INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Aaron Donald was on his way to his postgame news conference on Sunday when he crossed paths in the locker room with new Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, who happened to throw four touchdown passes Statement’s Victory Against the Defending Super Bowl Champs.
Donald, the amazing defensive tackle who again demonstrated why he’s a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year with his harassment tom brady, has largely reflected Ram’s heartbeat in recent years. He is the model teammate who earns respect with his passion, work ethic and production.
When she saw Stafford standing at the door, her feelings got the best of her.
“I hugged her,” said Donald.
The rough defensive tackle has embraced many quarterbacks in his time, but not usually with the sentiments he expressed to Stafford.
“I love you, man,” Donald said of his message.
Sure enough, Stafford was touched by it, given his earlier knowledge of No.99’s track record.
“It’s a whole lot better when he followed me, so I’ll take it,” Stafford said, reflecting on what it’s like to play against a guy who plans the game on a regular basis.
The exchange also described how the Rams, 3-0 outright, are taking in their newly experienced quarterback after the Bucs’ 34-24 loss at Sophie Stadium.
On one level, why wouldn’t they worship Stafford, revived after faltering for 12 years in Detroit?
In three games, Stafford has completed 70.2% of his passes in throws for 942 yards, with 9 TDs and just one pick. His 75-yard scoring strike to Dacian Jackson was another example of the strong hand he brought, which invites so many perspectives on how things could have turned out to be different with the offense than it was with predecessor Jared Goff, who The Lions were shipped as part. The blockbuster of the off-season trade that brought Stafford to tinsel town.
Yet it goes deeper than skill. It’s also about chemistry. And that’s where Stafford is getting high marks at the top of the high passer rating (129.7).
“I’m just trying to be myself,” he said. “You know, I was the new guy to come in and they hugged me, which was awesome.”
Compliments were flowing from many directions after playing one of the most complete games of the Sean McVay era, and perhaps the best-rounded game since the run up to the Super Bowl during the 2018 season. It was harmonic convergence everywhere.
The Rams scored touchdowns on four consecutive properties in the second and third quarters to seize control. While Stafford sprayed the football for several goals including Cooper Kupp (nine catches, 96 yards), Sonny Mitchell (20 carries, 67 yards) provided a glimmer of hope for the running game. Physical defense filled the Bucs’ run and, under Donald’s leadership, made it a very difficult day for Brady. Although Brady covered 432 yards, he paid for it with three sacks, including an early from Donald that pushed the Bucs out of field goal bounds. Later, when Tampa Bay tried to make a comeback, the Rams forced the Bucs to settle for a small field goal in one case and crushed another drive with a fourth-down stop.
For all talk of games against champs representing a measuring stick, the Rams demonstrated that they are indeed among the ranks of contenders.
Then again, the Rams beat the Bucs in Tampa last year with Goff at quarterback.
Remind this: What matters most is what happens in the end. The success of the Stafford trade will ultimately depend on whether the Rams can come back and win the Super Bowl. Donald mentioned how, at this point in his career, he is playing for the championship.
In other words, being 3-0 in September – and beating a quality opponent like the Books – is good. But with further testing and the need to be more complete, there is no need to detour. No, they didn’t crown a new winner just because Brady & Co. lost their first game since last November.
“If you said, ‘Hey, what were the teams that went 3-0 last year or last year?’ I bet you really can’t remember,” McVay said. “There are so many football games left.”
Still, the rams are rolling with the right kind of vibe. And with so many essential pieces — including the quarterback who proved he can really show up in a big game — he might be ready for something special.
Follow USA Today Sports’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.