May 27, 2024

Aaron Donald sat alone in front of his locker, a towel pulled tightly over his face.

The Rams’ star defensive lineman was contemplating another loss against his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers; another defeat that prevented the middling Rams from stringing together consecutive victories; another setback that prevented the Rams from producing any semblance of momentum.

“I’m tired of that,” Donald said.

So are his teammates. So is coach Sean McVay.

On Sunday, the Rams wasted another opportunity to win two games in a row,falling to the Steelers 24-17 before 73,471 at SoFi Stadium.

With a stadium full of Terrible Towel-waving Steelers fans, the Rams could not build on last Sunday’s 26-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, a win in which they scored 20 consecutive second-half points.

The Rams’ record dropped to 3-4 heading into next a game Sunday against the 4-2 Dallas Cowboys, who had this week off.

Consider: The Rams have not won two games in a row since early in the 2022 season, making it a seemingly impossible feat for a franchise that won Super Bowl LVI two years ago.

“The NFL is very challenging — to get wins on a consistent basis is really difficult,” McVay said. “But we’ve got to figure out how to do it at a more consistent clip, because I think we can and I trust that we will.”

The Rams won’t if they continue to make the mistakes that plagued them against a Steelers team that improved to 4-2.

Kicker Brett Maher missed two field-goal attempts and an extra-point attempt.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s first pass of the second half was intercepted by Steelers star linebacker T.J. Watt to set up a touchdown.

The Rams were penalized for having 12 men on the field near the conclusion of the Steelers’ game-winning scoring drive. And McVay had used up his timeouts, preventing him from challenging a spot with just over two minutes left.

Stafford completed 14 of 29 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown, with the interception. But he was zero for five in the fourth quarter.

Rams defensive end Michael Hoecht tackles Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first quarter Sunday.

Rams defensive end Michael Hoecht tackles Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first quarter Sunday.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“Felt like we had control of it for a decent amount of it,” said Stafford, who said, “just didn’t finish it.”

The Rams appeared to be in trouble from the start.

Sure-handed star receiver Cooper Kupp dropped a pass on the Rams’ first play. Three plays later he dropped another.

“I’ve got to do more for us,” said Kupp, who was targeted seven times but caught only two passes for 29 yards. “Those are plays you can make — you’ve got to make.

“So to start the game off like that and set us back a little bit and not get into a rhythm, I obviously can do a much better job there.”

The Rams' Puka Nacua runs past the Steelers' Patrick Peterson after a reception.

The Rams’ Puka Nacua runs past the Steelers’ Patrick Peterson after a reception.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Rookie receiver Puka Nacua had a big day — he caught eight passes for 154 yards — and running backs Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman filled in well for injured Kyren Williams.

But that was not enough to offset mistakes and missed opportunities.

Maher’s struggles this season might have reached the breaking point Sunday.

His field-goal attempt from 53 yards hit the left upright and bounced away. He also missed a 51-yard attempt, and the extra point after Stafford found Tutu Atwell for a go-ahead touchdown with 17 seconds left in the first half.

Rams receiver Tutu Atwell  catches a second quarter pass before running into the end zone for a score.

Rams receiver Tutu Atwell catches a second quarter pass before running into the end zone for a score.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“We’ll look at it — we’ll see,” McVay said when asked about Maher’s status. “He’s got to be better. That’s seven points that we missed out on that were key and critical.”

Said Maher: “Tough day, and didn’t do my part for the team.”

The Rams led 9-3 at halftime but the lead did not last long.

On the first play of the third quarter, Watt stepped in front of a Stafford pass intended for Kupp. The 2021 NFL defensive player of the year returned the interception 24 yards to the Rams’ seven-yard line, and Kenny Pickett’s third-down sneak from the one gave the Steelers a the lead.

The turnover “was just a killer,” said McVay, who took responsibility for the play call.

Stafford said he did not see Watt.

“Thought I put it into a good spot,” Stafford said, “and then, all of sudden, he flashed in front and made a great play.

“He’s a big-time player and made a big-time play.”

Nacua made several big plays to set up Henderson’s one-yard touchdown run, and Stafford’s two-point conversion pass to Kupp gave the Rams a 17-10 lead.

But early in the fourth quarter, Steelers running back Jaylen Warren scored to tie the game, 17-17.

And when the Rams went three and out, the Steelers took advantage.

Pickett connected with receivers George Pickens and Diontae Johnson several times during an 80-play drive that featured the too-many-men-on-the-field penalty against the Rams and ended with Najee Harris’ short touchdown run for a 24-17 lead.

1

Steelers offensive lineman James Daniels, right, hoists running back Jaylen Warren in the air while celebrating.

2

Rams offensive lineman Steve Avila spikes the ball in celebration.

3

Rams players Jake Hummel, Christian Rozeboom and Tre Tomlinson tackle Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin II.

1. Steelers offensive lineman James Daniels, right, hoists running back Jaylen Warren in the air while celebrating Warren’s second-half touchdown. 2. Rams offensive lineman Steve Avila spikes the ball in celebration after wide receiver Tutu Atwell’s touchdown in the second quarter. 3. Rams players (from left) Jake Hummel, Christian Rozeboom and Tre Tomlinson tackle Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Calvin Austin II. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams were forced to punt on the ensuing possession, and the Steelers ran out the clock with the aid of a spot after a fourth-and-one sneak that the Rams could not challenge.

“I’m not going to sit here and make any excuses about stuff that didn’t go down,” McVay said. “Those plays should not have come down to that, if we executed like we were capable of.”

So now the Rams are off to play the Cowboys. Their quest for something resembling a winning streak continues.

“There’s no secret formula,” offensive lineman Rob Havenstein said. “Find out what needs to be fixed, go back to work, and fix it.”

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