Stafford gets his ring, secures legacy

This is what Matthew Stafford was drafted to do. It just took 13 years, a bunch of losing seasons and a blockbuster relocation to make it happen. The Rams' Sunday night Super Bowl victory, the franchise's first title since 1999, wasn't just about Stafford. In fact, for a good chunk of Los Angeles' showdown with the Bengals, defense -- not the QB -- led the way. But without No. 9 under center, the Rams probably wouldn't have been on the NFL's biggest stage in the first place. In hoisting the Lombardi Trophy to cap his star-studded L.A. debut, Stafford didn't just rewrite his entire legacy, but also laid more groundwork for future QB and team marriages around the league.

When the Rams paid a steep price for Stafford to kick off the 2021 offseason, packaging former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff and a pair of future first-round picks for the Lions' gunslinger, most people had no trouble declaring that L.A. had upgraded at QB. The question was always, is he enough? The Buccaneers proved you could, in fact, buy yourself a championship run when they lured Tom Brady to Tampa Bay the year before. But Tom Brady is also Tom Brady. Stafford went from Motown to glitzy Los Angeles with literally six fewer Super Bowl wins than TB12 had upon his arrival in Florida. Suffice to say, even Rams Nation had some skepticism about whether Stafford alone would get them over the hump.

But therein lies the rub. It was never gonna be just Stafford alone, just like it was never gonna be just Brady alone. When you go all in on a new QB, you go all in on his surroundings. The Bucs brought Rob Gronkowski and Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown. The Rams brought Odell Beckham Jr. and Von Miller and Sony Michel. At the same time, none of those pieces would've bought in if not for the star power at QB. You can sign and trade for help all you want, but if Sam Darnold is touching the ball every play, well, that's a different story.

This brings us back to square one with Stafford: from the beginning, he was supposed to be the guy. He, like Goff before him, went No. 1 overall. He, like Goff before him, struggled on bad teams out of the gate. And yet, unlike Goff and countless other first-round busts and flame-outs of his time, Stafford refused to stop teasing MVP potential, even as his Lions days became all the more littered with losses. At 23, he topped 5,000 passing yards and threw 41 touchdowns. At 27, he completed over 67 percent of his passes while throwing 32 TDs. At 29, he threw 29 TDs to 10 picks. What the numbers never revealed was the innate toughness that accompanied the cannon arm -- the resiliency to miss not a single start in nine of his final 10 years in Detroit, even without a single playoff victory to show for it.

Finally freed of the Lions narrative and buoyed by an equally talented lineup and staff, Stafford played at ease throughout his Rams debut, and MVP production followed: 41 TDs, a career-best completion percentage, a career-best 12-5 record. Nothing, however, justified his steep trade price quite like the playoffs, in which he 1.) cruised past the rival Cardinals with efficiency; 2.) staved off Brady and the defending champion Bucs with his rocket arm; 3.) survived the nagging 49ers with a Super Bowl trip on the line; and, now, 4.) finished strong in the biggest game of his football life. He was never perfect in 2021, sometimes forcing throws while juggling iffy play calls from coach Sean McVay. But he was championship-caliber, finishing the playoffs 4-0 to become the first QB since John Elway to play 14+ NFL seasons before winning it all.

Now, suddenly, Stafford's entire resume takes on a new light. All those gaudy numbers in Detroit? They're no longer empty stats. They're officially precursors to a Super Bowl-winning run. Anything from here on out is just a bonus for L.A. and Stafford's future case for a Hall of Fame nod. And don't think for a second it won't get other teams and QBs thinking: maybe we can be next. It's one thing to see a franchise turn its keys over to Tom Brady and be rewarded with glory. It's another to see a franchise do the same thing for Matthew Stafford and get the same result. Buckle your seat belts, because a guy long known as little more than a big-armed loser in Detroit just hoisted the trophy in the NFL's most glamorous city, and he might dictate the NFL's next QB market as a result.

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