THOUSAND OAKS — Tom Brady vs. Matthew Stafford is the quarterback duel everyone wants to see and no one wants to talk about.
“It’s really the teams going at it where I feel (excited),” Stafford said Wednesday, downplaying the upcoming individual intrigue.
But come on. It’s old GOAT vs. new Ram. Seven-time Super Bowl winner vs. the best striving for the trophy. The quarterback who turned the Buccaneers into champions in his first season in Tampa Bay vs. the quarterback trying to perform the same magic in his first year in L.A.
As the Rams and Buccaneers began practice Wednesday for their game Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium, they couldn’t really hide the anticipation. For a showdown between a pair of 2-0 teams. And for High Noon (OK, high 1:25) between gunslingers Stafford and Brady.
Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell said he always stops to watch Brady.
“I’d be lying if I said, when they’re on TV, you’re not watching to see how they’re going to activate all those (receiving) weapons with him running the show,” O’Connell said.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said he always watches Stafford warm up before their teams play.
“He can make every throw from every angle,” Arians told L.A. writers on Zoom. “He’s so talented, and I love to watch really talented guys.”
Yet when asked about the actual competition between the 44-year-old Brady and 33-year-old Stafford, the Rams rehearsed the old routine: Quarterbacks don’t play one-on-one. The game is 11 on 11.
That was Stafford’s line too when he was asked about the game’s billing as a quarterback matchup and how he sees it.
“Obviously, not that way,” Stafford said. “We’re going against a great defense that’s playing about as good as any defense in the league the last year, year and a half. It’s two teams that are playing good football right now going against each other. I’m excited about it. Big challenge for us.”
Nor would Stafford admit it if he, the first overall draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 2009, ever thinks about what his career might be like if he’d landed with a capable franchise as did Brady, the 199th pick by the New England Patriots in 2000.
“No, no, I don’t think about that kind of stuff. I try to be as present as I possibly can,” Stafford said. “I’ve got a ton of respect for what he’s done in the past and, shoot, what he’s doing right now.”
What Brady and Stafford have done in the past is hard to compare, the rosters around them being so different. Brady’s teams have gone 232-69 in the regular season and 34-11 in the postseason with him starting, Stafford’s 76-90-1 and 0-3. Stafford has passed for slightly more yards per game, 273.7-263.6. Brady has the edge in yards per pass, 7.5-7.3, and career passer rating, 97.4-90.3.
They – or their teams – have met twice before when both were healthy. The record is 1-1: The Pats won, 34-9, in Foxboro in 2014 when Brady, passing for 349 yards, outperformed Stafford. The Lions won, 26-10, in Detroit in 2018 when Stafford, completing 12 of his first 13 throws, outdid Brady.
Last season, Rams quarterback Jared Goff rose to the challenge in a 27-24 victory over Brady and the Bucs in Florida.
Chances are that again on Sunday, the winning team will be the one whose quarterback has the better afternoon.
If that’s Stafford, against a Super Bowl-caliber defense, it will give him credibility in the role of this year’s Brady.
“We have not talked about that,” O’Connell said of the anticipated duel, and we’re all free to believe it. “But just knowing the types of quarterbacks who are going to be at the game on Sunday, it’s hard not to think about it like that.”
McVAY GOES HOME SICK
Rams head coach Sean McVay came down with a stomach bug Wednesday and went home from the team’s facility before practice so he wouldn’t infect anyone else on the staff, a team spokesman said. McVay tested negative for COVID-19.
Sounds as if the Rams had a productive practice with the coordinators running it.
“We love having him around,” Stafford said of McVay. “He’s great energy, a great communicator, sets the tone for us. But we’re professionals. We’ve got to go out there and get our work done.
“Hopefully he’s feeling better tomorrow.”
FRESH START FOR KISER
Linebacker Micah Kiser’s up-and-down career with the Rams ended Wednesday when he was signed off their practice squad by the Denver Broncos.
A fifth-round draft pick in 2018 from Virginia, Kiser lost the 2019 season to a torn pectoral muscle. He returned to start nine games last year, won the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award in Week 2 and led the team in tackles before a knee injury in Week 11 ended his season. He was beaten out for an inside linebacker spot this summer.
Teams can sign players from other teams’ practice squads but must place them on the 53-man active roster.
Running back Darrell Henderson (ribs) and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (ankle) missed practice Wednesday. The Rams expect to know later in the week if Henderson can play Sunday. An ankle problem cost Floyd a week of practice in August. … Outside linebacker Chris Garrett was activated after 19 days on the COVID-19 reserve list. The Rams now have nobody on the list, which is for players who test positive or have close contact with an infected person. … The Bucs placed wide receiver Antonio Brown on the COVID-19 list, so he’s unlikely to play Sunday.