Stafford is very efficient in first Rams start
September 16, 2021
Rams All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey hit the nail on the head while addressing the media following the Los Angeles Rams impressive 2021 opening season 34-14 win over the Chicago Bears: "His command, his swag, like everything was great. That's like a debut that probably should go down in history. Just the way he played... It's just a debut that was nice."
Matthew Stafford's highly anticipated debut as quarterback of the Rams was even better than advertised. Not only did he electrify the 70,455 fans, who also were making their own attendance debut in stellar SoFi Stadium, he set a new NFL standard for the highest passer rating while making a debut with a new team. Twice he lit up the sky under The Infinity Screen by Samsung, the cutting-edge oculus video message board hovering above the playing field. SoFi was rocking, L.A. style.
"I think it was just his steady demeanor throughout the course of the game," said Sean McVay, who won his fifth straight opening season game as head coach of the Rams. "You could just see, there was a look in his eye. He had confidence in his teammates, he expected to play well... I loved everything that he did tonight."
Based on the universally accepted belief Rams owner Stan Kroenke, general manager Les Snead and McVay must have felt vindicated by Stafford's performance and the team's response to his leadership. Having acquired the former Detroit Lion in February for quarterback Jared Goff and some draft picks, the pressure and criticism was apparent well before Stafford's first snap as a Ram.
"It was electric," said a happy McVay. "I think everybody wants to talk about this stadium. It is an iconic venue that Mr. Kroenke built. But I thought the players did a great job of giving the fans something to get excited about. The expectations were for us to win the football game as a team. I'm always interested in putting together all three phases. But I thought he (Stafford) did a nice job controlling what he could control."
Despite the final score, the game wasn't wrapped up until the fourth quarter when wide receiver Robert Woods made a spectacular touchdown grab just inside the back of the endzone with 3:17 remaining on the clock. That culminated a 6:48-minute, 70-yard scoring drive following the Rams defense making a critical stop against the Bears' previous drive on fourth down at the Ram 30-yard line.
The Rams defense immediately made an impact on the Bears' first drive of the game. Cornerback David Long intercepted quarterback Andy Dalton's intended pass to Darnell Mooney that was tipped by former UCLA linebacker Kenny Young, now in his third season with Los Angeles. Young also recovered a fumble caused by linebacker Justin Hollins sacking Dalton at the Rams 42-yard line late in the first quarter.
"It felt good just to get that experience, help the team out. A big momentum change. They were driving, so just to be able to help contribute, it felt good," said Long. "Me personally, I still got a lot to clean up. So, just something to build off of."
Stafford wasted little time impressing the faithful and doubters. On his third play from scrimmage as a Ram and his second passing attempt (his first attempt was a 7-yard completion to tight end Tyler Higbee), Stafford threw a lazer-guided bomb to wide receiver Van Jefferson deep down the right side of the field. Jefferson caught the ball, hit the ground, got up untouched and cut back left into the endzone for a 67-yard touchdown. Stafford had the Ram fans on their feet after that play.
"I just had in my mind to just do a great job with technique and run a route," said Jefferson after the game. "I knew Matt was going to put it there so I just kept running. It was a great pass."
Stafford was on the same page when asked a few minutes earlier about Jefferson's catch. "He did a great job of getting behind the defense. Our guys up front did a great job on that one. I had all day. And I was able to shoot that one down to the field to him."
Stafford's second deep pass of the game resulted in a 56-yard touchdown bomb to a wide-open wide receiver Cooper Kupp, giving the Rams a 20-7 lead in just over one minute beginning the second half. Stafford's response already sounded very familiar. "That was a great call by Sean. Perfect coverage for the play. Our guys up front again gave me a bunch of time. Cooper did a great job, again, just getting behind the defense and I was able to get it out there to a decent spot for him."
McVay and the Rams are now preparing to travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday, 10:00 AM, PDT. The Colts lost their home opener, 28-16, to the Seattle Seahawks. This will be a very early comparative glimpse with the Rams' NFC West rival, also coinciding with the fact that all four NFC West Division teams won their opening games this past Sunday.
The Colts are led by new quarterback Carson Wentz, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles and forever linked as the second pick in the 2016 NFL Draft behind Jared Goff, who was selected #1 by the Rams. Many analysts at the time were conflicted as to who the Rams should have drafted. Now both players are sporting a new uniform with new career paths. The Rams are an early 4-point favorite to beat the Colts.
Statistically, Stafford completed 20 of 26 passes for 321 yards. He threw three touchdown passes for a passer rating of 156.1, which coincidentally leads Seattle's Russell Wilson 152.3 second place league rating. San Francisco 49er quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is ranked ninth at 124.2 while Arizona Cardinal Kyler Murray holds down the tenth spot at 121. It's obvious that Stafford's successful debut will give the Ram supporters early confidence moving forward being in the NFL's strongest Division.
"It's awesome. It means a lot," said Stafford after receiving a Game Ball for his unprecedented performance: "I was in a place for a long time. Getting to a new place and being able to come out, you know, week one, night one, and get a win and play the way we did, it feels good. A lot of work to be done. But it's definitely a good start." It certainly was. Welcome to Los Angeles.