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Matthew Stafford wins the playoffs, but can he beat Tom Brady?

He took the field among thousands of waving towels, which carried the weight of a dozen years of failure, the subject of every question, the bearer of every hope.

Matthew Stafford shrugged, grabbed the burden of its painful neck and threw it.

A gentle screen for Cooper Kupp. A perfect attack on Odell Beckham Jr. A patient laser for Tyler Higbee. A magnificent ceiling to Beckham in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. An arrow to Higbee. A soaring bit of perfection for Beckham.

Six introductory passes, six splendid finishes, a resounding opening statement that ended with the Rams quarterback twice throwing his body into a violent scrum at the finish line while grinding a new truth.

You can no longer say that Matthew Stafford has not won a playoff match.

The Rams player who had the most to prove showed up, showing up all Monday night by leading the Rams to a 34-11 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC wild-card game at SoFi Stadium.

It was the first playoff win in Stafford's 13-year career after three postseason losses in Detroit, it was all Hollywood, and it was insanely fun.

The season's most Rams-centered crowd roared, a real home court advantage, fluttering yellow towels that read "Champs." The most pressured Rams team in recent years danced, a truly joyous release in which Beckham pointed to the alleged ice water in his veins, Von Miller flew over a sack, and everyone flew everywhere.

But for the most part, it was Stafford who finally won deep in January, igniting it all, and symbolizing it all with the best passer rating in Ram’s playoff history.

"It means a lot more to ... you guys," Stafford said of his milestone. "I just want to be part of this team and help us win. ... I go out and play and let the chips fall where they can."

Others sounded more relieved that their best offensive player was finally laying off the most offensive stats of his career.

"It's good that you do not have to talk about it anymore so you can get it out of the way," said coach Sean McVay.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Brady and the Bucs host the Rams in the playoffs in the division round.

(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)

Ah, but another type of Stafford talk continues. This was only the first step. Stafford must now quarrel with a goat as the Rams travel to Tampa next weekend to play against Tom Brady and defending champion Buccaneers in the NFC Division Round.

But this was a necessary step. It was a huge step. And that was, for Stafford, what was once considered an insurmountable step.

After Stafford was traded from the Lions last spring, the biggest rap against him in his 12-year career was that he had never won a major.

Rap revet. This was a big one, a flashy one, a Ram-slide victory that moved the locals to within two victories after appearing in their backyard Super Bowl.

After Stafford had struggled at the end of this season, with eight turnovers in his last three games while equaling 17 interceptions in the league, the biggest fear was that he was worn out and overwhelmed.

Fear swirled. Stafford was bubbling from the start, going six for his first six in 93 yards, before finishing 13 for 17 for 202 yards, two touchdowns, his first rushing touchdown in six years and an almost perfect 154.5 passing rating.

And, almost forgotten, he committed no turnover. Seriously. No wiretapping, no fumbling, a pure game for a guy who has made some pretty big mess.

"That's how I expect to play every game," he said. "It doesn't always happen that way, but it felt good out there, felt comfortable."

It was a game that featured crunchy Rams tackles that turned the smart Cardinals into a glorified college team, with the defense holding them to 183 yards in total while tricking quarterback Kyler Murray into terrible passes, terrible decisions and two interceptions.

It was also a game that featured a comeback from an offensive Rams storming attack, with Sony Michel and Cam Akers combining for 113 yards in 30 carries, an area crucial to their continued advancement.

But the night belonged to Stafford. As he walks, Rams walks. He was their message. This is not a team that will focus on past failures. This is not a team to be burdened with.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford stretches for extra yardage on a third-quarter run while Arizona's Deionte Thompson pursues.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford stretches for extra yardage on a third-quarter run while Arizona's Deionte Thompson pursues.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

"Thought we had a good plan on the way into the game," Stafford said. "They showed us a few wrinkles on the third try, but we were able to play. We had a short field a bunch. The defense scored. That kind of thing is huge in any match, but will be magnified even more in the playoffs. . "

The first Stafford touchdown pass, a four-yard pass to Beckham late in the first quarter, came at the end of a soul-crushing, 10-game drive.

The Rams' second touchdown, early in the second quarter, came on Stafford's second consecutive quarterback sneak at the end of a nine-play drive. Both times he jumped into the middle of herd of large and battered bodies. Both times he limped away. But he hung hard to get a rare scoring. Not only had he not scored a quick touchdown this season, but he had not scored one since 2016.

Carried by a 21-0 lead forged on David Long Jr.'s interception return for a touchdown, Stafford made it 28-0 with a sidearm, seven-yard touchdown pass to Kupp after leading the team on a 75-yard drive.

Later, he completed a nice 41-yard attack to Van Jefferson in the third quarter to make a Matt Gay field goal and a 29-yard player to Kupp to make another.

And now that he finally has a playoff win, McVay said nothing has changed.

"He's still the same great player for me," McVay said. "So was he always before this match."

Make no mistake, a win for Stafford is also a win for McVay, who put his reputation at stake last spring as he helped construct the trade with Goff and two first-round picks.

Anything less than a Super Bowl appearance for this duo would be considered a miserable failure. But as they head toward Tampa, it only gets harder from here. The defending champions and their best quarterback ever will not go down without a fight.

Stafford actually surpassed Brady this season as the Rams defeated the Buccaneers in Week 3 on SoFi with a 34-24 win that wasn’t even that close. Stafford threw in 343 yards and four touchdowns, while Brady threw in 432 yards and just one touchdown.

"It's a huge challenge, a difficult place to play, of course a fantastic quarterback, they are different than when we last played them," said Stafford. "So are we."

Yes, the Rams now have a quarterback who has won a playoff game.

Just in time for the heat to be used at Stafford to win his second.

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