May 29, 2024

During his 14-plus seasons in the NFL, Matthew Stafford has played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis only twice.

But he feels comfortable there: Stafford engineered dramatic comeback victories over the Colts in each of his visits.

“Obviously, a fun stadium to play in,” he said this week.

On Sunday, the Rams (1-2) need a win — come-from-behind or otherwise — when they play the Colts (2-1). A victory elevates the Rams to a respectable .500. A loss tilts them toward irrelevance at 1-3.

The Rams have lost two games in a row, including a 19-16 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.

After throwing two interceptions in each of the last two games, Stafford aims to play more efficiently .

But Stafford, 35, was not entirely to blame for defeats to the San Francisco 49ers and Bengals. Two of his four interceptions came on tipped balls, one a perfectly placed pass that bounced off the helmet of running back Kyren Williams.

“He’s throwing the ball with accuracy, anticipation and we’ve got to continue to do a good job of playing well around him,” coach Sean McVay said. “I can do some different things to help and that’ll always be the case, but I love the way Matthew’s played for us.”

Stafford has connected on 12 passes of 20 yards or longer, three of 30 yards or longer and two of 44 yards or longer.

But in an offense that remains without injured star receiver Cooper Kupp, the Rams require Stafford to play nearly error free.

That will be difficult if injuries along the offensive line do not abate.

For most of the game against the Bengals, left tackle Alaric Jackson and right guard Joe Noteboom were sidelined because of injuries. Stafford was sacked six times.

That harked to last season, when injuries ravaged the line. Stafford suffered a concussion and then a spinal injury that ultimately ended his season.

But Stafford said he was not concerned about a repeat of the line’s injury woes.

“Played this game long enough to know that that’s part of it,” he said. “I know our guys are doing everything they can to be back as soon as possible and we’ll go from there.”

The last time the Rams traveled to Indianapolis, in 2021, Stafford was making only his second start under McVay.

In 2016, when he played for the Detroit Lions, Stafford had engineered a comeback victory over the Colts.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws during a 2021 game against the Colts in Indianapolis.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws during a 2021 game against the Colts in Indianapolis.

(Associated Press)

He did it again for the Rams, erasing a four-point deficit with a late touchdown pass to Kupp, and then directing a drive that ended with a tie-breaking field goal for a 27-24 victory.

That was Stafford’s 38th game-winning drive, which had tied him for eighth all-time, according to profootballreference.com. He has since increased the total to 42 — he remains eighth on the career list — and ranks sixth all-time with 34 fourth-quarter comebacks.

“I don’t look forward to it,” he said of situations that require comebacks, “but I am confident.”

Against the Bengals, the Rams struggled on offense, converting only one of 11 third downs. Stafford’s third-down touchdown pass to Tutu Atwell with 64 seconds left was the lone success, and it pulled the Rams to within three points.

“One of our coaches came up to me after that and was like, ‘All right, if we recover the onside [kick], we got about 15, 20 yards to get into field-goal range,’ ” Stafford said. “I was like, ‘Hell no, man. We get this freaking onside, I’m freaking going to gut them and go get a win. You know what I mean? Let’s get the hell out of here.’

“So, didn’t happen but that’s the mindset that we have and I’m happy to be a part of that.”

Veterans such as tight end Tyler Higbee and offensive tackle Rob Havenstein have experienced Stafford in comeback situations during his two-plus seasons with the Rams. That includes playoff victories over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 49ers and a Super Bowl LVI victory over the Bengals.

“Same old calm, cool, collected — like it’s the first drive, first and 10 at the beginning of the game,” Higbee said of Stafford’s demeanor when comebacks are required.

There is no “roller coaster” from snap one to snap 50 and beyond, Havenstein said.

“I’m not saying he’s monotone,” Havenstein said. “His level is excited, but it’s him the whole time. Maybe at the start of the drive there’s a little blip of like ‘Hey, here’s the situation. All right boys, let’s go do this.’ …

“He’s as steady as they come without being monotone, if that makes sense.”

Last Monday against the Bengals, rookie receiver Puka Nacua got his first taste of Stafford in a comeback situation.

“His tone is just a little bit more aggressive,” Nacua said, chuckling. “His communication is as good as it always is but the urgency — you can feel it.

“He’s talking about it a bit faster. His hand signals are going a little bit faster, so it’s, ‘OK, it’s my turn to pick up the tempo too.’ ”

The Colts will be slight favorites Sunday, perhaps portending another close finish.

Veteran Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald indicated that with Stafford, his team is never out of a game that comes down to the end.

“As long as he’s got the ball in his hands, we feel pretty comfortable that they’re going to get the job done,” Donald said, “no matter how the day’s going.”

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