The Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus the Los Angeles Rams is a gauge of where these undefeated NFL powers are the first month of the season. Matthew Stafford buys that. The Rams quarterback’s all into that measuring stick thing.
“Frankly, every week is, right?” Stafford said this week. “Every time we go out and put the pads on, it’s a measuring stick of where are we. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. It’s the NFL. Anybody can beat anybody. We know that.
“Is Tampa playing as good a football as anybody right now? Absolutely. They’re a really talented team, Super Bowl champs, all those things. Absolutely, it’ll be a big test for us. But every time we go out there, whether it’s a Wednesday practice or Sunday, it’s a measuring stick. We have to go prove it every time.”
So this game (Tampa -1.5 on FanDuel) is also a Matt Stafford against Tom Brady comparison, right? It’s the greatest quarterback of all time against a guy who wants to inherit that crown some day and has the talent to do it.
Not if you ask Stafford.
“It’s really the teams going at it, the way I feel,” he said. “I’m excited, I’m excited to be back home, you know? It’s going to be a lot of fun being in SoFi again and having a great challenge and a great team to go up against. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Yeah, but what about a great QB matchup? The present against the future?
How about the idea that Stafford might have been Brady, if only he’d landed in New England instead of the armpit that the Lions were during his time there?
“No, no, I don’t think about that kind of stuff,” Stafford said. “I try to be as present as I possibly can. I have a ton of respect for what [Brady’s] been able to accomplish in New England and now in Tampa. What a talented guy and what a great leader to be able to do what he’s done at two different spots and really, elevate the guys around him.
“I got a ton of respect, you know, for what he’s done in the past and, shoot, what he’s doing right now. He’s playing great football, about as good as I’ve ever seen him play. So hat’s off to him for playing as well as he has.”
Well, so much for my column subject agreeing with my column idea.
Except, I have no agenda in aligning these two players. Unlike Stafford, I don’t have to dance around a quarterback comparison with the greatest of all time during the week I’m facing the guy.
The truth is the Rams vs. the Bucs could be a preview of the NFC Championship Game months from now. It’s silly to suggest it cannot happen.
But the only way it can happen is if Stafford, new to the Rams this season following an offseason trade from the Lions, can play like Brady.
Not very good.
But Brady great.
Which is exactly what Brady is doing right now.
“It’s unbelievable,” Rams coach Sean McVay said marveling about Brady. “I mean, the command, the consistency, the way he’s throwing the football, the way he is decisively recognizing things and getting the ball where it should go.
“I’ve always said this before, that the best make everyone around them better, and that’s what he’s done. He’s elevated the play of that team. It’s impressive to see. You could make the case that he’s doing things at as high a level as he’s ever done. His career is well-documented and it’s going to be a great challenge.”
Stafford was brought to the Rams to do what Brady has done in Tampa — elevate a talented team into a championship team.
And so far, he’s doing just fine. Stafford is third in the NFL with a 127 QB rating and he’s completed an astounding 77.9 percent of his passes the first two games of the season. It’s a great start.
But it’s obviously a bit early to suggest he can be as good or better than Brady this year. And it would be impossible to make that suggestion unless he outplays Brady on Sunday.
Brady, meanwhile, is just going about his business as this matchup looms.
He’s going back home to California. He’s also spent time this week reflecting on his 20-year anniversary of being inserted into the New England Patriots lineup when Drew Bledsoe got knocked out by the New York Jets.
“20 years ago – time flies,” Brady said. “It goes pretty fast. It’s been a long time since that’s happened. A lot happens in 20 years.
“I don’t think anyone thinks 20 years ago where their life would be. I certainly didn’t think in my wildest dreams I could’ve imagined what’s happened. I am just very appreciative and grateful for all of the different things that have happened over time.
“Really, it’s just about the support system of people. My teammates over 20 years, my coaches, my family, my friends – I just have great memories. I think sports have a great way of bringing a lot of people together.
“Sports are kind of integrated into the fabric of our society for a reason. When I was a kid, it brought our family together on Sundays to watch the 49ers and we had season tickets. It was kind of what our Sundays were all about.
“We played a lot of softball in our house – my sisters played a lot of softball. They took our family out to the softball fields every night, soccer fields [too]. Our family was just kind of based around sports. Sports have a great way of bringing people together, and I think for my family still. It still has allowed everyone to come [together]. Like two weeks ago, I had everyone here for the opener, which was a lot of fun. It’s been a great journey.”
Brady’s journey is closer to the end than its beginning. But he is the NFL’s TD pass leader with 9 in two games.
Reminder: He’s also 44 years old.
“Yeah, I mean, I know everybody talks about what pick he was but the guy throws it about as well as anyone in the league still,” Stafford said. “Coming out of his hand, he throws it great. He’s mechanically as sound as anybody, he’s on time, great anticipation, ball placement, it’s got a ton of spin, a ton of juice on it still. He can throw it down the field.
“I think back to the playoff game at Green Bay right before the half when he hits [Scott Miller] down the sideline. That’s a heave in Lambeau, and he dropped it on him. So, he can do it all. You think about it, from the pocket, that guy’s as good as it gets.”
And on Sunday we’ll compare Stafford to that standard — whether he agrees with it or not.