isn't written yet."
To be fair, the Rams aren't the only top team that has faced its share of adversity. They're really only the latest.
This season has given us plenty of talented squads who've had to battle through their own growing pains, including those who've drifted below .500 (the Chiefs, Patriots and Colts) and those who started fast before barreling into their own troubles (the Cowboys, Buccaneers, Titans and Chargers). The only certainty this 2021 campaign has offered is that everybody is going to endure something sooner or later.
The Rams are intriguing because no team has made splashier moves to position itself for a Super Bowl run. They swapped quarterback Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford during the offseason. They acquired Pro Bowl outside linebacker Von Miller before the trade deadline and signed wide receiver Odell Beckham when the Cleveland Browns released him. This was a squad custom-made for Hollywood, with its star power and cavalier approach to building a roster for today instead of caring about what future draft picks could deliver.
The last three weeks have served as a humble reminder of why NFL games aren't decided on paper. The defeats to Tennessee and San Francisco revealed that Los Angeles could be pushed around by more physical teams. Just as troubling has been the play of Stafford of late, as he now has committed six turnovers over this three-game losing streak. Three of those have been interceptions returned for touchdowns, including a 33-yard pick-six by Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas that gave Green Bay a 36-17 lead late in the third quarter on Sunday.
Stafford did produce three touchdown passes in this contest, but he acknowledged that his miscues -- coupled with a fumbled punt by returner J.J. Koski that the Packers also recovered -- are major issues.
"It can't happen," Stafford said. "You can't come into Lambeau Field and have three turnovers in minus territory and expect to play the game you want to play. We were able to fight back, and I have a ton of confidence and respect for the guys in our locker room and the way we battled. But it's a whole lot easier when you're playing the game on your terms."
The Rams are basically at a point where they can't find a way to create the magic that had swirled around them earlier this year.
McVay called a running play on fourth-and-1 from his own 29-yard line later in that quarter, only to watch Packers safety Adrian Amos stuff Darrell Henderson for no gain on that gamble. The Rams defense also couldn't get off the field consistently, which became so problematic that Green Bay controlled the football for 39 minutes and 40 seconds.
Every person on the Rams who spoke after the game acknowledged that they are killing themselves at critical junctures.
As much as McVay pointed out the opportunities that are still in front of this team -- and they are likely to get healthy on a Jacksonville squad that is currently 2-9 -- this isn't the time of year when any contender wants to play its worst football.
"We have guys who are way too good for us to be losing games like this," Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. "We just have to get right. We have to play better. Everything just has to be better. We have to correct it."
Ramsey echoed a similar sentiment to McVay, that talking about the problems only does so much. The Rams need to start seeing concrete actions that suggest their desired improvement is happening. For example, they've been talking about not turning the football over for the last three weeks. They're still waiting for that unwanted element to vanish from their performances.
It's also fair to say that this team will look much different once Miller and Beckham, Jr. become more acclimated.
Miller is still getting over an ankle injury he sustained earlier this season as a member of the Denver Broncos. Beckham – who had five receptions for 81 yards and a 51-yard touchdown catch in this game, his second with the franchise -- has been asked to move immediately into a larger role now that starter Robert Woods has been lost for the year with a knee injury. Both players have the ability to help this team down the stretch.
So McVay is correct: There is more than enough time for the Rams to find their way out of this. The proof of that exists in places like Kansas City and New England.
The real challenge is making those adjustments expeditiously, because the NFC is filled with a handful of teams that are legitimate threats to win a championship.
The Rams started this season making plenty of noise about their own Super Bowl dreams. It's time to remind people that those hopes actually are still well within their reach.