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Column: Matthew Stafford proves vs. Buccaneers that he can be Rams’ Super Bowl savior

Inglewood, CA. September 26, 2021: Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates his touchdown pass.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates his touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp (10) in the third quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Whose House?

Stafford’s House!

They’re going to have to tweak that popular SoFi Stadium cheer, give it truth, make it personal.

The Rams live here, but, three games into his tenure as their savior quarterback, Matthew Stafford owns the joint.

He officially took possession Sunday on a day of GOAT wrangling and Super Bowl dreaming, in a football game that became a dance party, thousands of horn-adorned fans bouncing to the rhythm of one rocking right arm.

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Staring down Tom Brady for more than three hours, Stafford didn’t blink, he dinked ... and dunked ... and fired ... and flung ... and led the Rams to a 34-24 victory over the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers while chilling the air with the promise of February.

These Rams are good enough to be playing here for all the Super marbles. And they are good enough because of Stafford, who sank the Buccaneers on four consecutive lengthy touchdown drives that ended in four consecutive touchdown passes that cut their Arrrrgh out.

It might too early to be talking Super Bowl, but these Rams looked very much like a super team in their 34-24 victory over the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

No offense to Jared Goff, seriously, none whatsoever, but Stafford has put the Rams in an entirely different universe.

Not to mention, a rather surprising embrace.

”I saw him outside the [locker room] door, and I gave him a hug and said, ‘I love you man,’ ” Aaron Donald, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year, said afterward.

Stafford accepted the affection with relief.

“That’s a whole lot better than when he used to be chasing me. ... Those hugs are a lot better than the other ones,” Stafford said.

The proof is in the PDA. This is his team. This is his season. This is his house.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates with Cooper Kupp.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates with Cooper Kupp after connecting with the wide receiver on a touchdown pass against the Buccaneers on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The former Detroit Lion entered Sunday with an 8-67 mark against teams that eventually finished the season with a winning record. This was his first opportunity to paint over that past, his first big test, and he passed it with flying footballs.

He pushed the Rams to a 3-0 record with a season-high 343 yards passing while hitting on one scoring pass so beautiful it made coach Sean McVay temporarily lose his mind.

Less than a minute into the third quarter, Stafford found a wide-open DeSean Jackson on the 30-yard line and heaved the ball into the roar and wound up with a 75-yard touchdown connection that caused McVay to sprint downfield and into the tunnel to celebrate with Jackson.

“I was just kind of being in the moment and having fun and enjoying watching these guys do their thing,” McVay said, later adding a smile. “I think my hamstrings are already sore. I probably pulled them both, just pure excitement.”

That’s what Stafford creates with every snap. Pure excitement. He connected with six different teammates Sunday on a dozen different passes with a seemingly infinite number of motions.

One moment, he was finding Cooper Kupp down one sideline. The next moment, he was nailing Van Jefferson down the other sideline. Don’t look now, but he just threaded through three defenders to hit Robert Woods down the middle.

“You’re up in his face, and one time he finds a guy wide open down the field and gets it to him,” Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians marveled. “A lot of guys see him, but they can’t get it to him. He gets it to him.”

Cooper Kupp catches a touchdown pass  from Matthew Stafford in the second quarter.
Cooper Kupp catches a touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford in the second quarter against the Buccaneers.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A Rams defense that has been forced to carry this team is enjoying the ride.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a whole lot of fun,” Donald said. “He’s playing lights out.”

And he’s doing it while lighting up the place, turning SoFi Stadium into a giant horned mosh pit, fans dancing between downs, celebrities and common folk rubbing elbows on the giant video board.

Look, there’s LeBron James. There’s Dr. Dre. There are the Melonheads. There’s a papa Rams fan rocking a baby Rams fan. Everybody stomping. Everybody Staffording.

“It was loud, man. It was so loud. It was so loud,” said Donald, part of a defense that sacked Brady three times and held him to one touchdown pass. “We were trying to make our checks, and we had to keep echoing because we couldn’t hear, but I love it. That’s the atmosphere you want to play in.”

Photos of the Los Angeles Rams’ 34-24 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

At one point, the video board even showed a clearly harassed Larry David, but, please, don’t curb your enthusiasm.

The Rams finally have a real home, and they have real championship hopes, and Stafford is one real reason both of those things are true.

“I was the new guy coming in, and they embraced me, which is awesome, man,” Stafford said. “I’m just trying to be myself every single day, bring my best every single day, and see where that takes us.”

He doesn’t like to talk about himself. He deflects all praise. He’s the opposite of Hollywood. But with seemingly every snap, with one chilling throw after another, he epitomizes entertainment.

“Our guys are just doing what they’re supposed to do, and I’m trying to get it to them as best I can,” he said.

The real beauty Sunday was in when he got it to them. On third-down plays during their four consecutive touchdown drives, he was seven for seven for 170 yards.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 34-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday:

That’s enough two-out, two-strike RBI hits to make Trea Turner jealous.

He was also impressive in finding Jackson three times for 120 yards after Jackson entered the game as a statistical afterthought. The new downfield threat had only two catches in two games while playing only three snaps a week ago. Stafford has the kind of arm that can squelch a veteran’s frustration, and that matters.

“Obviously, Matthew Stafford’s leadership was outstanding today. He made some really incredible plays,” McVay said.

Incredible plays, inspirational start, only three games in and already home.


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