Ex-Lion Matthew Stafford leads Rams to NFC Championship Game
Matthew Stafford is heading to the NFC Championship Game.
The former Lions quarterback passed for two touchdowns and rushed for another to lead the Los Angeles Rams to a 30-27 victory over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Stafford spent the first 12 seasons with the Lions before he was shipped to the Rams in the offseason for quarterback Jared Goff and three draft picks.
Now, he's one victory from a Super Bowl berth.
Stafford threw for 366 yards and two touchdowns, and Matt Gay’s 30-yard field goal as time expired sent the Rams (14-5) into next Sunday's NFC championship game at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
The ex-Michigan quarterback Brady rallied the Bucs from a 27-3 second-half deficit with help from three Los Angeles turnovers, tying the game on Leonard Fournette’s 9-yard run on fourth-and-inches with 42 seconds remaining. The NFL's all-time passer leader didn't get an opportunity to finish the job.
And it's uncertain if that was the final game for Brady, who's undecided on retirement.
Stafford led the Rams downfield after the ensuing kickoff, using completions of 20 and 44 yards to league receiving leader Cooper Kupp to set up Gay’s third field goal of the day.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Stafford said. "I mean, we sure let ’em back in the game with a bunch of mistakes on offense. Our defense played outstanding. We’ve got to clean some stuff up, do a little better job in the turnover department.
"This is a tough team, man, this is what we’re all about. Just happy to get a win and keep on moving.”
Earlier, Stafford found Kupp wide open behind the Bucs secondary on a 70-yard scoring play that put Los Angeles up 17-3 early in the second quarter.
“Man, he’s the heart and soul of this offense,” Stafford said. "What he’s able to do down in, down out, whether it’s in the pass game, run game — he’s an unbelievable competitor.”
Stafford, who had never won a postseason game before beating Arizona in the previous week’s wild-card round, completed 28 of 38 passes without an interception. The 13-year veteran also scored on a 1-yard run as the Rams (14-5) advanced to next Sunday’s NFC championship game at home against the San Francisco 49ers.
Brady completed 30 of 54 passes for 329 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble.
Fournette also scored on a 1-yard run for Tampa Bay, which pulled within 27-20 on Brady's 55-yard TD throw to Mike Evans, who made the catch with Jalen Ramsey in pursuit with 3:20 left.
The Bucs (14-5), who lost to the Rams for third time in two seasons, were trying to become the first team to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the Brady-led New England Patriots during the 2004 season.
Have the Rams also ended Brady's career?
“Truthfully, guys, I’m thinking about this game. I’m not thinking about past five minutes from now,” Brady said.
Brady is under contract for 2022 but his return isn’t definite.
“I haven't put a lot of thought into it, taking it day by day,” Brady said.
He said in late September he plans to play at least one more season, but he’s indicated several times since that returning will be a family decision.
Asked last month when he’ll know it’s time to retire, Brady said:
“That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think I’ll have to just, after every year, think about what the situation looks like for me, personally and professionally. Obviously, I love playing; I don’t think my love will go away. I think I’ll be able to do it, it’s just the other things are kind of happening in my life, in regard to family situations. My kids are not getting younger, and I want to make sure that they get what they need, too.”
Brady’s agent, Don Yee, told The Associated Press last week he doesn’t know when Brady will hang it up.
“He can do it as long as he wants, because his intangibles really are very much off the charts,”
Stafford played one of his best games of the season in the September meeting, when he threw for four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-24 Rams win in Los Angeles. He got off to another fast start Sunday, completing nine of his first 12 passes for 176 yards and the TDs to Blanton and Kupp to open a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter.
It was 20-3 at halftime, and the Bucs were fortunate their deficit wasn’t bigger. With the Rams on the verge of scoring again in the closing seconds of the second quarter, Cam Akers fumbled at the Tampa Bay 1 and Tampa Bay’s Antoine Winfield recovered to keep the defending champs to keep from falling behind.
Akers initially was ruled down by contact, but a lengthy review of the play determined the ball was beginning to come loose before the running back’s helmet hit the turf.
The Rams built the lead to 27-3 on Stafford’s quarterback sneak, with help along the way from some uncharacteristic mistakes by the Bucs. That included unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh for taunting and Brady, who was flagged while arguing unsuccessfully for what he felt should have been a penalty on the Rams for a hit that appeared to bloody his lip.
The Rams were generous, too, continuing to hurt themselves in the second half.
Kupp, who had nine catches for 183 yards, lost a fumble, and the offense failed to take advantage of Von Miller sacking Brady to a force a fumble at the Tampa Bay 25 when center Brian Allen snap sailed past Stafford in shotgun formation and recovered by the Bucs.
Finally, Suh forced a second fumble by Akers at the Los Angeles 30, giving Brady an opportunity to tie it in the last two minutes.
Evans finished with eight catches for 119 yards. Fournette, activated from injured reserve after missing four games with a hamstring strain, rushed for 51 yards on 13 carries and had nine receptions for 56 yards.