INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald found quarterback Matthew Stafford following a decisive win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, gave him a big hug and said, “I love you, man!”
In front of a star-studded crowd that included four-time NBA champion LeBron James, actor Jason Sudeikis and rapper-producer Dr. Dre, Stafford propelled the Rams to a 3-0 start as he passed for 343 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-24 victory over the previously undefeated Bucs at SoFi Stadium.
“He’s playing lights out,” Donald said. “That’s why he’s here, we expect that from him and I know he’s going to continue doing what he’s doing and even at a higher level.”
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady passed for 432 yards and a touchdown and rushed for a team-high 14 yards and a score, but found himself under consistent pressure and was sacked three times.
“It’s just a good defense,” said Brady, who has been pressured on a league-low 17.8% of his dropbacks since arriving last season in Tampa Bay, but saw a pass rush Sunday that pressured him 27% of the time. “They have good pass-rush schemes, they have good pass-rushers, they mix things up quite a bit on you so it’s hard to really just to tee off.”
Players were hesitant to agree that Sunday’s win over the Bucs provided any sort of measuring stick in their pursuit of Super Bowl LVI, but Donald, a catalyst in the Rams’ 2018 Super Bowl run, said this team “for sure” has the makeup to get there.
“It’s only three games, still got a long season, but obviously that’s the ultimate goal, that’s what we’re chasing,” said Donald, who recorded his first sack against Brady in four meetings. “That’s the only thing I’m chasing.”
Both teams struggled offensively through the first quarter, and the Rams took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
Stafford dialed it up after the break.
Facing a third-and-10 from his own 25-yard line, Stafford went through his progression before he eventually found receiver DeSean Jackson for a 75-yard touchdown strike to put the Rams up 21-7 on the opening drive of the second half.
“He pushes it down the field so easily,” Bucs coach Bruce Arians said about Stafford. “You’re right up in his face one time, he finds a guy wide-open down the field and gets it to him. A lot of guys, they see it but they can’t get it to him. He’s a special player.”
Rams coach Sean McVay bolted down the sideline to celebrate the long score with Jackson, who was coming off a Week 2 game with no targets but was signed to a one-year free-agent contract over the offseason to provide a deep threat that the Rams lacked last season.
“It electrified the stands, the fans, the whole team,” said Jackson, who became the ninth player in NFL history with at least 10 75-yard touchdowns and finished Sunday with three receptions for 120 yards.
“I was just being in the moment, having fun,” McVay said. “There was a lot of good reasons to be excited for our team today.”
Brady responded with a quick nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive that he capped with a 1-yard keeper for a touchdown that pulled the Bucs within one score, but Stafford countered with a touchdown drive of his own when he found receiver Cooper Kupp for a 10-yard touchdown and the Rams kicked a 48-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to pull away.
Kupp caught nine passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
Stafford’s 75-yard touchdown pass accounted for his third passing touchdown of 50-plus yards this season, tying the number of 50-plus-yard passing touchdowns the Rams had in 2019 and 2020 combined with former quarterback Jared Goff.
In three games in L.A., Stafford has nine passing touchdowns, which ties him with Hall of Famer Kurt Warner in 1999 for the most touchdowns in Rams history through three games.
“I was the new guy coming in and they’ve embraced me, which was awesome,” said Stafford, who played 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions and was acquired via a blockbuster offseason trade. “I’m just trying to be myself every single day, bring my best every single day and see where that takes us.”
The Rams will remain at SoFi Stadium next Sunday and will open division play against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.
Brady will return to New England, where he played 20 seasons and won six Super Bowls, to face former coach Bill Belichick and the 1-2 Patriots.
ESPN staff writer Jenna Laine contributed to this report.
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