The Los Angeles Rams stunned the NFL world with a big win in Seattle, after the team was recently ranked 28th out of 32 teams on NFL.com’s power rankings (the Seahawks ranked 14th) going into Week 1. Unlike his injury-riddled 2022 season, Matthew Stafford looked like his old self, ripping the ball deep all game with multiple completions over 25 yards to rookie Puka Nacua, tight end Tyler Higbee and third year receiver Tutu Atwell.
Many thought Stafford may have had his best years behind him after trade rumors swirled all offseason, but it was reported Sunday by Ian Rapoport that, while the Rams did have offers for Stafford, they were not remotely interested in trading the QB. This is contradictory to a previous report by Michael Lombardi, who said Los Angeles was desperately trying to move the 15 year veteran quarterback. Lombardi, frankly, has been wrong in a lot of his Rams assessments as of late. Some controversy also arose a few weeks ago when Kelly Stafford said on her podcast, “The Morning After” that her husband “couldn’t connect with the younger players on the team”.
Stafford seemed to prove all his doubters wrong on Sunday, as he hit rookie receiver Puka Nacua for 119 yards on 15 targets, 10 of which Nacua came down with. The fifth round pick out of BYU looks to be Stafford’s new go to guy, with veteran Cooper Kupp out for the first four games at least. If Sunday’s performance gives any insight into the Rams locker room, then Stafford’s connection with his younger teammates seems to be just fine.
Stafford went to Nacua early and often against Seattle, trusting him in many clutch moments of the game. In my opinion, Nacua looks to have a very similar skill set to former Ram fan favorite, Robert Woods. On Puka Nacua, an uncredited Seattle reporter said:
“He was chirping at Seattle players all game. One play in particular, he caught a 21 yard pass, pointed at Seahawks CB Tre Brown and said: “Stay your weak a** on that sideline.”
Rams fans have to absolutely love the confidence shown by their rookie receiver.
We got some pure, uncut Matthew Stafford today. pic.twitter.com/nb16aQdDvl— Robert Mays (@robertmays) September 11, 2023
Stafford’s connection was also strong with Tutu Atwell. The young receiver has had a relatively quiet first two years in the league, but after playing a bit last year with an array of quarterbacks, this was his first real chance in a starting capacity with Stafford and the duo did not disappoint. Atwell had a career high, 119 yards on six catches, including a 44 yard bomb.
If there was any disappointment to be found in the passing game, it was from wide receiver Van Jefferson. Jefferson, who is in a contract year, was expected to fill the void left in Cooper Kupp’s absence, but he was only able to amass 24 yards total, including a big drop to start the 2nd half on a deep play action pass to the left.
Tutu Atwell WENT OFF in his season opener.— 305 Sports (@305Sportss) September 11, 2023
6 REC | 119 YDS (career-high) pic.twitter.com/HOuMu4HpN8
Stafford threw no touchdowns or interceptions, but all three of the rushing touchdowns scored were set up through the passing game, as he went on to stack up 334 yards through the air. Stafford really was the catalyst that got the offense going in the second half as LA went on to score 23 unanswered points.
The elbow injury that Stafford dealt with in 2022 seems to have affected his game more than what was let on. He looked completely different on Sunday, showing flashes of the arm strength and accuracy that we’ve come to expect from Stafford throughout his career. With such a good showing through the air, Rams fans have to be excited that soon he will be reunited with All-Pro Cooper Kupp too.
LA needs to continue their gritty, underdog mentality, heading into a big divisional game against hated rivals, the San Francisco 49ers, next week, which is surely going to be a more difficult test for the offensive line; Seattle has no Nick Bosa, no Javon Hargrave, and arguably no Arik Armstead. As far as peppering the middle of the field, as Stafford did on Sunday, the 49ers have linebacker Fred Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga, two more advantages that maybe the Seahawks don’t have. So Nacua will need to not just be as good as he was in his debut, but perhaps even better than expected.
Which they’ve done once before now.
As Stafford said to end out head coach Sean McVay’s post game speech, “whatever the [expletive] outside world thought this [expletive] was going to look like, they don’t got a [expletive] clue”.