INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford faked a handoff, rolled to the left and sent him flying.
The crowd at SoFi Stadium jumped when Stafford’s 67-yard pass finally landed in the hands of receiver Van Jefferson, who fired untouched behind the Chicago Bears defense, then crossed the goal line for a touchdown.
It was the opening stage of a final 34-14 rout on Sunday night over the visiting Bears and just the start of Stafford’s official welcome to LA celebration.
“He did a great job,” Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said after the game. “His commando, his swag, like everything was great. That’s like a debut that should probably go down in history, just like he played.”
Stafford’s debut was long in the making after the Rams agreed to a blockbuster transaction last January that sent quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round rosters and a third-round roster to the Detroit Lions in exchange for the veteran quarterback.
Stafford finished 20-of-26 for 321 yards and three touchdowns, with a career-best 156.1 passer rating, becoming the first player in NFL history to win his team debut while passing 300 yards and three touchdowns, without an interception, according to Elias Sports Bureau investigation.
“A lot of anticipation for this game,” Stafford said at a post-match press conference, in which he rightly donned a jersey with a big smiley face on it. “It’s a new experience for me, a new place, a new stadium, new fans, the whole deal, but this team has embraced me and I really appreciate that.”
After playing without a vertical threat last season and struggling to create battles consistently, Rams coach Sean McVay emphasized during the off-season and during training camp that the offense needed to be more explosive this season.
Stafford showed great playing ability on his debut as he averaged 12.3 yards per attempt in his career while completing passes to six different players.
“He had confidence in his teammates, he expected to play well and he did a great job,” said McVay, who is 5-0 in season openers since he became the Rams coach in 2017. “I loved everything he did tonight. .”
Stafford’s scoring pass to Jefferson capped off a three-play opening drive that spanned 80 yards, 1 minute and 18 seconds and resulted in Stafford high on the field as Ramsey and teammates burst out on the sidelines.
“I felt good,” Stafford said of his touchdown celebration. “That’s a pretty good start. … I was just jacked up and had fun out there.”
“It was great work from [Stafford] being able to turn his hips and make an incredible throw,” said McVay. “I think that’s one of those things – he’s gifted, he has an amazing ability to be able to change his arm slot and do all kinds of throws. whether it’s short, intermediate, or down-the-field, but he’s — you’re not limited in everything you can do with him in the pass game.”
Stafford delivered more of the same to open the second half. After converting on third and 10 with a 19-yard completion to receiver Robert Woods, Stafford went deep to receiver Cooper Kupp, who had no defender within 10 yards, for a 56-yard touchdown that gave the Rams a 20-7 lead.
“It was exactly what we wanted and it was from a lot of different guys,” McVay said of the explosive actions of Stafford, Jefferson, Kupp, Woods and tight end Tyler Higbee, who caught a 37-meter pass.
“Matt did a great job facilitating the ball for everyone,” said Jefferson. “This offense is going to be explosive and we’re just following Matt.”
Stafford warned in his post-game excitement that their win over the Bears was just one game and that the Rams had to continue to build on the performance.
But for a team with Super Bowl expectations on the shoulders of their new quarterback, it looked like a solid start.
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