Thu Jan 27 2:20am ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws a pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) celebrates with wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) after his reception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) celebrates as he leaves the field after the team defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) pumps his fist after his 1-yard touchdown run against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half of an NFL divisional round playoff football game Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
LOS ANGELES (AP) Matthew Stafford usually mutes his emotions in public, whether he's under center or behind a bank of microphones. He had a measure of California cool long before he moved to the West Coast last year to pursue his biggest football dreams before it was too late.
That's why the rest of the Los Angeles Rams were joyously surprised last Sunday when Stafford let it all out.
After the quarterback completed a majestic 44-yard pass to Cooper Kupp to set up the field goal that sent the Rams to the NFC championship game, Stafford spiked the ball to stop the clock - and then he spiked it again in a frenzied, screaming celebration while he bounced off the field.
''All the guys on the sideline were like, `Man, you were in a dark place,''' Stafford said. ''I said, `Sometimes, you just have to go to those places and make some plays happen.' I was enjoying the moment. In my mind, I live for those kind of moments. I would have loved to have been taking a knee up three scores, but it's a whole lot more fun when you've got to make a play like that to win the game and just steal somebody's soul.''
Bold, provocative words from a player who isn't prone to grand pronouncements - or even interesting responses to questions during most game weeks.
But everything about Stafford has been focused and amplified while he chases his first Super Bowl ring. With his best chance yet to reach every player's ultimate goal, Stafford has been near his absolute best.
After a strong regular season colored by late-season turnover problems, Stafford has thrown for 570 yards and completed 74.5% of his passes without an interception while earning the first two playoff victories of his career. He has thrown four TD passes and rushed for two more scores while showcasing a poise worthy of the game's best quarterbacks.
His gutsy completion to Kupp - while getting clobbered by Ndamukong Suh, no less - and his subsequent celebration were the punctuation on a clear, declarative statement of Stafford's desire.
''It was kind of Kobe-esque,'' Rams coach Sean McVay said, evoking the ultimate measure of sports passion in Los Angeles.
''He's very poised in front of the media and he's poised during games, but he's got a lot of stuff to him that I think people wouldn't realize,'' McVay added. ''And that's exactly what you want from your quarterback. I love that fire that he has.''
Stafford's first season with the Rams (14-5) has been the most successful of his 13-year NFL career, but he leads Los Angeles against the San Francisco 49ers (12-7) on Sunday knowing they'll probably need another superlative effort from him to beat an opponent that has owned the Rams for three years.
''This is an unbelievable opportunity,'' Stafford said Wednesday. ''It's a whole lot of fun to be doing what we're doing, playing football when we're one of the last four teams left.''
Stafford left the only NFL team he'd ever known and moved his four children across the country last spring because he could feel time marching past him. After a dozen seasons in Detroit, he had only three playoff losses to show for a prolific career on a long series of disappointing teams.
The Rams have provided him with the tools to succeed, and he has improved upon them. For instance, Kupp became the most productive receiver in football when partnered with Stafford, just as Calvin Johnson did regularly during his concurrent career with Stafford in Detroit.
McVay is an innovative, aggressive play-caller whose style is suited to Stafford's strong arm and confident decision-making. Their partnership didn't always work perfectly in the regular season, but the biggest setback for LA's offense in the postseason has been four turnovers by Stafford's teammates against Tampa Bay.
Everything is in place to face the 49ers, who harassed Stafford with a four-man rush in both meetings this season. Stafford excels against blitzes because of his decision-making prowess, but San Francisco frequently drops seven men into coverage and still gets pressure.
Stafford knows all of this, and he is prepared to try again.
''There aren't a ton of varied looks,'' he said. ''They do a great job stunting their defensive line and moving guys after the snap. ... It's about execution for us, guys doing the right thing play in and play out, and when we're getting the opportunities to hit big plays, we have to hit them.''
Stafford has great teammates all around him in Los Angeles, both in the Rams' locker room and at home. His wife, Kelly, reveals more about her husband on her weekly podcast than Stafford himself ever discusses publicly - and this week, she announced her intention to buy championship game tickets for a significant number of Rams fans who have been priced out of SoFi Stadium.
Stafford only needs to focus on his work, and he seems determined to have no regrets next month.
''I'm just trying to make sure that I'm in the present, being kind of where my feet are planted, and taking care of business here,'' Stafford said.
NOTES: LT Andrew Whitworth (knee) and S Taylor Rapp (concussion) are on track to return Sunday, McVay said. ... LT Joseph Noteboom would have missed practice with his pectoral injury if the Rams had held more than a walkthrough. DT Greg Gaines (toe) and WR Van Jefferson (knee) are also starting the week slowly.
The New York Jets reached an agreement with first-round wide receiver Garrett Wilson on a four-year, fully guaranteed $20.55 million deal on Wednesday, according to a source. The Jets now have all three of their first-round picks under contract. Wilson went 10th overall to the Jets in this year's draft after recording 143 catches for 2,213 yards and 23 touchdowns in his time in Ohio State on 207 targets. The 21-year-old could struggle against more physical cornerbacks at the next level, but his athleticism and elite speed cannot be ignored. The Jets are hoping that Wilson can be a big-play threat immediately for second-year quarterback Zach Wilson. The rookie wideout has plenty of upside, but he could be inconsistent in his first NFL season while fighting for targets alongside Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios.
The Cincinnati Bengals agreed to terms with first-round Michigan defensive back Daxton Hill on a four-year, fully guaranteed rookie deal on Wednesday, according to a source. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Hill was the 31st overall pick of the first round and mostly played safety in college, but he has the athleticism to play cornerback in the NFL. The 21-year-old could be an immediate upgrade over Eli Apple in the Bengals secondary in 2022 and beyond.
Former New York Giants Pro Bowl cornerback James Bradberry agreed to terms with the Philadelphia Eagles on a one-year deal for $10 million on Wednesday, according to sources. It's a big-time post-draft addition for the Eagles secondary, and Bradberry will stay in the NFC East in 2022. The New York Giants released the 28-year-old just over a week ago, and it predictably didn't take the Pro Bowler long to find a new home. The Eagles didn't address cornerback in the draft, so Bradberry is a much-needed addition to the position. In his two seasons with New York, Bradberry had 81 solo tackles, seven interceptions, 35 passes defensed, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 32 games (31 starts).
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook could be more involved in the passing game this year, as he lined up in bunch wide receiver sets during organized team activities. "I don't want to just sit up here and tell y'all everything," Cook said. "We've got Green Bay Week 1, so we're gonna wait and see." It could just be something the new coaching staff is tinkering with, or it could be something the Vikings plan on unveiling in a bigger fashion come the regular season. The 26-year-old could be facing a suspension this year, but when he's available, he should be a no-doubt RB1 with even more appeal for fantasy managers in an offense that should be trending more towards the pass under new head coach Kevin O'Connell.
The San Francisco 49ers signed free-agent tight end Troy Fumagalli to an undisclosed one-year deal on Tuesday and released rookie tight end Garrett Walston in a corresponding move. Fumagalli was the longest-tenured NFL veteran at the team's rookie minicamp last weekend on a tryout basis. The 27-year-old was a fifth-round pick by the Denver Broncos in 2018 out of Wisconsin, and he last played for Denver in 2020, when he had eight receptions on 15 targets for 80 yards and a touchdown in eight games (no starts). He missed all of last season with an undisclosed injury and has just 14 catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns in two NFL seasons. Fumagalli will provide depth behind tight ends George Kittle, Charlie Woerner and Ross Dwelley.
An MRI confirmed that free-agent running back Tarik Cohen (Achilles), who hasn't played in the NFL since he tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2020 season, ruptured his Achilles while live streaming a training session, according to a source. It's a tough break for the 26-year-old, who will most likely miss most, if not all, of the 2022 season. Cohen was a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2018 with the Chicago Bears in his second NFL season, and he caught a career-high 79 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns on 104 targets in 2019, but his career has been derailed by injuries since 2020.
Updating a previous report, free-agent RB Tarik Cohen (Achilles) suffered a torn Achilles' tendon during his workout Tuesday, May 17.
Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Jalen Tolbert has agreed to a four-year contract. The third-round rookie could be a legitimate threat early in the season. Michael Gallup (knee) is still recovering from an ACL injury, so Tolbert should see a decent amount of snaps. He finished with 82 receptions, 1,474 receiving yards, and eight touchdowns in 12 games during his final year at South Alabama. Tolbert sounds like someone who is worth snagging as a second or third round dynasty stash.
Arizona Cardinals tight end Trey McBride has agreed to a four-year contract. It sounds like the second-round is making roughly $6.3 million. McBride finished with 90 receptions, 1,1,21 receiving yards, and one touchdown during his final year at Colorado State. He was expected to have a minor role to start the season, but that has likely change. Superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is suspended to start the upcoming season, so McBride could have a bigger role in the offense. There's a chance that McBride ends up as a decent streaming option.
