May 22, 2022

‘I live for those moments,’ Rams’ Matthew Stafford says of wild ending

View Original Notice ? ‘I live for those moments,’ Rams’ Matthew Stafford says of wild ending

TAMPA — On the field, Matthew Stafford was emotional. In the interview room, he was as close to it as reporters ever see.

The play that decided the Rams’ 30-27 playoff victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday was the kind of big-game moment Stafford came to Los Angeles to experience after 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions.

A few seconds that rewarded a career.

“It means a lot. That’s a lot of hard work, for a lot of years, going into a short amount of time,” Stafford said. “A lot of hard work this year, too, with some great teammates.

“That’s the thing I’ve loved and really appreciated, being a part of this team. How many guys we have willing to row in the right direction, doing everything they can to be prepared for those moments.

“I’m taking it all in, loving every minute of it, working my tail off trying to enjoy every situation that we’re in, every opportunity that we earn. I love going into battle with these guys.”

The victory in a divisional-round game creates more opportunity. The Rams move on to face the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium next Sunday in the NFC championship game. The winner of that plays in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi on Feb. 13.

No matter what happens from here, Stafford has enjoyed the first playoff wins of his career in the Rams’ victories over the Arizona Cardinals and the Buccaneers.

Few games this season have called on his even temper and ability to shrug off setbacks as this one did.

This time, the turnovers weren’t his interceptions, but Rams fumbles charged to Cam Akers (two), Cooper Kupp and center Brian Allen. They helped the Buccaneers turn a 27-3 deficit in the third quarter into a 27-27 tie with 42 seconds to play. That set up a chance for Stafford to be a hero.

“I love those situations,” Stafford said. “I hate the way we got to it tonight. There’s some plays we all wish we had back. We could have ended that game probably with me taking a knee.

“But finding a way to win a football game is what it’s all about, and we’ve got a group of guys in that locker room who all believe in each other.

“My heart was racin’. But at the same time it was just going out there to execute, have fun and enjoy the moment.”

The quarterback who has 42 game-winning drives to his name in the regular season, seventh-most in NFL history, now has one in the postseason.

“I though Matthew Stafford was unbelievable throughout the whole day,” Rams coach Sean McVay said after the 33-year-old completed 28 of 38 passes for a season-high 366 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. “Just his poise, his command, his demeanor, his decision-making.”

After a pass to Kupp gained 20 yards to the Rams’ 44 with 28 seconds left, McVay told Stafford in his in-helmet speaker to go fast so the Bucs couldn’t set their defense.

The Rams went without a huddle. The ball was snapped to Stafford in the shotgun. He sensed the Tampa Bay blitz.

“(I) was able to put it to a good spot,” Stafford said. “Coop made a great catch.”

The 44-yard play took the Rams to the Bucs’ 12. With no timeouts left, the Rams had to stop the clock to allow the winning field goal. They ran to the line, and Stafford spiked the ball — enthusiastically.

“I’m glad they didn’t flag me for spiking it a little bit there,” Stafford said. “All the guys on the sideline were like, ‘Man, you were in a dark place.’ Sometimes you just have to go to those places and make some plays happen.

“In my mind, I live for those moments. I would have loved to have been taking a knee (to end the game) up three scores, but it’s a whole lot more fun when you’ve got to make a play like that to win the game and just steal somebody’s soul.”

BUC PAYBACK

Matt Gay’s 30-yard, game-winning field goal was his second in two seasons against the Bucs, after he had a 40-yarder with 2-1/2 minutes to play to beat them 27-24 in the 2020 regular season.

Gay started out as a fifth-round draft pick of the Bucs in 2019, only to be cut by the team in 2020, leading to his in-season signing with the Rams.

“Pretty awesome,” McVay said of Gay, who was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time this season. “The last two times he’s been back here, he ends up hitting game winners.”

Gay kicked three field goals Sunday, but missed a 47-yard try.

“I’m so glad for him that he got the opportunity to come back from an uncharacteristic miss,” McVay said.

NUMEROLOGY

Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady went 10 for 22 for 112 yards, no touchdowns and one interception in the first half, and 20 for 32, 217, one touchdown and no interceptions in the second-half comeback.

The Rams’ ground game struggled for the second week in a row, averaging 2.4 yards a carry against the Bucs, same as it did in the wildcard-round playoff victory over the Cardinals. Cam Akers started for the first time in his return from injury, and ran 24 times for 48 yards while fumbling twice. Sony Michel had only one attempt for four yards.

With the Rams again missing both starting safeties, Nick Scott and Terrell Burgess started. Scott had an interception and team-high two pass breakups. Eric Weddle played his second game since coming out of retirement and had four tackles.

LOCALS ONLY?

The Rams will restrict ticket sales to L.A.-area residents for the NFC championship game against the 49ers at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, the San Jose Mercury News reported. / The paper quoted a notice on Ticketmaster, the NFL’s official ticket outlet, saying, “Public sales to the game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA will be restricted to residents of the Greater Los Angeles region. Residency will be based on credit card billing address at checkout.” / The move, unusual but not a first for NFL teams, comes after 49ers red was well represented in the SoFi stands when the Niners beat the Rams in the teams’ regular-season finale.

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