INGLEWOOD (News4usonline) – Matthew Stafford had never won a playoff game before. For a lot of folks, this has been a big deal. His record in the postseason was going a whopping 0-3 before he took the field with his Los Angeles Rams teammates against the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC Wild Card playoff game.
So you know that all eyes were going to be on him. After having a prolific career and an outstanding 2021 season in which he bumped Kurt Warner for the franchise single-season record of passing yards in a season (4,886 yards) and completed 41 touchdown passes, there were questions about whether or not Stafford still needed to prove himself.
That is especially true in the postseason. Stafford’s playoff hiccups came courtesy of being with the Detroit Lions where he spent 12 seasons playing before being traded to the Rams last year. In his first season with the Rams, Stafford’s talents as a passer and leader have proven to be a perfect fit.
Yet the doubts and questions persist. In a Zoom media call prior to the Rams and Cardinals entertaining one another at SoFi Stadium, Stafford tried to put the myths to bed about not getting the job done and securing a win in the postseason.
“Every time I step on the field, I’m proving myself – whether it’s a pre-season game, a regular season game, practice, a playoff game,” remarked Stafford. “I want to go out there and play well. This is just another opportunity to do that. This is a team game. There is no question.
“But at the same time, do I know that when the quarterback plays a good game, you got a better chance to win the game? Absolutely,” Stafford added. “So, I’m always trying to go out there and play as good of football as I possibly can to help our team win.”
Before playing Arizona, Stafford had thrown for 908 yards with four touchdowns, three interceptions with a passer rating of 87.8 in his previous three playoff appearances. The last time he was in the playoffs was against the Seattle Seahawks in 2017 as a member of the Lions.
It’s been a while. So, the moment of shining under the bright glare of scrutiny was going to be on Stafford whether he wanted it or not. Yeah, and that thing that’s called pressure, Stafford said he feels it every time it’s time to go out and play.
“(I) feel the same amount of pressure every time I step on the field,” Stafford said. “If you step on the football field, and you don’t feel pressure to go out there and perform, then something’s wrong with you in my opinion. It’s positive pressure that I put on myself to go out there and help our team win.”
Stafford did just that, guiding the Rams to a 34-11 win. He didn’t have to work too hard to get his first playoff victory as the Rams defense took over the game. Stafford finished the game completing 13 of 17 passes for 202 yards with touchdown tosses to Odell Beckham and Cooper Kupp.
With the Rams defense dominating the action, Stafford didn’t have to put the weight of the world on his shoulders and try to do too much. For Rams head coach Sean McVay, it’s simply time to turn the page from the narrative that Stafford had not won in the postseason.
“Yeah, I thought he did a great job leading the way,” McVay said after the Rams win. “He’s still the same great player to me, and he always was before this game as well. I think it’s good so you guys don’t have to talk about that anymore so he can get that one out of the way. But really proud of him. Just so lucky to be able to do this with him. He’s our leader. We wouldn’t be here without him.”
With the Rams defense holding Kyler Murray and Arizona’s offense in check by giving up only 40 yards in total offense during the first half, Stafford didn’t have to sweat a whole lot as Los Angeles raced to a 21-0 lead going into the locker room.
A quick score in the third quarter allowed Stafford and the Rams to go on cruise control for the rest of the game. Afterward, Stafford deflected the attention paid to him on winning his first playoff game. Instead, Stafford kept the focus on the victory as being team-oriented.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m just excited for our team to get the win,” Stafford said. “Obviously, what a team effort. I mean, our defense played outstanding tonight. Special teams basically set up a score with (P) Johnny (Hekker) pinning them down there. Did a great job on field goals. We were good enough on offense to score some points and come away with a win. Just happy to be moving on.”
Though his numbers against the Cardinals were the least amount of yards he has thrown for in a playoff game (205 yards versus Seattle; 323 yards versus Dallas; 380 yards versus New Orleans) Stafford passed the ball with more efficiency (76 percent) against Arizona.
In evaluating his performance against Arizona, Stafford thought he did okay.
“You know, I felt like I was putting the ball in the right place for the majority of the night,” Stafford said. “I had to throw one away towards (WR) Coop(er) (Kupp) one time. But other than that, I felt like the ball was going to the right place in a pretty good spot.”
“Our guys made great plays,” Stafford added. “That’s how I expect to go out and play every game. It doesn’t always happen that way. But just felt good out there, felt comfortable and our team played great.”
Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) heads downfield for some positive yards against the Arizona Cardinals during an NFC Wild Card playoff game at SoFi Stadium. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline