For Matthew Stafford and the Rams, only one thing will feel familiar about the season-opening game Sunday night at SoFi Stadium against the Bears.
It’s the Bears.
Stafford faced them home and away annually when he was with the Lions for 12 seasons, producing more victories (going 11-9) and more game-winning drives (six of his 38) against Chicago than any other team. The Rams have faced the non-division opponent the past three years, winning the past two meetings with stout defense. This part of the new season might feel old.
“I’m used to seeing the Bears a couple of times a year, and I’m just going to be wearing a different uniform playing them this time,” Stafford said.
But the quarterback’s change of uniforms is the difference and the curiosity in this nationally televised game.
Finally, 7 1/2 months after the Rams agreed to acquire Stafford in the trade that sent quarterback Jared Goff and two draft choices to Detroit, they’ll see him in action and measure his impact in more than a practice or scrimmage.
This will be Stafford’s first game as a member of the home or visiting team at SoFi Stadium, or, for that matter, any Los Angeles-area venue in college or pro football.
It will be everybody’s first game with fans in the stands at SoFi Stadium, which was closed to crowds in its first year because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Rams players and coaches, to say nothing of their Bears counterparts, have been trying to picture what all of this will look like.
Stafford, 33, a former No. 1 overall draft pick from Georgia, all his career with a franchise that was never good enough to win a playoff game. He joins one that has been to the playoffs in three of four seasons under coach Sean McVay.
“I think really it’s the entirety,” Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth said of what will be different. “When you (look at) everything we’ve done over the last few years, and everything Sean’s been able to do as a coordinator and a head coach, and then you match it with a guy like Stafford … it’s the opportunity for him to have the success he deserves.”
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp pointed to Stafford’s ability to create opportunities for all five eligible receivers on a given play, a group of targets that can include free-agent signing DeSean Jackson.
“Not really premier plays become really big plays for us,” Kupp said. “He’s (Stafford) able to do a lot of stuff for us. It’ll be exciting to see it all come alive.”
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey said he sees Stafford “making things happen.”
“Putting the ball right on the money on guys, throwing guys open, some of the elite traits that he has always had, I think will be able to be expressed a little bit more this year, hopefully,” Ramsey said.
Offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said he expects Stafford to be the “same steady force” he was in Detroit, where Stafford passed for 45,109 yards, 16th most by an NFL quarterback.
“He’s (Stafford) got a lot of experience to really call upon, but at the same time, it’s going to be his first opportunity to run it out as our guy,” O’Connell said. “I think there’s not one guy in the locker room that’s not excited about seeing him do that and lead us.”
That might not be the feeling in the other locker room.
Bears coach Matt Nagy told Chicago reporters about his respect for Stafford.
“And then you put him in that offense,” Nagy said. “And, you know, Coach McVay went out and got some other tools too. I was with DeSean in Philadelphia (as an assistant coach). Don’t get it twisted – he might be older, but he can still blaze.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us on defense, so we’ll have to be ready.”
Stafford’s final victory over the Bears for the Lions, in December in Chicago, was telling.
The Lions were trailing by 10 points and backed up at their 4-yard line with 4:43 to play. Stafford threw an incomplete pass on first down, but then connected on six in a row for 96 yards, the last 25 coming on a touchdown pass to Marvin Jones. After a strip sack of Mitch Trubisky gave the Lions the ball again, a short touchdown run by Adrian Peterson gave Detroit a 34-30 win.
Knowing about performances like that gives the Rams confidence in Stafford.
Stafford’s own confidence is quiet, at least outside the locker room. Asked Wednesday for a memory from his games against the Bears, he thought but declined to name just one. As he put it: “It’s always a great battle when play those guys.”
Said Kupp: “He’s got a lot of stories. He’s probably just being humble.”
Maybe Stafford will do more bragging in L.A. after he has accomplishments here to brag about.
What he and the Rams can accomplish together, they’ll begin to find out Sunday.
“It’s really just the start, which is the good thing,” McVay said. “We’re going to learn a lot.”
RAMS (0-0) vs. BEARS (0-0)
When: 5:20 p.m. Sunday
Where: SoFi Stadium
TV/Radio: Channel 4, 710-AM, 93.1-FM, 1330-AM (Spanish)