Rams’ unorthodox plan created Super Bowl 2022 dream team

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Matthew Stafford had done his job. He’d done what he was brought here to do.

With 1:46 remaining in the NFC Championship game, Stafford had just led the Rams to the go-ahead field goal that would end up being the difference in a 20-17 Rams win over the 49ers Sunday at SoFi Stadium to advance to Super Bowl 2022 in the same stadium.

Now he was on the sidelines, helplessly hoping his team’s defense would stave off a comeback by a resilient 49ers team that had already beaten the Rams twice this season so he could finally get to the game he’s always dreamt about playing.

It was then, while the Rams defense was suffocating Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers offense on their final, desperate offensive possession, when Stafford had a quiet moment to himself — as quiet a moment as you could have in the chaos of 73,202 fans piercing the night air with cleared throats.

Stafford, as he stood alone on the sideline, looked at peace. He looked like he was taking it all in. He looked emotional.

“I wasn’t thinking I was going to do that,’’ the Rams quarterback would say later. “It just happened.’’

After a pause, he added, “Long time coming.’’

Yes, it was.

Stafford was the key component to the Rams’ aggressive, all-in approach to building this team for 2021, acquiring stars from other teams with a sole focus on now, not the future.

Rams head coach Sean McVay, at left, and Matthew Stafford celebrate.
Rams head coach Sean McVay (left) and Matthew Stafford celebrate.

It felt beautifully fitting that Sunday was the one-year anniversary when the Rams and Lions agreed to trade terms that would send Stafford from Detroit to Los Angeles and change his life.

“I’ve spent a lot of years in this league and loved every minute of it,’’ said Stafford, who completed 31 of 45 passes for 337 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. “I sure am happy for this opportunity. That’s what it is — it’s an opportunity to go out there and win another one.’’

As he toiled in Detroit for the first 12 years of his career, Stafford didn’t have opportunities like this. He played on a lot of bad teams and entered this postseason having played in three playoff games, losing them all.

Odell Beckham Jr.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Getty Images

Now he enters the Super Bowl with a 3-0 record in these playoffs.

Stafford is not the not only face of the Rams’ all-in plan, but he was the key component.

The Rams built a dream team this year, throwing caution to conventional wind and wisdom that say teams are best constructed one draft pick at a time. And damned if they didn’t validate that bold plan Sunday night, setting themselves up with a home-game Super Bowl against the upstart Bengals in two weeks.

“The stars shined the brightest when they needed to,’’ Rams coach Sean McVay said.

Validation was evident all over the field by the time the blue and yellow confetti covered the turf like a snowstorm as the Rams celebrated wildly.

The trade for Stafford cost the Rams two first-round picks, a third-rounder and Jared Goff, the franchise quarterback L.A. traded up to draft in 2016.

“We went out and got him because we thought it was a great opportunity to get a player of his magnitude,’’ McVay said of Stafford. “He’s elevated everyone around him. He’s made me a better coach, he’s made his teammates better. No moment’s too big for him, I can tell you that.’’

Receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who’d been a disappointment and a distraction first with the Giants and then the Browns, was signed as a free agent in November after Cleveland released him. He caught nine passes on 11 targets for 113 yards in the biggest game of his life Sunday and distanced himself from the ill-advised Giants boat trip and his reported squabbles with Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Von Miller

Beckham is now a poster child for what a change of scenery can do for a talented player.

“He’s a special player,’’ McVay said. “He’s so smart, so talented, so gifted. He’s brought such a charisma and a presence and really a swag to our team.’’

Another key acquisition included adding Von Miller, one of the best pass rushers of the past decade, to an already fearsome front headlined by Aaron Donald, the perennial NFL Defensive player of the Year.

Miller’s presence has made Donald even better than he already was. It was Donald who flushed 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo out of the pocket to throw the interception to Travin Howard that sealed the game for the Rams and sent them to the Super Bowl.

After the game, it was fitting that Beckham and Miller, two stars whom the Rams acquired in November and two close friends who’d spoken about joining each other with the Rams and taking the journey together, arrived to postgame press conference together.

“Me and Von, we talked about this, and we didn’t think that it was ever really be possible,’’ Beckham said. “And here we are playing in the Super Bowl, one game away from our dreams.’’

On their dream team.