NFL Sunday notebook: Matt Stafford must prove why Rams traded for him – and that he can beat Tom Brady

·7 min read

LOS ANGELES — This is why the Rams bet the farm on Matthew Stafford: Beat Tom Brady.

Of course, beating TB12 in January is a lot more significant that getting the best of the Bucs quarterback in September. Yet if you’re an elite baller, you take your shots when you can.

You’re up, Stafford.

Beating Brady is another way of saying “win a championship,” which the Rams are hoping will be the ultimate payoff after serving up a boatload of draft capital to land Stafford in the blockbuster offseason trade with the Detroit Lions that also sent Jared Goff packing.

The Rams saw what happened last season after Brady made his big move of bolting from the Patriots to put the Bucs back on the NFL map. He won another ring (seven now) and at 44 is off to a sizzling start that demonstrates he’s well-equipped to add more hardware.

For Stafford & Co., it’s beat Brady and, well, all comers, which would include from the NFC side, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Jimmy G., et al.

Matthew Stafford has thrown 5 TD passes as the Rams have opened the season 2-0.
Matthew Stafford has thrown 5 TD passes as the Rams have opened the season 2-0.

Sure, the marquee matchup of undefeated teams at SoFi Stadium on Sunday involves much more than the quarterbacks. But let’s not kid ourselves. The NFL is a quarterback-centric universe and so often these games come down to the best thrower in the clutch (See: Brady).

Stafford never came close to winning, or sniffing, a crown in Detroit, where the misery came in waves. The Lions made the playoffs three times during the Stafford years. And in each case, they were one and done in January.

Ah, January. Win or lose on Sunday, the merits of Stafford’s move to LA will ultimately be judged in the postseason, even if we’re in store for a potential playoff preview. Certainly, there’s reason for Rams fans to feel bullish. His big arm has come as advertised. In his Rams debut against the Bears, Stafford posted the highest single-game passer rating of his career (156.1) and became the first NFL player to top 300 yards with three TDs and no picks in his first game with a new team. His two 50-plus yard TDs? They matched the team’s total for the entire 2020 campaign. How’s that for starters. Much has also been made of the collaborative chemistry he’s developing with whiz kid coach Sean McVay. And if you’ve seen his energetic body language, wrapped with joy, in TV shots of him on the sideline, it’s pretty clear that Stafford isn’t in Detroit anymore.

This is the type of big game the Rams are looking for Stafford to win.

It would certainly buck a trend. Just consider Stafford’s miserable record against the best competition. According to the research of Sports & Fitness Digest editor Dominique Clare, Stafford entered the season with a career record of 8-67 against teams that finished with a winning record. That’s eight wins in 12 years!

Granted, according to the research, there are many decent quarterbacks with losing records against winning teams. Hello, Dak Prescott, to pick on one of many. The Cowboys quarterback is 2-9 by that measure over the past two years.

Of course, the W’s belong to the teams. But it means something that these names are in the small lineup of quarterbacks with winning records against winning teams: Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Ben Roethlisberger, Wilson, Brady.

So, yes, regardless of how they want to spin it, it’s another measuring stick.

“Is Tampa Bay playing as good of football as anybody right now? Absolutely,” Stafford told reporters at midweek. “Are they a really talented team, Super Bowl champs, all these things? Absolutely. So, it’ll be a big test for us.”

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Say his name

Upon graduating to the NFL when the Baltimore Ravens selected him with the 31st pick in the first round in April, Odafe Oweh issued a game-changing personal statement: He would no longer be called Jayson, his middle name, as he was during and before he wreaked havoc on Penn State’s defense.

Two games into his NFL career, Oweh is surely forcing the issue in more ways than one.

His forced fumble and determined recovery sealed the upset victory against Kansas City on Sunday night, and during his debut at Las Vegas, Oweh notched his first NFL sack – after not registering a single sack during his final season with the Nittany Lions.

No, that’s not Jayson. That's Odafe, who went by his middle name because too many people mispronounced – or were perhaps simply too lazy, arrogant or insensitive to simply roll with Uh-DAH-fay. Oweh, who was born in New Jersey as the son of Nigerian immigrants, is hardly the first person of color to accept such an indignity in this society. So, make that a cultural statement, too.

“It’s pretty cool,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters this week as his team prepared for Sunday’s game at Detroit. “I think you advocate for yourself. As a young person, it’s great to learn how to do that. He’s doing that and what he’s comfortable with. I think it’s very respectful to his family ... so it’s awesome.”

Oweh’s impact, against the backdrop of his ID, is one of the most heart-warming storylines of this young season. Beyond the name, he’s demonstrating that he could be another in a long line of game-changing players to roll through Baltimore after being passed over at the top of the draft. Ray Lewis, remember, was drafted 26th overall in 1996.

And yes, Ozzie Newsome’s fingerprints are on this. Although Newsome retired from the GM post now manned by his longtime understudy, Eric DeCosta, he still serves as a consultant who attends practice, watches videotape and chimes in during staff meetings. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale mentioned the plug that came from Newsome during the draft process that also included Oweh (6-5, 251) clocking at 4.36 in the 40-yard dash.

“You need to watch this 99 from Penn State,” Martindale recalled of Newsome’s message. “He’s a Raven.”

A Raven with a cool name to boot.

Odafe Oweh (99) celebrates his fumble recovery against the Chiefs.
Odafe Oweh (99) celebrates his fumble recovery against the Chiefs.

Lethal weapon

When the Atlanta Falcons added Cordarrelle Patterson to the mix during the offseason, they knew they were getting a dynamic returner who led the NFL in kick return average the previous two seasons.

Yet, new coach Arthur Smith has unveiled some bigger plans. Patterson has scored two of Atlanta’s three TDs through two weeks while working from the backfield as a running back.

Technically, Mike Davis is the starter. But Patterson, averaging 4.6 per carry, has been dynamic as a runner and receiver flowing out of the backfield. In addition to his two TDs at Tampa Bay last Sunday, Patterson set up another TD with a 23-yard gain on a screen pass.

This seems to be only the beginning. “We hope to build off that,” Smith said after the loss at Tampa. “Fun to coach.”

He’s also much-needed for a unit ranked 25th in total yards as it faces the Giants in a matchup of 0-2 teams. Patterson is an exceptional athlete, yet throughout his career coaches have been challenged to develop a role on the offense that matches the physical promise, which is one reason he’s on his fifth team in nine NFL season.

Smith’s creative juices are hereby challenged.

It’s also worth noting that the Bucs refused to kick off to Patterson on Sunday, evidence that he’s still plenty dangerous and respected for the impact he can bring on special teams.

Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Sunday: Matthew Stafford, Rams face pressure vs. Tom Brady, Bucs

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