INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- After throwing for 321 yards and three touchdowns in his Los Angeles Rams debut Sunday night in SoFi Stadium, Matthew Stafford walked into his postgame press conference wearing a gray sweater with a bright, yellow smiley face on the front. It could not have been more uncool, and yet it was incredibly cool because it reflected someone unconcerned with what anyone else might think.
Fact is, the only people Stafford was concerned about impressing Sunday were his wife, who told him to wear the top, and his new teammates and coaches, who know the Rams, 34-14 victors over the Bears, will go only as far as Stafford takes them this season. Such is to be expected after Los Angeles traded QB Jared Goff and three draft picks -- including two firsts -- to the Lions for the strong-armed 13th-year veteran.
As first impressions go, Stafford left a lasting impression on not only the sellout crowd of 70,445 -- which was the first to see a game in the $5 billion palace that is SoFi -- but also on those in his locker room.
"I'm sure he'll be self-critical and he's going to have some things he wants to get better at ... but his command, his swag -- like, everything was great," said cornerback Jalen Ramsey. "That's like a debut that should go down in history, just the way he played. I'm not all into the stats all the time -- his stats was probably crazy, too -- but it was a debut that was nice."
A perfect passer rating is 158.3. Stafford's was 156.1, his career-high. He completed 20 of 26 attempts and wasted no time showing he is capable of providing the Rams with the explosive pass plays via air yards that they desire, finding Van Jefferson for a 67-yard score on Los Angeles’ third play from scrimmage.
Stafford play-actioned right, rolled left and spotted Jefferson sprinting behind the safety toward the opposite corner. In a snap, he flipped his hips, squared up and launched a pass that was like a teardrop from heaven for Jefferson, who fell after the reception but got up and burst toward the goal line.
"That's exactly what we had wanted, and it was from a bunch of different guys," head coach Sean McVay said of several big gains through the air. "You look at Van, you look at (Cooper Kupp, who had a 56-yard TD catch); Tyler Higbee had a 37-yard catch."
According to Next Gen Stats, Stafford was the first player with at least two touchdown passes of 40 or more air yards in one game since Kirk Cousins in Week 6 of the 2019 season. He has eight touchdown passes, zero interceptions and a 126.0 passer rating on deep passes since 2020; Goff has three scores with one interception and a 77.4 passer rating.
And yet the play that brought the biggest smile to McVay's face was a 2-yard touchdown pass to Robert Woods late in the fourth quarter. Stafford initially looked to the right flat for Kupp, who had crossed his face in motion, saw he was covered and took a step or two forward as if he were going to run to avoid the pass rush. Instead, he found Woods moving right to left at the back of the end zone for the score.
The play showed Stafford's ability to not only turn a potential negative into a positive, but also an increasing comfort with the offense. He spent his first 12 seasons in Detroit, playing in various systems but arguably none as varied as McVay's. To be able to process so much information this early in his tenure with the Rams potentially bodes well for what might come.
He admitted he has been on a crash course, trying to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. And despite opening the night with more than 45,000 yards and 282 touchdowns passing, he still felt a need to make himself accountable to his new teammates and coaches.
"A lot of anticipation for this game," Stafford said. "For me, it's a new experience, a new place, a new stadium, new fans, the whole deal. But this team has embraced me and I really appreciate that. I've done everything I can to work as hard as I can and give myself to this team, and they've wrapped their arms around me. It felt good to go out there and play with them tonight, with such incredible players. I'm lucky to be a part of it and I want to try and do everything I can to try and lead this team to where we want to go."
The Rams are definite NFC threats considering they return the key components of a defense that ranked No. 1 in scoring and total D last season. The unit flexed its muscle on its opening series, stalling a Chicago drive with an interception of a tipped Andy Dalton pass. You could almost hear the groans from Chicago following the turnover, as many in the fan base want rookie first-round pick Justin Fields in the lineup. And while Fields did get a handful of snaps, even scoring on a 3-yard run in the third quarter, it's a tough situation to throw him into.
Consider, the Bears were down one tackle going into the game, lost recently acquired Jason Peters to injury during the game, and had Peters' backup, Larry Borom, leave with an ankle injury. For all the talent Fields has, and it appears significant, the careers of many young quarterbacks have ended before they began thanks to teams putting them in situations where they can't be protected.
Dalton finished 27 of 38 passing for 206 yards with no touchdowns. He was intercepted once -- which was followed by the Jefferson score that gave Los Angeles a lead it never relinquished -- and sacked three times. The only positive was Chicago's run game, which produced 134 yards, including 108 by David Montgomery. Short of that, there was little for the Bears to find solace in. They had seven possessions in which the final line of scrimmage was in Rams territory, yet managed just two scores.
Coach Matt Nagy acknowledged afterward that the plan was to get Fields some snaps, but only in the right situations. He hinted that he would continue to do so going forward.
"We had a plan and we stuck to our plan," he said. "We knew where and when we were going to use (each quarterback) and we stuck to that. We'll see where that goes and how we do it. But, I think, we all understand that, for us, strategically we'll see where we go with that without giving anything away."
The Rams have no such concerns. For them, it's all smiley faces.