Matthew Stafford’s perfect passer rating in Week 1 was a perfectly written script to a Hollywood movie. But in the second half of the season, the quarterback has struggled, like a movie whose budget ran out two months before the premiere.
Now Stafford finds himself playing in his first career home playoff game. His previous three playoff games – all on the road – resulted in a losing fashion while playing for the Detroit Lions.
Stafford’s most recent postseason contest was in 2016, where he led the team to a six-point effort en route to a first-round loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Stafford completed 18-of-32 passes for 205 yards without tossing a touchdown or interceptions.
But as Stafford enters the playoffs, the Rams are unsure which version of Stafford they will be getting. Stafford’s first eight games were as good as the Rams could have asked for, leading them to a 7-1 record and putting them amongst the league's elite. His 118 passer rating and 22 to four touchdown to interception ratio put Stafford in the early MVP conversation. It appeared as if Stafford had seamlessly adapted to coach Sean McVay’s complex offense in a rather quick manner.
In the second half of the season, Stafford struggled with consistency and ball placement. Stafford’s 90.4 quarterback rating was a steep drop-off from the first half of the season. But more concerning is Stafford’s turnovers down the stretch run. His 13 interceptions and two fumbles in the last nine games of the season led to Stafford becoming tied for the lead league in interceptions across the 18-game regular season. His 17 interceptions are the third-highest total of Stafford’s career, trailing only his rookie season (20) and 2013 campaign (19.)
In the first meeting against the Cardinals this season, Stafford struggled against the then-unbeaten Cardinals. Stafford completed 26-of-41 passes for 280 yards, while throwing two touchdowns and one interception. The game resulted in a Cardinals road victory and vaulted them into the lead in the NFC West.
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Week 14 saw a totally different Stafford which was ultimately the bright spot of his second half. The Rams needed a win on Monday night to keep their still slim division hopes alive at the time. Stafford completed 23-of-30 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. The performance was arguably the quarterbacks best of the season – and without question, his most important performance – as the Rams won 30-23.
His inconsistency throughout the season is problematic as it's crunch now time and the turnovers have continued to come in bunches to close out the last final weeks.
Despite narrowly winning the NFC West, the Rams weren’t the dominant force they were in the first half of the season. Quarterbacks are always the most important position on the field, and if Stafford continues with the second-half miscues, it could be a disappointing season for the Rams.
Stafford was brought to Los Angeles for games like this – to get the Rams over the hump and take them deep into the postseason and presumably a Super Bowl. Step one of that journey starts on Monday night, as the Rams playoff success deeply hinges on which version of Stafford they get when the Cardinals come to town for the NFC Wild Card Round showdown.
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