As Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay shared a hug at midfield following the NFC Championship Game, it was clear their bets on each other paid off big-time. Stafford led the Los Angeles Rams to a 20-17 come-from-behind victory over the San Francisco 49ers that secured a berth in Super Bowl LVI and, in the end, proved all his doubters wrong while proving McVay right.
After McVay and the Rams worked a trade to land Stafford from the Detroit Lions over the offseason, it was Super Bowl or bust for LA. McVay seemed to know that Stafford could take his offense to the next level and was willing to surrender Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder to make it happen. That massive gamble has paid off, and the Rams will head to the big game with Stafford under center. The deal wasn't cut-and-dry, there were several places Stafford could have ended up after the Lions made him available. But, in the end, one fit made the most sense.
A number of teams had interest in Stafford last offseason. Chief among the suitors battling the Rams for his services were the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts. And, let's be real here, Stafford could have manipulated things to get where he wanted to go. It was clear his preference was to land in LA, and McVay wanted him badly. So badly, in fact, that the two happened to run into each other in Mexico.
While plenty of quarterbacks would likely thrive in McVay's system, he bet big on what Stafford could bring to the table despite years of disappointments in Detroit. During his first season in LA, the 33-year-old finished third in the NFL in passing yards (4,886), second in touchdown passes (41), third in yards per attempt (7.9), fourth in QBR (63.8), sixth in passer rating and posted a career-best completion percentage (67.2). He was absolutely stellar for most of the season.
With Stafford running the show, the Rams went 12-5, won a highly-competitive NFC West and won three playoff games to earn a berth in Super Bowl LVI.
As for Stafford, he had several attractive suitors. Niners coach Kyle Shanahan took Jimmy Garoppolo to a Super Bowl and led Matt Ryan to an MVP season. And Colts head coach Frank Reich has a reputation for elevating the play of his quarterbacks. Both teams had good talent on offense and he could have thrived in either spot. But he wanted to play for McVay and the Rams.
In the end, the match made the most sense. Stafford's huge arm and playmaking ability elevated everyone on the Rams' roster. Cooper Kupp became a legitimate MVP candidate with Stafford delivering him the ball, Van Jefferson and Tyler Higbee both took big steps this season and Odell Beckham Jr. became a legit threat after arriving at midseason. LA's running game also improved thanks to the increased threat from the passing game. Stafford's presence elevated every aspect of the team's offense.
With his new quarterback, McVay was able to open things up in a way he hadn't with Jared Goff under center. Instead of a constant developmental project, the 36-year-old had a fully-realized, mature quarterback ready to win games. The two were a perfect fit for each other and it showed all season long.
The story of the bromance between a coach and his quarterback reached a climax on the field at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, as McVay and Stafford found a way to win a game that didn't go their way for most of its duration. In the end, they proved their instincts right, and their partnership has landed them in the ultimate destination.
The Rams will be playing in Super Bowl LVI in their home stadium. And that's all thanks to McVay and Stafford's big bets on each other.