Perfect 5-year model

Rich Fyle column

From the drawers of the Top Secret Fyles:

Matthew Stafford is a survivor. After 12 lowly seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford became battle-tested during that tenure and following his trade to the Rams in January 2021, he became a Super Bowl champion.

The Rams paid a high price to get Stafford — two first-round draft picks, a third-rounder and QB Jared Goff — but he delivered when it mattered the most. With his team down by four points just past the midway point of the fourth quarter, he engineered a 15-play, 79-yard touchdown-winning drive.

His one-yard TD pass to game MVP Cooper Kupp produced a 23-20 victory over the Bengals, the franchise’s first championship in 22 seasons.

It was not Stafford’s most graceful effort — two interceptions. One ball was under thrown to the end zone and the other was tipped. The Rams lost the turnover battle against the Bengals. They became only the sixth team in 44 past Super Bowls where squads had fewer takeaways than their opponent but won the championship.

Stafford, the former No. 1 overall draft pick in 2009, was so functional, highlighting his maturity, with a change of scenery after the trade. He was very businesslike, not overcome with emotion, in postgame interviews. He beat nearly perennial Super Bowl champion QB Tom Brady twice in 2021. When Stafford needed to be his best, he was.

Stafford shrugged off the interceptions and the injuries to his offense. He lost wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a knee injury and he was down to his third-string tight end. The running game was practically nonexistent. But, Stafford had his game-breaker — Kupp, who won the wideout triple crown in the regular season. Stafford found Kupp constantly during the game-winning drive though Kupp was double-teamed most of the time, especially after Beckham left.

Stafford won his first title in his 13th season in the NFL and it reminds me of the crown that QB John Elway won in the 1998 Super Bowl. Though Elway stayed with the Broncos for his entire career, he won his first title in his 15th season.

When in Detroit, Stafford brought his briefcase to work and put up steady numbers, lost most of the time, but also produced his fair share of stirring wins. Plenty happened with fourth-quarter comebacks. He was named to one Pro Bowl as an alternate and never won any other major award. Up until this season, he played in three postseason games — all losses.

Now the city of Los Angeles has its third major sports title in the past 16 months following the Lakers and Dodgers. A lot of credit to goes to Stafford and his ability to work in crisis.

Times sports copy editor Richard Fyle can be reached at rfyle@wdt.net

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