Stafford and the Rams make a good first impression

INGLEWOOD (News4usonline) – The Los Angeles Rams and Inglewood made it official with a home football game for the first time during a regular season with fans in the stands of SoFi Stadium. If you can remember, the Rams played last season without doing so in front of their fan base. 

That’s because the Covid-19 pandemic knocked that possibility out of the window. One year later, things have improved to the point that fans are finally getting the opportunity to witness NFL games in person for games played in the regular season. 

To kick off their first game of the 2021 season, the Rams paid homage to a couple of team legends, including Hall of Famer Jackie Slater. The pregame ceremony was something extraordinary considering where the country and the NFL were at this time last year.    

Last year, the stands in SoFi Stadium sat empty. The Sunday Night Football game between the Rams and the Chicago Bears was played in front of 70, 445 people, a feat that didn’t seem possible at all just 12 months ago. 

Matthew Stafford (9) made his official debut as the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. Stafford completed 20 of 26 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ 34-14 win at SoFi Stadium. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams

It seemed unrealistic. Today, thanks to the Covid-19 vaccination and safety protocols that have been put in place, fans coming and watching a sporting event is happening again.  

Now for some football. Season opening games have been good to the Los Angeles Rams under head coach Sean McVay. Prior to the 2021 season opener, the Rams ran the fastbreak over their opponents, going 4-0 and outscoring the opposition, 129-66.   

You can make that five in a row for McVay and the Rams after their runaway 34-14 win against the Bears. McVay and the Rams have now outscored their opponents 163-80 in those five contests.

“Okay. You know, great job by the team being able to get the win tonight,” McVay said afterward in his postgame press conference. “The Bears are a really tough outfit. And I thought defensively, what a good job holding up in the first half. The pick by David Long and the tip from Kenny Young was outstanding. I thought they just made some really key stops on fourth down. Offensively in the first half, we really didn’t get a lot of chances. We only had 20 plays in the first half. But we were able to get some explosives.”

Having Matthew Stafford under center as the starting quarterback means even more explosive potential for the Rams’ offense. It’s not going to hurt. The Rams needed to get better at the quarterback position, so the team made a trade for Stafford and unloaded Goff.

So now comes the expectations. Those expectations are pretty lofty, especially when you consider the Rams had the best defense in the league last season. The end goal for the Rams and Stafford would be a trip to the Super Bowl. 

Getting through the regular season will be tough enough. So with that said, the Rams’ Week 1 matchup against the Bears was the start of that journey for Stafford and the Rams. It was a good start.

It was awesome,” Stafford said. “You know, it was a complete team win. Obviously, our defense did a great job getting the ball back for us three or four times it felt like. Great job on fourth down a couple times turning the ball over. As an offense, it was tough kind of to get into a rhythm the first half. We only had four possessions, but we were explosive on some of those and made some big plays.” 

After sitting out the entire preseason, Stafford got his first look as the team’s starting quarterback against the 11th ranked defense from 2020. Competing in the NFC North for 12 years as a member of the Detroit Lions, Stafford knows a thing or two about playing against the Bears. 

In 20 previous games going up against Chicago, Stafford had thrown for 5,440 yards and 32 touchdowns. During Sunday’s primetime game, he added 321 yards and three touchdowns to those previous totals in the Rams’ victory.   

“A lot of anticipation for this game,” Stafford stated. “You know, for me, it’s a new experience for me. A new place, new stadium, new fans. The whole deal. But this team has embraced me and I really appreciate that. I’ve done everything I can to try to just work as hard as I can and get myself in this team. And they wrapped their arms around me and it felt good to go out there and play with them tonight.”

The big plays came in a hurry. After David Long Jr. picked off a tipped ball in the back of the endzone on the Bears’ first series, Stafford decided to create some magic with a 67-yard catch-and-run scoring play with wide receiver Van Jefferson. 

These are the type of explosive plays that McVay is expecting from Stafford, even though the Rams has been No. 1 in the NFL in this category from 2017 to 2020.  

“The expectations were for us to win the football game as a team,” remarked McVay. “I’m always interested in putting together all three phases. But I thought he did a nice job controlling what he could control. I was really pleased in the second half. He did a great job of being able to make some conversions.”

The bumble and stumble night of the Bears continued when Chicago quarterback Andy Dalton committed his second turnover of the night when he had the ball knocked from him by outside linebacker Justin Hollins. The Rams got another wow Stafford moment early in the second quarter. 

On a fourth and one call, Stafford rolled right and with Chicago defenders closing on him, the Rams quarterback threw a tight spiral that somehow managed to thread its way into the hands of Jefferson for a first down. 

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) look to go deep against the Chicago Bears defense on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. Stafford completed 26 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Rams to a 34-14 win. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams

The Rams didn’t score a touchdown but they did advance the ball far enough to get a field goal out of the drive. Feel-good stories don’t win football games in the NFL. Players do. Coming out of halftime, Stafford once again reminded everyone of his gunslinger acrobats.  

Stafford got his giddy-up when he casually heaved a 56-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Cooper Kupp. Pushing the ball up the field is something Stafford can do routinely. The Bears know this fact all too well.  

And yet, late in the third quarter, the Rams still found themselves locked in a tight game with Chicago after rookie Justin Fields scored on a short touchdown run. However, by outscoring Chicago 21-7 in the second half, the Rams ended the Bears’ aspirations for a road win.

“Obviously we’re disappointed in the loss,” Chicago head coach Matt Nagy said. “We gave up some explosive plays and then we did not execute in the redzone a few of those times to start the game in particular. To have the interception there and to have the third-and-one and have the false start. I thought big picture that, offensively, we were able to move the ball and do some things. We knew kind of what their game plan and their strategy was going to be.”  

Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) attempting a pass against the Chicago Bears. Stafford completed 20 of 26 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ 34-14 win at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams