Matthew Stafford couldn't stop throwing the ball to the other team during the final stretch of the regular season. His 13 interceptions in the final nine games were cause for concern in L.A., as Stafford entered his first postseason since 2016. Stafford entered the playoffs with a bad taste in his mouth, tossing an interception to 49ers cornerback Ambry Thomas, allowing San Francisco to squeak into the postseason, while the Rams clinched the NFC West following a Cardinals' Week 18 loss.
While the Rams finished the regular season off a loss, they had won five of their last six games, exhibiting some degree of momentum. But for Stafford, his MVP potential from the first half of the season was a distant memory, and his recent struggles made him more of a question mark entering the Wild Card Round of the playoffs.
However, in Stafford's two playoff games against the Cardinals and Buccaneers, he's looked locked in as ever.
In hosting the Cardinals in the Wild Card Round, Stafford played a clean and efficient game. While he only threw for just over 200 yards, his turnover-free outing, paired with the Rams' rushing attack and the defensive performance, propelled them to a 34-11 convincing victory. Stafford spread the ball around to four different receivers, all of who totaled over 40 yards. Despite past struggles in the playoffs with the Detroit Lions, Stafford's performance last Monday was the confidence both he – and the team – needed.
On Sunday in Tampa Bay for the Divisional Round contest, Stafford looked like the MVP candidate we saw in the first half of the season. Stafford methodically picked apart a struggling Buccaneers secondary that gave up the ninth-most passing yards per game during the regular season. His 70-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp on 3rd down and 20 was a giant momentum swing. Stafford ran in a quarterback sneak for a touchdown to put the Rams in front 27-3, a convincing lead midway through the third quarter.
But things then got out of control for the Rams. Four total fumbles, including two costly ones by running back Cam Akers and a miscommunication with center Brian Allen, who snapped the ball past Stafford, allowed the Buccaneers to crawl right back into the game. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey was beat on a deep shot for Mike Evans streaking down the sideline, resulting in a Bucs touchdown, while Matt Gay missed a field goal that would have made it a three-possession Rams lead with six minutes left.
Tied at 27 apiece, Stafford led his team on a game-winning drive in the final minute. Stafford connected with Kupp on a 20-yard pass before finding him alone behind the shaky Buccaneers defense on the next play for a 40 yard gain. This set up kicker Matt Gay for his redemption, as he knocked in the game-winning 30-yard field goal as time expired.
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This game nearly got away from the Rams, similar to Tom Brady's Super Bowl LI comeback against the Falcons. The Rams tried every way to lose this game down the stretch, missing field goals, fumbling in critical moments, blown coverages on defense late in the fourth quarter, but their quarterback still propelled them into the NFC Championship.
While Stafford never won a playoff game in Detroit among his three tries, it's clear he was not the problem. A lack of talent and a consistent defense never allowed the Lions to advance further than the Wild Card Round.
Stafford has always been one of the best leaders in the NFL, and it was entirely on display yesterday. He picked up Akers, Gay, Kupp and Allen for their miscues, while covering for the defense that allowed 24 second-half points to the Bucs.
And for the Rams, they hope that the heavy cost to acquire Stafford last offseason will result in their first Super Bowl win since the 1999 season.
More from Ram Digest:
- 5 Takeaways From the Rams' 30-27 Divisional Round Win Over the Buccaneers
- Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp Save the Rams Season in Crunch Time to Secure Thrilling Win Over Buccaneers
- Rams Survive Late-Game Thriller Over Buccaneers 30-27, Advance to NFC Championship
- Rams at Buccaneers Halftime Report
- Rams' Divisional Round Inactives at Buccaneers
- Rams at Buccaneers Divisional Round Closing Odds: Point Spread, Over/Under, Moneyline
- Aaron Donald Receives Fine for Incident With D.J. Humphries in Rams-Cardinals Wild Card Round Game
- Rams' Final Injury Report for Divisional Round at Buccaneers
- Rams Rule Out LT Andrew Whitworth, S Taylor Rapp vs. Buccaneers
- Rams Designate RB Darrell Henderson Jr., Two Others to Return From Injured Reserve
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