The moment of truth has arrived.
Tonight, Matthew Stafford will be naked. And NFL America will be watching.
Stafford, the Los Angeles Rams quarterback, will have nowhere to hide. Better yet, there will be no one to pass the blame onto, either.
This will be about Stafford. His present. His past. And his future. The Rams host the Arizona Cardinals in the final Wild Card game at SoFi Stadium in L.A.
And unlike Saturday and Sunday, there is just one game. There will be undivided attention for this contest between division rivals.
For both teams, they have to either win or go home. Hence, there’s enormous pressure on both sides.
But no one — and we mean no one — has more pressure on them than Stafford.
He has to win. There’s no other way around it.
If he doesn’t, people will recognize that his past failures can’t solely be blamed on playing for the Detroit Lions.
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Unfortunately for Rams fans, Stafford has looked more like that QB than the Messiah he was promised to be. In fact, he was bad to end the season. Stafford had more turnovers than a bakery in the final three games — seven interceptions and a fumble
The fact remains that the Rams were just 6-5 in games he threw an INT this season.
In his three postseason games, Stafford is 0-3 with four TDs and three picks. Not a pretty picture.
Of course, Stafford downplayed the magnitude of the game. “Every time I step on the field I’m proving myself, whether it’s a preseason game or a regular-season game, practice, a playoff game” Stafford told the media. “I want to go out there and play well. This is just another opportunity to do that.”
The last time we saw Stafford, he was throwing a game-losing interception to the San Francisco 49ers at home. It helped the 49ers come back from a 17-0 deficit on the road, an improbable feat to secure a playoff spot.
For Stafford, it was another day at the office filled with mistakes and bad decisions.
That can’t happen tonight.
Stafford has to play well and the Rams have to win.
The Rams were built to get to the Super Bowl, not bow out in the first playoff game.
If it were to happen, there would be hell to pay.
Stafford has NEVER won a playoff game. But the story was that it wasn’t Stafford’s fault. It was the organization, the general managers, the coaches and most of all, the inferior rosters he played with.
When he was acquired from the Detroit Lions for a king’s ransom – including two future first round picks – the Rams dubbed him as the missing piece, a QB who can make all the throws.
And Stafford got off to a great start. The Rams started 7-1. For the season, he threw for 4,886 yards (third-most in NFL) and had a career-high-tying 41 touchdowns (second in the league) over 17 games.
But the Rams went a disappointing 5-4 in the final nine games. Stafford was a huge source of their woes and finished the season with the league-lead in INTS with 17, tied with rookie Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence.
There’s no way of getting around the fact that Stafford will be compared to Jared Goff, the QB L.A. dumped. After all, Goff got the Rams to the Super Bowl, but lost.
The expectation is for Stafford to not only get the Rams there, but win the whole ball of wax.
And this isn’t an infinity process. The Rams have a closing window. Time is ticking on this group currently assembled. Teams get old and worse quickly.
The perfect example is the Rams’ defense. Last season, the Rams had the No. 1 defense coming into the postseason. This year, it was 17th, middle of the pack.
That’s where the quarterback comes into play.
Rams’ coach Sean McVay is all in on Stafford. The two are tied at the hip. If Stafford doesn’t deliver the ultimate prize for the organization, McVay will have stink on him, too.
And despite his quarterback bad playoff resume and turnover- filled finish to the season, McVay is standing by Stafford, 33.
“I think that he’s got an established resume,” McVay told the media. “I think that’s something you want to be able to do (prove he can win a playoff game).
“He was instrumental in leading us to our first divisional title that we’ve had since ’18 and that’s a big deal, but now it’s the next step.”
One Stafford better not stumble on.