Most people in the present don’t realize it yet, or they forgot that they knew it, but Matthew Stafford has been a quarterback unlike any other.
While there are NFL Playoffs accomplishments left to be added to his Wikipedia page, Stafford’s pre-Detroit Lions resume reads like a mirrored version of a Detroit Lions resume. Prior to being subjected to rules that demand that the best prospect must find a way to make his career work with the worst teams, and before he Matthew Stafford led Georgia to a number one ranking for the first time in 26 years, he was a determined high school quarterback who led Highland Park High School to a 15-0 record and their first championship in 48 years.
“He had a vision of where he wanted to be and how he was going to get there. That was the main thing,” Highland Park head coach Randy Allen said. “This wasn’t a surprise to Matthew. This whole thing wasn’t a surprise.”
That championship game was a 59-0 rout of Marshall, a previously undefeated 14-1 team that had been ranked fifth in the country.
And in ways that Lions Matthew Stafford could never understand, Highland Park Matthew Stafford was elevated by the play of his teammates and actually the state championship was the first game of the year in which he didn’t throw a touchdown. Comfortable though, was Stafford, the top-ranked quarterback in the country over the likes of future NFL players like Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, and Kam Chancellor, Stafford committed to Georgia and after winning the job as a true freshman, went 3-0 in bowl games in a three-year career.
On Sunday, 16 years after his perfect season at Highland Park, Stafford was again lifted by teammates to a comfortable victory. Except that this time, Stafford chipped in early, late, often, and on time.
The Los Angeles Rams beat the Chicago Bears 34-14 in Stafford’s first start since being traded from the Lions for two first round picks and quarterback Jared Goff. This is part one of Stafford’s inaugural season with the Rams, being retold for the first time.
Matthew Stafford vs Bears, Week 1
In his first game in a Rams uniform, Stafford was described as being as giddy as a high schooler in the team’s post-game conversation with Sean McVay. Fitting, because this might be Stafford’s most realistic shot to win 15 games since he was at Highland Park.
The Location: SoFi Stadium
The Opponent: The Chicago Bears, a team that held all but one opponent last season to under 300 yards passing.
That Opponent: Matthew fuckin’ Stafford
Not only were the Lions the only team to have more than 288 net passing yards against the Bears, but Stafford finished with 402.
The second-most net passing yards against the 2020 Chicago Bears defense?
The Staff Artist had 402 and 297 passing yards in his two outings against Chicago, separating himself by a large margin from third-place Kirk Cousins at 292 yards.
First Pass: A 7-yard completion to Tyler Higbee
Perhaps indicative of things to come, Higbee had arguably the most complete game of his career with Stafford as his quarterback. Though Higbee had a strong string of game for what people still owned him in fantasy in late 2019, the presence of Stafford and the absence of Gerald Everett solidified Higbee’s presence as the number one tight end. He finished with a career-high 100-percent of snaps played and all of his numbers — targets, catches, yards — would’ve been among his season-best in 2020.
First Deep Past: 67 yards to Van Jefferson, Touchdown, almost immediately
Needing to throw a deep bomb before fans rioted over how nothing had changed from before, Stafford finally relented on LA’s third play from scrimmage, heaving a pass 55 air yards — from the Rams 25 to the Bears 20 — to Van Jefferson, who fell down, rolled, and ran another 12 into the end zone.
This Stafford guy can SLING IT— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 13, 2021
His first touchdown as a Ram to @VanJefferson12! pic.twitter.com/t1938rUAJ0
Second Deep Pass: DeSean Jackson, 18 yards
Third Deep Pass: Incomplete to Jefferson
Fourth Deep Pass: Robert Woods, 19 yards
Fifth Deep Pass: 56-yard touchdown to Cooper Kupp
Up 13-7 to start the second half, Sean McVay noted that this was what he felt was the most critical point in the game.
Stafford faced third-and-10 almost immediately but completed a 19-yard bullet to Woods that actually traveled 25 yards in the air — from the 17 to the 42 — in about the same amount of time that it should take to say “YES” to a trade for Matthew Stafford.
On the next play, Stafford threw the ball another 55 yards in the air, this time hitting Kupp for a 56-yard touchdown.
GOING DEEEEEP!— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 13, 2021
Staff to @CooperKupp for six! pic.twitter.com/DJOhmksjF3
It took about one game for Stafford to match or surpass some of the deep passing benchmarks for the entire 2020 Rams season.
Deep Passing for the Game: 5-of-7, 197 yards, 2 TD
In the first chapter of the latest Stafford book in his life story, the quarterback who was once considered the best high school player in the country is once again the hottest prospect in the country at his position.
Final Stat Line: 20-of-26, 321 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 12.35 Y/A, 14.65 AY/A, 156.1 passer rating
Yes, Stafford is “entering a new world” in this opening chapter. Sunday night’s victory over Chicago resulted in career-highs for passer rating, Y/A, Adjusted Y/A, and positive mentions by Al Michaels. It is now seen as one of the greatest — if not the greatest — debut by a QB for a new team in the modern era.
matthew stafford played 168 games in detroit and only recorded one (1) game with a higher EPA/dropback than what he did last night in his debut with the los angeles rams #nflverse pic.twitter.com/feR8W4CPAF— Tej Seth (@tejfbanalytics) September 13, 2021
I remember when Castaway came out in 2000, it was crushing at the box office for three straight weekends and I seem to recall a trailer for the movie coming out long after its release. The message was either intended to bring people back to the theater again, or to reassure people who had not seen the movie yet that they should:
“Getting off the island is only the beginning...”
Next Chapter: Indianapolis Colts, what would later become known as “The Bride & The Bridesmaid: Stafford v Wentz”