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Matthew Stafford Earns First Playoff Win in Rams' 34-11 Rout Over Cardinals

The Rams defeated the Cardinals 34-11 on Monday night, sending them to the Divisional Round where they’ll go on the road and face the Buccaneers.

INGLEWOOD – Matthew Stafford accomplished something Monday night at SoFi Stadium that he hadn’t achieved in his previous 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions. 

He won a playoff game.

The Rams played host to the Cardinals for their third meeting of the season as the two NFC West foes clashed in the Wild Card Round after splitting the two divisional matchups earlier this year. However, this game had implications that the last two didn’t – a scheduled date to face the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the NFC Divisional Round next weekend.

The Rams punched their ticket to Tampa Bay with a convincing 34-11 victory over the Cardinals. The Rams thoroughly outplayed the Cardinals, cruising past Arizona in each aspect of the game. Offense, defense and special teams, the Rams held the advantage.

Offensively, Stafford had one of his most efficient games of the season, completing 76.5-percent of his passes (13-of-17) with 202 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford snapped his four-game interception streak, delivering a clean slate in which he didn’t turn over the ball throughout the contest.

After the game, Rams coach Sean McVay pointed to the early-down efficiency that allowed the offense to sustain drives and keep pressure on Arizona for the majority of the game which he believes was the difference-maker.

"I think it was the early-down efficiency," McVay said after the game on what made them so successful this time around facing the Cardinals. "I thought our guys got great removal upfront. I thought our backs saw the lanes the right way. I thought Matthew when we did throw the football made great decisions, threw the ball accurately. (He) got a lot of different guys involved and you know, that's exactly what we want to be able to do."

This version of Stafford is why the Rams traded for him. He posted a 154.5 passer rating, the highest rating by a quarterback in a playoff game in team history, edging out Hall of Famers Norm Van Brocklin (149.3) and Kurt Warner (143.0), per NFL Research.

Up to this point, Stafford's career thus far has largely been defined as a gifted passer who couldn’t win a playoff game due to the lack of success the Lions had during his time there. While Stafford holds many impressive personal accolades, the key component that's been missing is success in the playoffs.

In three postseason games with the Lions, Stafford had gone winless, while throwing four touchdowns to three interceptions across his trio of losses.

Stafford can finally say the monkey is off his back. He's won a playoff game and did so in his first season with his new club, routing a divisional opponent.

"I'm just excited for our team to get the win," Stafford said when asked what it means to secure his first playoff victory. "What a team effort. Our defense played outstanding tonight, our special teams basically set up a score with Johnny (Hekker) pinning them down there. We did a great job on field goals. And we were good enough on offense to score some points and come away with a win.

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"I think it means a lot more to you guys. I mean I just want to be a part of this team and help us win. I trust in myself, trust in my abilities, trust in my teammates to go out there and play and let the chips fall where they may."

Prior to Monday night's game, Stafford's record beyond the regular-season had been a major talking point. The Rams traded for Stafford with the purpose of not just making the playoffs but getting through the playoffs. The Rams reached the Divisional Round last season, meaning they have larger ambitions. Their season aspirations include more than just notching one playoff win and they handed the key to a passer who hadn't yet done that in his career.

But Stafford answered the calling accordingly, getting a little bit of everyone involved en route to a performance that tallied 375 yards of offense. He connected with five different pass-catchers, each of which totaled over 40 yards. 

The Rams also leaned heavily on the run game, feeding the combination of Sony Michel and Cam Akers which totaled 140 yards and one touchdown across 38 carries.

The offense was on cruise control after getting out to a commanding 21-0 halftime lead. 

"We had a short field a bunch. (The) defense scored and those kind of things are huge in any game and a playoff game it's going to be magnified even more, so just proud of our team," Stafford said.

The Rams defense did their part, holding Arizona to 183 total yards, while not allowing a third down conversion which ultimately sputtered any rhythm Kyler Murray would look to gain. 

Though the Rams only sacked Murray twice, the dual-threat quarterback was under pressure all throughout the night. Late in the second quarter, he tried evading a sack with a defender dropped across him while dropping back from the goal-line, putting him into the end zone and Murray's ball shot up in the air which landed into the hands of cornerback David Long Jr. who took the interception in for a touchdown.

The Rams needed a bounce-back performance after surrendering a gut-punching overtime loss to the 49ers last week and they did just that. Stafford and co. will head into Raymond James Stadium on Sunday with enhanced energy, as they look to pull off a game in which they’re the betting underdog – something they haven’t been much of this season.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Ram Digest. Follow Nick and Ram Digest on Twitter @NickCothrel & @RamDigestSI for more Rams coverage.