We start on the phone with Sean McVay, the crazy coach with a throbbing head, after Rams 34, Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay 24 at SoFi.
“I got a killer headache,” he said an hour after the game, in his car on the way home. “Probably from acting like such a maniac on the sidelines all day.”
Did you see? McVay set a record in Head Coach 40-Yard Dash, sprinting down the sideline to greet DeSean Jackson. He got in quarterback Matthew Stafford’s face after the first Cooper Kupp touchdown reception, wide-eyed, and gleefully celebrating. He was over-the-top happy all day.
Beating the Super Bowl champs was a statement win for the Rams, obviously. But it continued a statement first month outside the walls of the Detroit State Penitentiary for Stafford, who might be in a two-man race exiting September for NFL MVP with Raiders QB Derek Carr. While piloting the Rams to a 3-0 start, he’s completed 70 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns, one pick and a 129.8 rating. Outpointing Brady with a 343-yard, four-TD, no-turnover game was his finest early hour for the Rams. His finest play may have been the concerto touchdown with Kupp midway through the third quarter that gave the Rams the winning touchdown. The play was a triple-move from 10 yards out, with Kupp deking toward the sideline, then inside, then back outside, with Stafford waiting-waiting-waiting against a formidable rush till he knew Kupp had beaten corner Carlton Davis and was ready to receive.
Up 28-14 with 22 minutes left, McVay exulted. “You’re a bad M-Fer!” McVay, grinning crazily, told Stafford when he came to the sidelines.
Great start for the Rams, but there are miles to go before they sleep. This is the sense I get with their team: There’s trust on both sides of the ball in Stafford’s ability to give them the best chance to win. The defense knows it doesn’t have to be perfect. When the offense puts up 95 points in three games, and two of the foes (Chicago and Tampa) are good on defense, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey know they’re going to get lifted up by the offense. Not sure they knew that a year ago, when the Rams averaged 23 points per game. I got the sense in training camp that this team was euphoric to have Stafford, and the first three weeks have borne that out.
“He just brings everything to life,” McVay said. “Here’s my favorite part about what he did today. He missed some throws in that game early where we had looks that we wanted. And he just couldn’t wait for his next opportunity to respond. He expects to make all those plays, but he’s unaffected when he doesn’t and he just can’t wait for his next opportunity to compete to do it. I can be my normal basket-case self, and he’s just so calm, so resilient and poised.”
The NFC will be an interesting pennant race. It’s too early to forecast deeply, but it seems safe to project the Rams and Bucs will be big factors in late January. We knew that about Brady’s Bucs. We’re getting more sure of it each week about Stafford’s Rams.