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Matthew Stafford and Rams showcase high-flying offense in opening win over Bears

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates with Van Jefferson after a touchdown pass.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, left, celebrates with Van Jefferson after connecting with the wide receiver on a first-quarter touchdown pass in a 34-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The vibe was always present, consistently the same.

It burbled beneath the surface at public events in the offseason. During preseason news conferences. And in quiet conversation.

Rams coach Sean McVay attempted restraint but it was obvious that he barely could contain himself.

Entering the season opener against the Chicago Bears, McVay had restlessly waited eight months to show what new quarterback Matthew Stafford could do in his offense.

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On Sunday night, he waited exactly three plays to show it off.

Stafford took a snap and faked a handoff, then rolled to his left before firing a pass to receiver Van Jefferson for a 67-yard touchdown that set the Rams on their way to a season-opening 34-14 victory before 70,445 at SoFi Stadium.

Four plays into the second half, Stafford did it again.

Embracing an almost childlike joy on the field, Matthew Stafford was huge in his debut, passing for 321 yards and three touchdowns against the Bears.

He connected with receiver Cooper Kupp for a 56-yard touchdown extended the Rams’ lead to 20-7. He finished the night with a short touchdown pass to Robert Woods late in the fourth quarter.

Stafford completed 20 of 26 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns as the Rams took the first in what they aim will be a run to Super Bowl LVI at SoFi.

“I loved everything that he did tonight,” McVay said.

Last season the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first team to win a Super Bowl in its home stadium. Rams owner Stan Kroenke spent $5 billion to build SoFi Stadium so the Rams can do the same.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp stretches for the end zone but comes up short during the third quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Sunday was the first time the Rams played in front of the home fans in the regular season, and the defense, under the direction of new coordinator Raheem Morris, forced two turnovers and sacked Bears quarterback Andy Dalton three times. But Stafford’s impressive debut was the story of the night.

The Rams traded quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Detroit Lions for Stafford, a savvy, strong-armed 12-year veteran who seemingly possesses every quality McVay pined for since being hired in 2017.

“A lot of anticipation for this game,” Stafford said. “It’s a new experience for me, a new place, new stadium, new fans the whole deal but this team has embraced me.”

Stafford showed his deep-pass ability on the strike to Jefferson, who hit the turf untouched, got up and sprinted to the end zone. Stafford high-stepped down the field to celebrate.

“I was feeling good,” he said. “That’s a pretty good start.”

Photos: Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ 34-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium on Sunday night.

Stafford showed his poise by patiently waiting to deliver a fourth-down pass that set up the second of Matt Gay’s two first-half field goals. And he made McVay look good by delivering a pass in stride to a wide-open Kupp for the third-quarter touchdown.

“His command. His swag. Like everything was great,” Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “That’s probably a debut that will go down in history.”

It had to feel like redemption of sorts for McVay.

In 2017 with Sammy Watkins and in 2018 with Brandin Cooks, McVay had speedy receivers to stretch the field and create space for other receivers. The young coach was hailed as a wunderkind for the dynamic, high-scoring offenses that helped the Rams return to the playoffs in 2017 and make a Super Bowl run in 2018.

But the deep threat element was missing in 2019 because Cooks suffered multiple concussions. It was nowhere to be found last year because Josh Reynolds could not create separation and McVay didn’t trust Goff.

That was not the case with Stafford.

Rams receiver Robert Woods catches a touchdown pass in front of Bears defensive back Marqui Christian in the fourth quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“It was exactly what we had wanted,” McVay said of the plays. “And it was from a bunch of different guys.”

The Rams signed veteran receiver DeSean Jackson to stretch the field, but McVay has said that all of the team’s receivers should be regarded as deep threats.

Kupp had seven catches for 108 yards. Jefferson, a second-year pro, caught two passes for 80 yards. Tight end Tyler Higbee caught five passes for 68 yards and Woods had three for 27 yards. Jackson’s first reception covered 18 yards; he finished with two for 21 yards.

That was enough against the Bears, but the Rams will need a more consistent rushing performance.

With Cam Akers sidelined because of a season-ending Achilles injury, McVay is counting on third-year pro Darrell Henderson and new addition Sony Michel.

Rams’ 34-14 victory over the Chicago Bears by the numbers. Rams, Bears individual statistics.

Henderson scored on a one-yard run in the third quarter to extend the Rams’ lead to 27-14. He rushed for 70 yards in 16 carries. Michel, acquired from the New England Patriots in a late preseason trade, carried once for two yards.

The defense did not show much drop-off from last season, when the Rams ranked among the NFL’s best units under coordinator Brandon Staley. With Aaron Donald controlling the line of scrimmage and Ramsey making big hits from various spots, other players stepped up.

In the first quarter, linebacker Kenny Young tipped a pass by Dalton that was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback David Long. Later in the quarter, Young recovered a fumble that was forced on the first of linebacker Justin Hollins’ two sacks. Donald had one sack.

Justin Herbert might not show a lot of emotion, but the Chargers quarterback’s play speaks loudly as he skillfully leads a road victory over Washington.


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