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Rams Winners & Losers: Matthew Stafford throws away the game

A backbreaking pick-six by Talanoa Hufanga sealed LA’s fate

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If the Los Angeles Rams had to pick between beating the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game over an early regular season matchup, they’d pick the trip to Super Bowl LVI over and over again. But that’s not to say losing to their division rival 9-24 feels good for LA.

The careers of Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford will forever be linked because of the historical QB-swap made by the Rams and Detroit Lions in 2021. While Goff is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes with 11, Stafford solely leads the NFL in interceptions with 6.

Are these the only meaningful measures of quarterback play? No.

Stafford is often fighting for his life behind an injury-riddled offensive line, and Goff is playing behind one of the most dependable units in the NFL. But the former Rams QB is seemingly ascending and only 27 years old, while Stafford is an aging 34 and continues to make mistakes we’d expect out of a rookie quarterback.

The Monday night loss doesn’t squarely fall on Stafford’s shoulders, but he’s performed well below expectations so far in 2022.


Cooper Kupp, WR

Kupp being one of only a couple individuals able to contribute was actually detrimental to the Rams against the 49ers - even despite his impressive stat line of 14 receptions for 122 yards.

Talanoa Hufanga was able to key on a screen to Kupp late in the fourth quarter with LA down 8 points and return Stafford’s pass for six points. The Rams desperately need to get others involved on offense, which brings us to...

Tyler Higbee, TE

With Allen Robinson’s wholly disappointing start to 2022 and his career in Los Angeles, Higbee has asserted himself as the Rams’ second receiver. While that’s a positive sign for Higbee, it’s probably not a good sign for LA when someone who has historically played a limited role is thrust into being featured out of necessity.

Higbee hauled in 10 catches for 73 yards and is on track to have a career year in 2022.

Aaron Donald, DE

Few defensive players made an impact on Monday night’s game more than star Aaron Donald. The fearsome defensive end recorded 2 tackles for loss in the running game and was consistently disruptive in the backfield.

There was a low-light, however. The Rams moved Donald to the edge in order to take advantage of a matchup on the 49ers’ third string left tackle, Jaylon Moore, but Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball immediately to Deebo Samuel right behind Donald to covert a third and 13 situation. San Francisco went on to miss a field goal to go up 11 points, which gave the Rams life late - but this could have been a play that sealed the game.

The good out-weighed the bad for Donald on primetime.

Matt Gay, K

3 for 3 with a long of 39 yards.

There’s little doubt when Gay steps on the field for a kick, but shame on Stafford and the offense for settling for three points after multiple failed red zone opportunities.


Matthew Stafford, QB

Stafford completed 32 of 48 passes for 254 yards, a pick-six, and a passer rating of 71.0. The Rams’ QB was also sacked on 7 plays, which means he at least 55 times - not a recipe for success against an aggressive 49ers defense.

LA elected to sign Stafford to a 4-year $160M contract extension this offseason, which means he makes on average $40M per season. The veteran has not come close to living up to this price tag, and he’s as much part of the problem as any other position on offense.

The Rams’ signal caller was particular ineffective in the red zone in Week 4, where he threw multiple turnover-worthy plays and missed multiple would-be touchdowns - including a short throw to Higbee.

Stafford leads the league with 6 interceptions, but it easily could be worse - and that was the case on Monday night with multiple dropped picks by the San Francisco defense. He also lost a fumble on a strip sack by former Ram Samson Ebukam.

It might be worth revisiting: Is Matthew Stafford turning the Rams into the Detroit Lions?

Allen Robinson, WR

The Rams knew coming into this game that the offensive line would be porous - David Edwards was the latest fly to drop more than 48 hours prior to kickoff.

One way to help a quarterback that’s under pressure is to separate as a receiver, and Allen Robinson seems to be struggling in that department in a big way. Los Angeles signed the receiver to a 3-year $45M contract this offseason - through 4 games he’s caught only 9 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.

He’s being clearly outplayed as the team’s second receiver by Higbee. Is that worth $15M a year?

Tutu Atwell, WR

It’s possible that the coaching staff knew Atwell wouldn’t be able to play much of a role Monday night as a deep threat with Stafford likely under duress - which led to him being designated as a gameday inactive.

But Atwell is clearly the Rams’ fastest receiver on an offense that is desperate for any element of speed. Am I supposed to believe that the former second round pick wouldn’t be able to separate downfield better than Robinson?

Shame on the Rams coaches for not having Atwell ready to play - for not developing his route tree beyond deep, downfield concepts.

Leonard Floyd, OLB

Floyd is supposed to be the complement to Donald on the edge of the defense, but he’s yet to record a sack this season.

Even with the 49ers down to their third string left tackle, LA kept Floyd on the opposite side of the defense and instead moved Donald over Jaylon Moore. Does this show a lack of confidence in the veteran’s pass rushing potential?

Ben Skowronek, WR/FB

Yes, having Skowronek as a threat in the backfield draws safeties into the box and allows the Rams to deploy more downfield passing attempts; however, Skowronek seemed ineffective as a blocker on Monday night.

Sure, having the second-year receiver play fullback is more of a schematic benefit than anything, but he needs to be effective in the role in order for defenses to continue to honor it in a meaningful way.

While being used as a traditional receiver he caught 2 passes for 33 yards.