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The Rams were 2 last-second field goals away from drafting Matthew Stafford in 2009

Had two last-second field goals ended differently, it would have been the Rams drafting Stafford in 2009.

2009 NFL Draft Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams made a franchise-altering trade in 2021 when they acquired quarterback Matthew Stafford from the Detroit Lions. The former number one overall pick spent 12 years with the Lions as the team won zero playoff games. As everyone knows at this point, Stafford joined the Rams and went on to win the Super Bowl.

However, what if Stafford was never drafted by the Lions and it was the Rams that ended up with the number one overall pick in 2009? It’s a scenario that nearly happened.

The 2008 season was a historic one for the Lions and not in a good way. They went on to have the first 0-16 season by a NFL team and the first winless season since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976.

Still, despite the Lions being 0-16, the Rams weren’t that far behind when it came to being the worst team in the league. While they finished 2-14 with back-to-back wins in the middle of the season to Washington and the Dallas Cowboys, Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric didn’t have the two teams that far apart. Football Outsiders measured the Lions total DVOA at -45.2 percent. However, the Rams were only half a percent away at -44.7 percent. These are two of the four worst teams measured by Football Outsiders since 2000 and they both happened in the same year.

In any other season, the Rams may have ended up with the number one pick. In fact, they ended up with the top pick the very next season when they finished 1-15. With that being said, had two field goals taken minutes apart from each other gone differently, it may have been the Rams drafting Stafford in the 2009 NFL Draft instead of the Lions.

Let’s set the scene.

The date was October 12, 2008 and Week 6 of the NFL Football schedule. Both the Lions and Rams entered the week winless at 0-4 — the Rams coming off a bye and the Lions just losing to the Chicago Bears, 34-7. The teams were also each playing on the road and in the early game window.

With Jon Kitna suffering from a back injury, quarterback Dan Orlovsky made his first career start. Things didn’t start well for Orlovsky as on the Lions’ third possession, he ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety. It’s one of the most (least) memorable moments of Detroit’s 0-16 season.

Still, Orlovsky put the Lions in position to get their first win. After four losses by an average of 17.75 points, a close game was a pleasant surprise. In the third quarter, Orlovsky found Calvin Johnson for a touchdown to give Detroit a 10-2 lead. Minnesota answered with a touchdown of their own, but the Lions led, 10-9 heading into the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately, the Detroit offense didn't manage a single first down in the final 15 minutes. Minnesota had a field goal blocked earlier after an Orlovsky fumble, but would have another chance to win the game.

Starting at their own 20 with 4:41 on the clock, Gus Frerotte led the Vikings down the field. A 42-yard defensive pass interference penalty on 2nd-and-20 put Minnesota in field goal range. Six plays later, Ryan Longwell kicked a 26-yard field with 12 seconds left to give the Vikings a 12-10 win. Detroit fell to 0-5 and it was the closest they would get to winning a game.

Approximately 1,100 miles away on the east coast, the Rams were also searching for their first win. The first half was pretty quiet with points coming off of a Clinton Portis rushing touchdown and Josh Brown field goal. However, Washington was driving at the end of the half and looking to extend their lead.

With 26 seconds left and in the red zone, quarterback Jason Campbell had a pass batted in the air that was inexplicably caught by an offensive lineman. The offensive lineman, Pete Kendall proceeded to fumble. Rams safety OJ Atogwe recovered the loose ball and ran 75 yards for the touchdown. Instead of trailing 14-3 or even 10-3, the Rams somehow led, 10-7, at halftime.

The second-half was pretty quiet with neither team able to find the end zone. Finally, as the mid-2000 Rams often did, they crumbled late in the game. Washington marched 73-yards down the field which included a back-breaking 29-yard catch by Antwaan Randel El on 3rd-and-14. Portis would score his second touchdown of the day and give his team the lead with 3:53 remaining.

Most Rams teams would have waved the white flag during this era. Not that day. Steven Jackson and Donnie Avery took over on the final drive. On 3rd-and-13 with just over a minute left on the clock, quarterback Marc Bulger rolled to his right and found Avery in single coverage. Avery managed to come up with a 42-yard grab and put the Rams in field goal range.

They didn’t make it easy as Richie Incognito had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to push the offense back. Still, Josh Brown’s 49-yard field goal was good and the Rams got their first win of the year. Brown was 10-for-13 from 40-49 yards in 2008 with his game-winner being one of the 10 that went through.

However, what if the Lions blocked their second field goal of the day and Brown’s eventual game-winner went wide, handing the Lions a win and the Rams a loss? Both teams would have finished 1-15 and tied for the number one overall pick.

In the event of a tie, the NFL rules state that draft position is decided by strength of schedule — the aggregate winning percentage of a team’s opponents. The team that played the schedule with the lowest winning percentage will be awarded the higher pick.

The Rams’ strength of schedule that season was 53.5 percent while the Lions’ strength of schedule was 55.5 percent. Therefore, the Rams would have ended up with the number one overall pick. With Bulger’s best days behind him and a new head coach in Steve Spagnuolo, it’s very likely that they would have drafted Stafford.

It’s interesting to think about, especially as the Rams ended up with Jason Smith who remains one of the bigger first-round busts in franchise history.

With that being said, it’s fair to wonder if the Rams could have even supported Stafford had they drafted him. It’s no secret that between 2010 and 2016, the Rams franchise failed nearly every quarterback that walked through the building.

They drafted Sam Bradford number one overall in 2010. In his first three years, Bradford had two different head coaches, three different offensive coordinators, and never had a number one wide receiver. The former number one pick was traded for Nick Foles in 2015. Foles made it one season before getting cut. He went on to win a Super Bowl as the starting quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles.

With yet another number one overall pick, the Rams drafted Jared Goff. Goff would have one of the worst rookie seasons ever as the team still didn’t have a top wide receiver or a franchise left tackle to protect him. Had Jeff Fisher not been fired at the end of 2016, there’s little doubt that Goff would have gone down a ‘bust’ trajectory.

Between Marc Bulger in 2009 and Stafford in 2021, the Rams had 12 different quarterbacks start at least one game. Only Bradford and Goff started more than 40 games.

While the Lions weren’t the best situation for Stafford, they still had a Hall of Fame wide receiver and good enough coaches to not ruin him. The best wide receiver Stafford would have likely had with the Rams is Holt in 2009 and then maybe Avery if he stays healthy. Detroit gave Stafford stability and an environment where he could have some success. The Rams didn’t have that until 2017 and there’s a good chance Stafford doesn’t last that long if he had gone to St. Louis.

Sometimes, things work out just as they should. Dan Orlovsky runs out the back of the end zone and the Lions lose by two points. Pete Kendall inexplicably catches a football he should’ve let fall incomplete and the Rams score an unexpected defensive touchdown, leading to a win.

Stafford needed Detroit to eventually win in Los Angeles. The Rams needed the time to build a stable situation that a quarterback could thrive in and find championship-level success.

13 years and 12 days after Week 6 in 2008, Stafford beat his old team as a member of the Rams, throwing for 334 yards in three touchdowns. The Rams went on to win the Super Bowl with Stafford and it’s because they didn’t draft him number one overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.