THOUSAND OAKS – The push for an NFC Wild Card berth has become a war of attrition. Teams vying for playoff spots are forced to sift through injuries at football’s most crucial position as the margin for error narrows.
Which is why, in a year where quarterback Matthew Stafford has totaled 3,648 yards and 23 touchdowns, it’s his availability — Stafford has started 14 of 15 games so far — that has given to the Rams the advantage over their opponents while they hold the number 1. .6 seeds.
“Matthew is the ultimate competitor,” offensive tackle Rob Havestein said Wednesday. “He wants to be out there, whether he’s struggling, whether he’s feeling good, whatever.”
While the Rams have progressed, winning five of their last six games behind Stafford’s brilliance, their opponents have limped through the second half of the season. The Seattle Seahawks (8-7), currently seeded No. 7, had to rely on replacement Drew Lock. The Minnesota Vikings (7-8) lost Kirk Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury, going through four starters this season, and are currently sitting on the outside of the team picture. playoffs, looking inward. Saints quarterback Derek Carr, prey to Rams’ defense in 30-22 win in Week 15, has battled shoulder, back and head injuries throughout this season , choosing to play through pain during his first season in New Orleans.
Look forward to this Sunday, and the Rams will face yet another opponent, the New York Giants, whose playoff hopes once rested on the shoulders of third baseman Tommy Devito and have now decided to return to Tyrod Taylor as holder.
The Rams found themselves in a similar situation last season. Stafford missed the final seven games with a spinal cord contusion, as they finished 5-12.
“It was really tough,” Stafford said. “I don’t like missing time, extended time. So to be able to be here and perform again, and perform at a decent clip, it’s a lot of fun.
Not only have the Rams struggled to string together wins, but it’s little things, like pace, a quarterback’s tendencies, his positioning on snaps and in the pocket, that Havenstien noticed have changed with John Wolford and Baker Mayfield at center.
Like Stafford with the Rams, Mayfield’s stability has helped the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-7) thrive in 2023, needing just one more win to clinch a playoff spot and lock up the NFC South . The majority of teams facing the Rams have not had this luxury.
“It’s just a blessing to have a guy like Matthew stay healthy and lead the team,” running back Ronnie Rivers said. “It’s something I take for granted.”
Rivers felt the Rams “showed some glimpses” last season. In 2023, the Rams thrive behind a consistent rotation on the offensive line and the dynamism of Stafford.
That doesn’t mean he’s healthy.
Stafford played with lingering soreness in his right thumb, according to head coach Sean McVay.
In Week 4, when the Rams faced the Indianapolis Colts, Stafford expressed hip discomfort, but that didn’t stop him from leading the Rams to a 29-23 overtime victory. That same week, offensive tackle Joe Noteboom strained his groin midgame — he then missed the next two games — but seeing Stafford struggle inspired Noteboom.
“(Noteboom) says, ‘Hey, I have to finish this play for Matthew. If he plays through that, then I can definitely do it. ” ” McVay said.
That mental toughness was instilled in Stafford during his early years in Detroit.
“It didn’t matter what the record was, what the score was, how you felt,” he said, “the guys that were around me were just trying to show up every week.”
Even before that, he revered quarterback Brett Favre, who “was the guy who showed up every Sunday no matter what,” Stafford said.
In an era where health at the quarterback position is paramount, Stafford provides a model of consistency for the Rams. He is present and alive. Vibrant as a leader, in the locker room after practice, talking with McVay and receiver Cooper Kupp about their approach this week, developing a connection with receiver DeMarcus Robinson over the last four games, available down the stretch crucial, the one he wanted to contribute to last year, but I couldn’t.
“He told us, ‘Hey, if you ever see me on the field, just help me get up and we’ll keep making things happen,’” Havenstein said. “If you’re a quarterback, having that type of grip, that type of competitiveness, it elevates everyone.”
California Daily Newspapers