The Rams, who are just emerging from last season’s dismal slide from Super Bowl champions to fellow league champions, have one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
But it was quarterback Matthew Stafford, their oldest player, who engineered Sunday’s mesmerizing 30-13 win over the Seahawks at raucous Lumen Field by promising that perhaps they wouldn’t perform as badly as their massive roster turnover, lack of experience and injuries suggested they would definitely be.
Stafford, seven months past his 35th birthday and playing in his first game since a spinal contusion ended his season on Nov. 20, was sharp, effective and quickly adapted to a reconfigured receiving corps that was missing the injured Cooper Kupp.
Surprisingly well protected by an offensive line formed late in the preseason, Stafford completed 24 of 38 passes for 334 yards. It was his first 300-yard game since rushing for 308 yards against Dallas on Oct. 9 last year and his best since throwing for 337 yards against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 30, 2022.
In the first game of his 15th NFL season, he recorded his eighth season-opening game with at least 300 passing yards, tying Matt Ryan behind only Drew Brees (10).
The old man, whose beard is getting grayer, still has it. That’s one less thing to worry about for the Rams as they move deeper into the challenging first part of their schedule.
“He played like the guy we all know and love, and I’m definitely glad to see him out there competing with his teammates,” coach Sean McVay said Sunday. “He elevates everyone.”
There wasn’t a single “aha” moment that proved to Stafford – or any of his doubters – that he was back to form after injuries shortened his previous season to nine games of their 5-12 season. His teammates didn’t need any proof on Sunday anyway. They had experienced it in practice and never lost faith in him.
“We always knew he was there since he came back. He looked good. He looked great,” said receiver Tutu Atwell, who was targeted eight times Sunday and caught six passes for 119 yards.
The most impressive aspect of his performance was his overall sustained command, his many quick interpretations and his ability to adjust when McVay suggested plays that the coach admitted he sent in too late. Stafford handled everything calmly – relaxed and confident.
“There were a few plays where you show me a great quarterback, I’ll show you a guy who always wants a few plays back,” McVay said, “but I thought he was at his best in those biggest moments.” ”
The key was that Stafford felt healthy and whole. He even ran the ball on two consecutive plays at the end of the third quarter, climbing nine yards and then gaining two more to sustain a drive that ended with an easy one-yard touchdown run by Cam Akers. This extended the Rams’ lead to 24-13 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Stafford joked afterward that hitting the ground after the scramble “reminded me why I don’t run.”
He won’t have to if he can continue to throw as well as he did Sunday in a game that should give the Rams confidence they can compete every week.
“I want to come out and play good football. I know I can do it when I’m healthy and feeling good, and I felt good today,” he said. “I feel good leaving here, so it feels good.
“Our guys up front did a great job keeping me clean, and our guys on the outside made a few plays. I still have some things I can get better at and I will continue to try to get better.”
Defying the low expectations widely expressed for the Rams didn’t bring much satisfaction on Sunday, he said.
“I think we’re excited because we’ve put in the work. I think the icing on the cake is seeing everyone’s reaction to it,” he told the crowd of reporters gathered around his locker.
“I think the most important thing for us is that we care because we put in the work. It wasn’t given to us. We have a lot of guys who earned a lot of spots on this team no matter what their status was – draft status, age, it doesn’t matter. Guys worked hard to get the win and we have to go out and try again.”
Here lies the real test: that Stafford and the Rams play so well over and over again. “He looked very good,” Atwell said. “Let it stay that way.”
If it just could be that easy. That won’t be it. And it makes no sense to predict the outcome of a season based on the outcome of a game.
“I’m so proud of this team, so proud of this group. It was great to see how much of the work they did came to fruition,” McVay said. “But it’s a game. And they know that. And we have to keep going. We’re going to enjoy this and then build a phenomenal football team next week.”
Stafford took the same approach.
“It was a good start,” he said.
Next up, the talented San Francisco 49ers will come to town in Week 2 and we’ll see if this good start leads to more than the terrible season they were predicted to have.