It may have taken getting the wind knocked out of him, but Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford gave fans a breath of fresh air in the fourth quarter of Week 11’s game.
On Sunday, the Rams found themselves down 16-7 to the Seattle Seahawks early in the fourth quarter. On the second offensive play of Los Angeles’ fourth quarter, Stafford had the ball pitched back to him on a flea-flicker-like trick play.
It didn’t fool Seattle. Stafford was picked off by cornerback Riq Woolen. In the process, Seattle defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. obliterated Stafford, running full speed into the quarterback’s midsection. He was slow to get up, and the Rams were once again at the mercy of the football gods.
He would eventually get up, clearly in pain, as the Seahawks took over.
From there, he was a different man. Stafford went 7-of-11 after the brutal collision for 111 yards and two critical scoring drives. In all, he completed 17-of-31 passes for 190 yards, with a score and an interception to his name.
Los Angeles outscored Seattle 9-0 in the final quarter, the difference in a game that came down to a last-second missed field goal. The Rams won 17-16.
Stafford reacted to the hit after the game.
“It wasn't great,” Stafford said. “But I just needed a second really more than anything.”
The hit looked like a nail in the coffin, giving Seattle the ball up two scores with 14 minutes to play and – potentially – no starting quarterback.
“It pissed me off,” Stafford joked. “So I don't know if I need to take that level of a shot every week to get going.”
Stafford’s best play of the day may have come immediately after Seahawks quarterback Drew Lock was intercepted by corner Derion Kendrick. Smith left the game with an elbow/tricep injury but would return before the final whistle, leading the drive before Seattle’s misfire. On the first play after the interception, Stafford connected with receiver Puka Nacua for a 32-yard gain.
Nacua, notably, saw more attention from Stafford after superstar receiver Cooper Kupp went down with an ankle injury. His return is not yet clear, though head coach Sean McVay didn’t indicate that he anticipated a long absence.
Sunday was just another edition of what Stafford is: a tough, gutsy quarterback who thrives late in games. It’s a blend of traits that have followed him from his days in Detroit, where he famously led a game-winning drive after a huge hit that left him at far less than 100 percent.
“I know that late in the game, fourth quarter, we're within a score, I want the ball,” Stafford said. “It just so happened that I got my chest run through … You got a chance to win that thing. I obviously wasn't at my best at certain points in this game and wanted to make sure that I did everything I could in my power to help lead this team.”
Stafford’s heroics, along with an excellent defensive showing, put a dent in Seattle’s playoff aspirations but also kept Los Angeles’ hopes alive. At 4-6, the Rams’ odds are slim, but crazier things have happened, and the NFC’s seventh seed isn’t guaranteed to go to a team the consensus would consider “good.”
Los Angeles is still in it. With a Week 12 date with the Arizona Cardinals on deck, the Rams will need Stafford to continue fighting. If it’s a hit that gets the ball rolling, so be it. McVay jokingly welcomed the idea.
“Maybe we should punch him in the gut right before game time.”