Miami Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert (knee) is expected to be able to suit up to begin the season. Although, head coach Mike McDaniel mentioned that the organization isn't going to rush it. Mostert suffered a knee injury in September and is still recovering from it. Chase Edmonds figures to be the primary back, but that might not last too long. Myles Gaskin, Sony Michel, and Mostert should be in the mix as well. This sounds like a headache for fantasy managers heading into the season.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. has agreed to a four-year contract. The third round rookie figures to get plenty of attention this upcoming season. The Bears lack legitimate talent at wide receiver, so Jones could have a decent role. In 2021, Jones finished with 62 receptions, 807 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns during his senior year at Tennessee. The speedy wideout could be used in multiple roles, but we'll see how his game translates to the professional level.
Los Angeles Rams TE Tyler Higbee (knee) started on-field work a couple of weeks ago after undergoing offseason surgery on the knee injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris Godwin (knee) is 'better than where he was (in March) but not where he needs to be ... we don't put a timetable on it,' according to head coach Todd Bowles.
Fantasy Spin: Godwin tore his ACL in Week 15 of last season and is a candidate to be placed on the PUP list in training camp, but the odds are very good he'll be ready to play at some point in September - if not Week 1. The Penn State product may need a few weeks to find his old form, but he should return WR2 value if rediscovers it at some point during the second half of the season. Russell Gage could flirt with WR2 value until that happens.
Free-agent RB Tarik Cohen (Bears) appeared to suffer a significant lower leg injury while training Tuesday, May 17. There has been some speculation from training video posted on social media that he may have torn his right Achilles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles said that there remains no timetable for wide receiver Chris Godwin's (knee) return. "Better than where he was but not where he needs to be we don't put a timetable on it," Bowles said. As expected, Godwin isn't available for offseason team activities on Tuesday after tearing his ACL in Week 15 last year. As long as he doesn't suffer any setbacks in his rehab or at training camp this summer, Godwin is expected to be ready for the start of the regular season. When healthy, Godwin is one of quarterback Tom Brady's favorite targets and should return to being a WR2, but he could get off to a slow start. If he's not ready for the start of the season, Russell Gage will be a popular fantasy play in Tampa's pass-first offense.
Free-agent TE Troy Fumagalli (Patriots) signed a one-year contract with the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday, May 17, after participating in the team's rookie minicamp last weekend. Financial terms of the deal were not immediately disclosed. The 49ers also released TE Garrett Walston.
Free-agent running back Phillip Lindsay agreed to an undisclosed one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts on Tuesday, according to his agent, Mike McCartney. Lindsay spent last season with the Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins, finishing with 88 carries for 249 yards (career-low 2.8 yards per carry) and one touchdown, also adding four receptions for 45 yards and another score. The 27-year-old opened with two 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his first two years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos, but he's fallen off considerably since then and will be competing for touches in Indianapolis behind bell-cow Jonathan Taylor and pass-catching back Nyheim Hines. Taylor or Hines would likely have to miss time due to injury for Lindsay to even be worth a fantasy pickup.
Former Chicago Bears running back Tarik Cohen (leg) appeared to suffer a significant lower leg injury while training on Tuesday. It's a tough blow for Cohen, who was finally recovered from a torn ACL in 2020. His latest injury is speculated to be a torn Achilles. The 26-year-old running back was released by the Bears with an injury designation back in March. If it's indeed a torn Achilles, he's unlikely to sign with a team or play at all in 2022. In his last full season in 2019, Cohen carried the ball 64 times for 213 yards while also catching a career-high 79 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns on 104 targets in 16 games (11 starts) for the Bears.
Miami Dolphins RB Raheem Mostert (knee) expects to play in Week 1, but head coach Mike McDaniel told reporters Tuesday, May 17, that '(the Dolphins) are not going to rush it.' 'He's come too far to have a setback. He's diligently working day in, day out. When he's ready he'll be on the field,' McDaniel added.
Fantasy Spin: McDaniel and Mostert are quite familiar with each other, as the two began working with each other in 2017 with the San Francisco 49ers. Mostert should be considered the odds-on favorite to work in tandem with Chase Edmonds if he is ready for the opener, although Sony Michel could easily make a strong case to be the primary early-down back with a strong camp. Myles Gaskin also has a chance, but the odds are stacked against him considering Miami added three veterans at his position this offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie pass-rusher Travon Walker, the first overall pick in the draft, worked full time at outside linebacker during the team's rookie minicamp. "Just strictly working on outside linebacker things in practice I feel like I'm truly getting more comfortable with the position," Walker said. The first overall selection worked on pass-rush techniques and on dropping into coverage, which he will be asked to do at the position. The plan is for the rookie to focus on outside linebacker before working other positions. The 21-year-old could be a game-changing defensive player when it's all said and done, but it'll be interesting to see how he transitions to more of a traditional outside linebacker role in the NFL.