Matthew Stafford usually mutes his emotions in public, whether he’s under center or behind a bank of microphones. Before he left California to pursue his football goals, he had some California cool.
Stafford’s screams brought joy to the Los Angeles Rams, who were also delighted.
The quarterback was done. a majestic 44-yard pass to Cooper Kupp to set up the field goal that sent the Rams to the NFC championship game, Stafford spiked the ball to stop the clock — and then he spiked it again in a frenzied, screaming celebration while he bounced off the field.
“All the guys on the sideline were like, ‘Man, you were in a dark place,’”Stafford stated. “I said, ‘Sometimes, you just have to go to those places and make some plays happen.’I was simply enjoying the moment. These are the moments I cherish. I would have loved to have been taking a knee up three scores, but it’s a whole lot more fun when you’ve got to make a play like that to win the game and just steal somebody’s soul.”
Bold, provocative words from a player who isn’t prone to grand pronouncements — or even interesting responses to questions during most game weeks.
Stafford has focused on his pursuit of the Super Bowl ring and everything else about Stafford has been amplified. Stafford has had his best chance to achieve the ultimate goal of every player, and he is near his absolute best.
Stafford is coming off a strong regular-season season that was marred by late-season turnover problems. Stafford has now thrown for 570 yards, completed 74.5% without an interception and earned the first two playoff wins of his career. He has thrown four touchdown passes and rushed to score two more while displaying the poise that is expected of the game’s top quarterbacks.
His gutsy completion to Kupp — while getting clobbered by Ndamukong Suh, no less — and his subsequent celebration were the punctuation on a clear, declarative statement of Stafford’s desire.
“It was kind of Kobe-esque,”Sean McVay, Rams coach, said it best: evoking the ultimate level of sports passion in Los Angeles
“He’s very poised in front of the media and he’s poised during games, but he’s got a lot of stuff to him that I think people wouldn’t realize,”McVay also added. “And that’s exactly what you want from your quarterback. I love that fire that he has.”
Stafford’s first season (14-5) was his most successful in 13 years of NFL football. However, he leads Los Angeles against San Francisco (9-7) on Sunday. He knows they will need another stellar effort to defeat an opponent who has owned the Rams for three seasons.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity,”Stafford spoke Wednesday. “It’s a whole lot of fun to be doing what we’re doing, playing football when we’re one of the last four teams left.”
Stafford left the NFL and moved his family across the country to be with his children. He couldn’t believe how fast time was passing him by. He had only three playoff losses in his 12 seasons with Detroit. This was the end of a long and disappointing career.
He has benefited from the Rams’ support and has continued to improve upon their efforts. Kupp was the most productive receiver in football after he was paired with Stafford, as Calvin Johnson was during his time with Stafford in Detroit.
McVay is an aggressive, innovative play-caller who is well-suited for Stafford’s strong arm. He also makes confident decisions. Their partnership did not work out perfectly during the regular season. However, the worst setback for LA’s offense against Tampa Bay was four turnovers from Stafford’s teammates.
All is set to face the 49ers. They harassed Stafford with four-man rushes in both of their meetings this season. Stafford’s decision-making skills make him an excellent opponent to blitzes. However, San Francisco often drops seven men into coverage and still feels the pressure.
Stafford is well-versed in all aspects of the subject and is willing to do it again.
“There aren’t a ton of varied looks,” he said. “They do a great job stunting their defensive line and moving guys after the snap. … It’s about execution for us, guys doing the right thing play in and play out, and when we’re getting the opportunities to hit big plays, we have to hit them.”
Stafford is surrounded by great teammates in Los Angeles both at home and in the Rams’ locker rooms. His wife, Kelly, reveals more about her husband on her weekly podcast than Stafford himself ever discusses publicly — and this week, she announced her intention to buy championship game tickets for a significant number of Rams fans who have been priced out of SoFi Stadium.
Stafford needs to be focused on his work and seems determined not to regret next month.
“I’m just trying to make sure that I’m in the present, being kind of where my feet are planted, and taking care of business here,”Stafford stated.
NOTES: McVay reported that S Taylor Rapp (concussion), and LT Andrew Whitworth, (knee), are expected to be back on Sunday. If there had been a longer walkthrough by the Rams, LT Joseph Noteboom wouldn’t have missed practice due to his pectoral injuries. WR Van Jefferson and DT Greg Gaines are both starting the week slowly.