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In win over Cardinals, Matthew Stafford reminds everyone why Rams traded for him

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) gets off a pass as Rams guard David Edwards (73) blocks  Cardinals tackle Corey Peters.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford passes as guard David Edwards (73) blocks Cardinals defensive tackle Corey Peters. Stafford delivered a brilliant performance in the Rams’ 30-23 win.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

This is why the Rams traded for Matthew Stafford.

The quarterback made his value abundantly clear Monday night, with his team missing four starters because of positive COVID tests.

Stafford, in the rollicking crucible of State Farm Stadium, facing the scorching Arizona Cardinals, delivered a brilliant performance in a game that easily could have been a lopsided loss.

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In their 30-23 victory, a signature win for the franchise, the Rams were mythbusters.

Overcoming injuries and players on the COVID list, the Rams picked up a signature victory over the first-place Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.

Forget that stuff about the roster being too top-heavy or the team lacking depth. This was a triumph of the understudies — Sony Michel, Joe Noteboom, Kendall Blanton, Brycen Hopkins, Marquise Copeland, David Long ...

And as for Stafford’s inability to win the big game? Obliterated.

He squeezed a touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp through a mouse hole of an opening, and later hit Kupp with an over-the-shoulder pass that looked like it was dropped in by a drone.

Despite missing starting right tackle Rob Havenstein and tight end Tyler Higbee, an otherwise essential component to the passing game, Stafford delivered surgical strikes to Odell Beckham Jr., leaving no doubt that the star wide receiver is sufficiently up to speed.

A week after Michel ran for 121 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he ground out 79 against the Cardinals, helping to keep Arizona’s offense off the field and set up the play-action passing game for Stafford.

“He took care of the football and took calculated risks,” said retired quarterback Drew Stanton, who backed up Stafford with the Detroit Lions. “What a difference the run game made this time around. He and [Rams coach Sean] McVay are learning to play to each other’s strengths within the framework of the system. They looked polished and were in third-and-manageable all night.”

Matthew Stafford signals to fellow Rams at the line of scrimmage in an NFC West game against the Cardinals.
Matthew Stafford signals to Rams teammates at the line of scrimmage in an NFC West game against the Cardinals. Stafford finished with a quarterback rating of 139.2.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Those three consecutive Rams losses, those three games in a row in which defenders burned Stafford with pick-sixes, are a distant memory.

In this new dawn of December — spanning victories over Jacksonville and Arizona — Stafford has completed 72% of his passes (49 for 68) for 582 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.

Coming into Monday’s game, the Rams hadn’t beaten a team with a winning record since knocking off Tampa Bay in Week 3. They were 7-1 against teams with losing records.

So there were all sorts of questions about whether they were a legitimate contender or merely a two-dimensional Hollywood set, a club loaded with well-known players who would be watching from the couch in January.

Of course, Monday was just one win. The Rams need to follow it with a strong performance against the Seattle Seahawks on a short week, and that certainly isn’t guaranteed, especially in a league in which high-flying teams are routinely slapped down.

The week after the Rams beat the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, for instance, Los Angeles was humbled at home by the Cardinals.

But the rematch was redemption. The Rams appeared to be out of it before kickoff, having lost All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey to a positive test just hours before the game. According to ESPN, he was on a private jet flying back to L.A. even before his teammates took the field.

The Rams’ defensive front and retooled secondary stepped up, however, hounding Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and repeatedly jarring passes from his talented collection of receivers. Now, the Cardinals made their share of plays, but they didn’t leave vapor trails through the heart of the defense as many people thought they might.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 30-23 road win over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday — scoring and statistics.

Twice, the Rams intercepted passes by Murray, and two more times the Cardinals turned over the ball on downs.

The narrative heading into the game was that the 10-2 Cardinals had been denied the respect they so richly deserved. That might be the case, as they still struggle to move the needle on the national stage. But the real story is the way the Rams turned an impending disaster into one of the most impressive victories of the McVay era.

In the week-to-week NFL, there’s no telling how the Rams will respond to this success. A division title remains a stretch. Yet it’s clear that they can play with anyone, and no one would delight in facing them.

No. 9 Stafford lifted his team to win No. 9. It’s undeniable that he’s glad he’s playing for the Rams.

Obvious too that the feeling is mutual.


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