Rams look like Super Bowl team in beating Brady and Buccaneers
It's only three games, not even a quarter of what will be the longest NFL season in history. So it's entirely too early to project the Rams into the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl that will be played at SoFi Stadium. But the Rams look the part of a Super Bowl team.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford fires quick-strike touchdown passes. He engineers methodical, clock-eating scoring drives. Coach Sean McVay, for the first time since the 2018 Super Bowl season, finally appears comfortable using the entire playbook.

Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey lead a defense playing as stout under Raheem Morris as it did a year ago under Brandon Staley. Kicker Matt Gay has been perfect, and punter Johnny Hekker is rounding into form. All of that and more was on display Sunday in the Rams' 34-24 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers before a crowd of 73,205 at SoFi Stadium.

Stafford passed for four touchdowns - including a 75-yard shot to DeSean Jackson - and the Rams neutralized Tom Brady and the NFL's highest-scoring offense. They improved to 3-0 heading into next Sunday's NFC West opener against the Arizona Cardinals. "It's a big step in the right direction," McVay said.

The Rams don't need Google maps to know their desired destination. All roads lead back to SoFi Stadium. That's where Super Bowl LVI will be played in February. Owner Stan Kroenke spent $5 billion to build the stadium. He signed off on trading Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks for Stafford. The long play does not include watching another NFC owner throw a party in his abode on Super Bowl Sunday.

Rams players caution that it is early. But they can envision playing a Super Bowl at home. "We don't want to peak too soon," Jackson said, adding, "But we know what we're capable of doing. ... We definitely look forward to being here."

Said linebacker Kenny Young: "It's time that we get serious about trying to get us a championship for the city. Other sports are doing it, and that's one of the things I personally want to get done."

Throughout the week, the Rams dismissed the notion that playing seven-time Super Bowl champion Brady and the Buccaneers was a measuring-stick game. No big deal. Just another opponent. McVay's sideline behavior Sunday indicated otherwise.

He went fairly berserk congratulating players after the Buccaneers missed a field-goal attempt at the end of the first half. He then weaved and made hard cuts between bodies while barreling into the locker room. Less than a minute into the second half, McVay sprinted down the sideline to greet Jackson after the L.A. native's coming-out touchdown gave the Rams a 21-7 lead. "Probably had too much caffeine," McVay joked.

McVay had reason to be amped. Stafford passed for 343 yards. The offensive line kept him mostly upright. Running back Sony Michel ran hard. "I'm enjoying every minute of it," Stafford said of playing in an offense with so many weapons.

For the second consecutive game, Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp for two touchdowns. "There's no telling where it can go," Kupp said of the offense.

Brady passed for 432 yards, but the Rams surrendered touchdowns only on a Brady sneak and short run by receiver Chris Godwin. Donald sacked Brady. So did Young and Leonard Floyd. Donald said the Rams thrived on the noise from the crowd. They also are enjoying playing with and being around each other. "The last time we had a team like that," he said, "we went to the Super Bowl."

That was three years ago, when the Rams lost to Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII. The Rams could see Brady and the Buccaneers again in the NFC playoffs. That would be another step on the way to their ultimate goal: winning the Super Bowl. "That's what we're chasing," Donald said. That's the only thing I'm chasing."

Gary Klein, The Los Angeles Times, published 27 September 2021