- The Los Angeles Rams upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to punch their ticket to the NFC Championship.
- The game was won thanks to a bit of late-game heroics by quarterback Matthew Stafford.
- Stafford said he made the move precisely because he wanted to make throws like this one.
It was all coming apart for the Los Angeles Rams.
After jumping out to a 27-3 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams had given up 24 unanswered points in 18 minutes of game time. Mental mistakes, turnovers, and shaky nerves across the sidelines had turned what looked like an easy win upside down.
When the Buccaneers tied the game 27-27 with just 42 seconds left in regulation, it felt like a Tom Brady and Buccaneers’ comeback win was not just possible but inevitable.
But despite having limited time to work with and just one timeout in their possession, the Rams were not going to sit back and play for overtime.
With time winding down, Los Angeles quarterback Matthew Stafford hit wide receiver Cooper Kupp on two plays in a row, the second coming in stride for a massive 44-yard gain to move the Rams to the Buccaneers’ 10-yard line.
—NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2022
The Rams rushed to the line, spiked the ball, and kicker Matt Gay hit a 30-yard field goal to win the game as the clock hit zero.
The Rams were on to the NFC title game.
For Stafford, the ending was something out of a dream.
Before the 2021 season, Stafford’s move from the Detroit Lions to join the Los Angeles Rams was the biggest shake-up of the offseason.
Taken with the first overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford had spent the first 12 years of his career in Detroit, putting up impressive numbers but never finding any real success with the Lions. Losing seasons stacked up as Detroit failed to play in games with any consequence year after year after year.
When Stafford finally made the move to the Rams, he was hopeful that he would finally get the chance to make a play that mattered.
“I just want to play in big games, you know?” Stafford told ESPN’s Seth Wickersham over the summer. “I want to have opportunities to make big-time plays in the fourth quarter against really good teams, in big moments, rather than a 1 o’clock game on a Sunday somewhere.”
It’s difficult to imagine a bigger play in a bigger moment against a better team. With their backs against the wall, the Rams rallied on the shoulders of Stafford and the secure hands of his top target.
You can tell what the play meant to Stafford just by watching him run downfield after the play — a combination of utter joy at the accomplishment and the professional urgency and awareness of a job not yet entirely done.
—all my jeffs gone (@thecultureofme) January 23, 2022
With the win, the Rams will now host the NFC Championship at their home arena SoFi Stadium. A win there and they’ll be through to the Super Bowl, which also happens to be at SoFi Stadium this year.
Stafford had been waiting his entire career to lead a closing drive like the one he conducted on Sunday against the Buccaneers. Because he pulled that rabbit out of a hat, he’ll get the chance to do it again next week, and possibly, in the Super Bowl.
One of the cool things about making big-time plays in the fourth quarter against really good teams — if you do it once, you get to do it again. If you do it enough times, you win a championship.
Stafford finally got a taste of what it’s like to fulfill that dream, and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon.