Heading into the 2021 season, the Los Angeles Rams made one of the biggest moves in franchise history when they traded two first-round picks, a third-round pick and QB Jared Goff for veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford. The Rams would go on to win the Super Bowl in their first season with Stafford under center, while Goff would help pull the Detroit Lions from the basement of the NFC and into contenders over the next three seasons.
This past weekend, after a 24-7 first half lead in the NFC Championship game, the Lions collapsed to allow a 17-pt comeback by San Francisco early in the 3rd quarter. Detroit never recovered, and lost the game 34-31, making many revisit the question, who won the trade of quarterbacks between the Los Angeles and Detroit?
This question was in full swing heading into the Rams-Lions NFC Wild Card matchup that pinned Stafford vs Goff against each other in the first round of the playoffs. Both teams were asked about it all week, and after the 24-23 victory for Detroit, Lions head coach Dan Campbell took a subtle shot at the Rams claiming “You’re Good Enough for Detroit, Jared Goff” in his post game speech to the team.
It cannot be denied that Jared Goff has played well all season, boasting over 4,500 yards and 30 TDs on the year. However, when it mattered most, he could not elevate the players around him, or throw the team on his back to make the clutch play needed to stop the game from slipping away.
One can’t help but compare how Stafford’s performances differed from Goff’s in similar adverse situations during the post season.
For example, in the 2021-22 NFC divisional round, Stafford and the Rams gave up a 27-3 lead late in the 4th quarter to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Things looked bleak for LA with only :42 seconds left in the game, but then Stafford found WR Cooper Kupp on one of the most clutch throws of the post season, hitting him for a 44-yard strike and setting up the game winning field goal. The following week, the Rams found themselves in a 17-7 hole, heading into the 4th quarter against San Francisco. That’s when Stafford got to work, finding Kupp again for a touchdown, and leading two more scoring drives to send LA to the Super Bowl.
On this day two years ago, a huge play from Matthew Stafford to Cooper Kupp drove us down the field with 20 seconds left against the Bucs.— Mob Squad (@MobSquad_app) January 23, 2024
The play that sent us to the NFC Championship #RamsHousepic.twitter.com/n3cGvRRBxD
With roughly six minutes left in the Super Bowl, Los Angeles needed a touchdown to take the lead. They had struggled most of the second half on offense after losing starting receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the game to a torn ACL, and were already without WR Robert Woods and TE Tyler Higbee, who both were injured prior to the game. This is when Stafford shined brightest though, willing his patchwork offense together, and leading them on a 79-yard game winning touchdown drive.
To me, this is the exact reason why the Rams made the trade to acquire Stafford, and the difference between the two quarterbacks at the time of the trade. Jared Goff is a fantastic quarterback now, and while he had success in Los Angeles, when the going got tough, it always seemed as though there was more to be desired from his play.
That’s not to take a shot at Goff, he has improved greatly as a QB since leaving LA and I don’t think that happens without him gaining the chip on his shoulder that he got from being traded. However, I also firmly believe that Goff would not have been able to pull off some of the clutch moments that Stafford thrived in during the 2021-22 post season. Stafford has proven that when the going gets tough, that is when his leadership is at it’s best. He has an uncanny ability to raise the team’s level of play around him, and help find a way to win despite the adversity that may present itself.
The move has been viewed as one of the most mutually-beneficial trades in NFL history. The Rams got the perfect quarterback for their Super Bowl window, and the Lions found a young QB to help kickoff their rebuild.
There is no for sure way to determine who won the QB swap, but I have come to a conclusion on one thing: While there are certainly no losers in this trade, the Rams probably do not have a 2021-22 Lombardi trophy without their decision to acquire Stafford. This proves to me without doubt that it was the exact right move for Los Angeles, no matter how much Goff develops from here on out or what the Lions do in the future.
Who do you think won the trade? Comment below