If playoff success defines quarterback legacies, Matthew Stafford flipped his on its head in the 2021 postseason.
Spending 12 years with the lowly Detroit Lions, Stafford went 0-3 in the postseason and was saddled with the distinction of a good quarterback who couldn't win the big game.
It took just one year in Los Angeles to wash that grime away. Stafford led the Rams to a 20-17 comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers to propel L.A. to the Super Bowl.
"Long time coming, you know? Spent a lot of years in this league and I've loved every minute of it," Stafford said. "I feel blessed to be able to play in this league for as long as I have but I sure am happy for this opportunity for not only myself but, really, so many guys in that locker room that deserve this too. And that's what it is, it's an opportunity to go out there and win another one."
Shamed because he wasn't able to steer a rusting, rickety Ford Cortina from the depth of despair in Detroit, Stafford's immediate success in L.A. proved that, when buffered a good team, he's the type of quarterback who can shine in the postseason.
The Rams knew this. It's why they traded draft capital to swap Jared Goff, an OK quarterback who wasn't going to lift the offense, for Stafford, who can open up the operation and make plays in the heat of the crucible, like he did Sunday.
"We went out and got him because we thought it was a chance to be able to get a great player of his magnitude, those things don't come around often," coach Sean McVay said following the win. "What he's done, he's elevated everybody around him. He's made me a better coach, he's made his teammates better, he's such a great person.
"If you don't root for this guy, something's wrong with you. He's a great competitor, we've seen that really throughout the whole season, but I think it's really been on display these last couple weeks. We talk about competitive greatness all the time, being your best when your best was required, he embodied competitive greatness today, love Matthew Stafford."
Stafford entered the year with an 0-3 record in the postseason. He's evened that up at 3-3 in one magical run.
McVay was asked how Stafford has risen to the occasion this postseason.
"I think he's played like he's capable of," the coach responded. "Risen? I think he's played like we thought he would. No moment's too big for him, I can tell you that much. He's elevated everybody around him. We got one more, we know it's gonna be a great challenge."
On Sunday, it was a 10-point deficit that Stafford and the Rams needed to overcome to punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. The QB made big-time throws, netting 337 yards and two TDs with an early red-zone interception on 31-of-45 passing. A little luck helped as 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped a sure fourth-quarter INT.
With the gift in hand, Stafford drove the Rams downfield for a game-tying field goal. Then after the defense held, they secured another three points to take the lead for good. It marked Stafford's 44th career game-winning drive (including playoffs), which puts him alone in eighth place all time. The seven men ahead of him are either already Hall of Famers or will be soon (Tom Brady 67; Ben Roethlisberger 57, Drew Brees 56, Peyton Manning 56, Dan Marino 51, John Elway 46, Brett Favre 45).
"It's everything that you could hope and wish for," Rams receiver Odell Beckham said of his QB. "He had that look in his eyes the whole game. He motivated us, he pushed us, one play at a time, and he drove us down. He's just been doing that all postseason, all season really, since I've been here, he's just had that look on him. Just happy that we could get him to this point, and I know it was tough for Detroit for a lot of those years, man. Having an amazing opportunity, (he's) just gonna take full advantage of it."
Stafford has 49,995 career passing yards and 323 career passing TDs in the regular season (both 12th-most in NFL history), the most pass yards and pass TDs by a player at the time of his first Super Bowl appearance in NFL history.
With the run to the Super Bowl, Stafford no longer has that 0-3 playoff record by which to be ridiculed. On Feb. 13, he can destroy another O-fer record: Stafford is 0-3 against the Cincinnati Bengals in his career (all with the Lions).