INGLEWOOD, Calif. — They emptied their bag of tricks to keep it close, converting two fake punts and recovering an onside kick.
But in the end, the Detroit Lions were undone by two moves that came seven years apart — one they didn’t make and one they did.
Aaron Donald, the defensive tackle the Lions famously passed on in the 2014 draft to take Eric Ebron, had a key pressure with the Lions driving late in the fourth quarter, causing Jared Goff — the quarterback they acquired in the Matthew Stafford trade earlier this year — to throw an interception in the end zone and send the Lions home losers again.
Stafford threw for 334 yards and three touchdowns as the Los Angeles Rams beat the Lions at SoFi Stadium, 28-19. The Lions (0-7) remain the only winless team in the NFL.
"We're a lot better than our record shows," Goff said. "Ultimately, in this league that doesn't matter. It really doesn't. I can say that as long as I want, but until we win some games, we can't really prove it. I do believe we are a lot better than 0-7. And we have had some chances to win this year and just ultimately haven't done it."
The Lions gave themselves chances to win Sunday, and took a 19-17 lead into the fourth quarter. But as has been the case all season, they fell victim to one too many of their own mistakes.
Stafford started the 33rd fourth-quarter comeback of his career, the first 31 of which came during his 12 seasons in Detroit, on the final play of the third quarter, when he found Cooper Kupp for a 59-yard gain on third-and-12.
Kupp beat fill-in cornerback Daryl Worley easily on the play, though Lions coach Dan Campbell said his pass rush was late reacting to the snap.
Four plays later, Kupp beat Worley again for the go-ahead touchdown.
"Really what happened on the big shot, we had the pressure dialed up," Campbell said. "We loved the play. We weren't ready. We were kind of getting our feet set and looking, they kind of got to the line with a little tempo and we weren't quite ready. So our rush is just a tick late, and now he gets a little bit more time to see it and he's able to push it down the field. So he found it, but we could be better. We can be better."
Goff, the No. 1 overall pick by the Rams in 2016, drove the Lions deep into Rams territory on the ensuing possession, but Donald beat Halapoulivaati Vaitai with an inside rush on second-and-10 from the 12-yard line and hit Goff just as he threw to T.J. Hockenson in the end zone.
Jalen Ramsey stepped in front of the pass for an easy interception, and the Rams tacked on a final 47-yard field goal with 58 seconds to play.
"Those two guys are the best at their position for a reason," Goff said. "They made a great play on us. If I had to do it again, probably throw it out of the end zone, but that’s the look we wanted, a play we wanted, and unfortunately I got hit on it.”
Both Stafford and Goff spent time during pregame warmups saying hello to old teammates, coaches and friends. But Goff’s homecoming — and Stafford’s reunion — were quickly overshadowed by the Lions’ aggressive play on the field.
The Lions ran two trick plays in the game’s first four minutes that caught the Rams off guard and kept LA’s high-powered offense off the field.
Goff led the Lions on a six-play, 75-yard drive to open the game, with D’Andre Swift turning a screen pass into a 63-yard touchdown.
Tracy Walker recovered the ensuing onside kick, and after the Rams got a stop on third-and-7, punter Jack Fox threw complete to gunner Bobby Price on a fake punt.
The Lions took a 10-0 lead on Austin Seibert’s 37-yard field goal, but gave up points on all three of the Rams’ full first-half possessions and trailed 17-16 at halftime.
"We felt like we could gain an advantage there and see if we could get some possessions back," Campbell said. "They helped, but it wasn't enough. It's too good of a football team to make (mistakes). And you're not allowed to make one or two errors against a football team like that."
IN HER OWN WORDS: Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp: 'Totally understand' being booed
Goff finished 22 of 36 passing for 268 yards. He threw a second interception off Swift’s hands on the Lions’ final possession.
Swift had a career-high 96 yards receiving, and Kalif Raymond added 115 yards on six catches for the Lions, who play the Philadelphia Eagles next week before heading into their bye.
Stafford, who asked for a trade in January after three consecutive losing seasons in Detroit, completed 28 of 41 passes and Kupp had 156 yards receiving on 10 catches for the Rams.
"Am I happy it's over with? Yeah," Stafford said. "I got a lot of great friends, a lot of people I care about that are on that team or from that city, and just glad to have this one over with. Can put the story lines away and just go out and play football the rest of the year and just enjoy it.”
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Matthew Stafford carves up Detroit Lions, who lose to Rams, 28-19