INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP)Two accomplished, 33-year-old veteran quarterbacks are making their debuts with new teams Sunday night at SoFi Stadium.
And that’s where the similarities end.
Matthew Stafford is the Los Angeles Rams’ future, their hopes of playing in a home Super Bowl resting squarely on his shoulders.
Andy Dalton might not even be the Chicago Bears’ present for a whole lot longer.
Nearly six months after the Rams acquired Stafford from the Detroit Lions, he finally gets to work on realizing his career-long ambitions. After a dozen NFL seasons without a playoff victory, Stafford candidly admits he has never been in charge of a team as talented as these Rams – let alone backed by a defense as good as Los Angeles’ top-ranked unit.
After one postseason appearance in the past six years, Stafford chose to leave the Lions rather than sticking around for yet another rebuilding phase. He is done waiting for the rest of his career to start.
”I love doing this,” Stafford said. ”A bunch of different changes for me this offseason, too. Battled through a bunch of things. Moved my family across the country. I want to go play some football and do it with a group of guys that I’ve, in a short period of time, grown to just absolutely love and respect. … I’m just excited to go out there with these guys as a team and see what we got.”
Stafford is a familiar face to the Bears, the team he has beaten more times than any other. Opponents know all about his strong arm, poise in the pocket and veteran guile while leading 31 fourth-quarter comebacks – more than any quarterback except Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger during Stafford’s first dozen NFL seasons.
Chicago has rookie coordinator Sean Desai in charge of its defense, which means Stafford’s experience against the Bears might not be quite as valuable. The Rams are still confident they’ll see why they made the bold move to trade Jared Goff – a good quarterback with a successful track record – for Stafford and his potential to be great.
”We’ve had a great rapport from the jump,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. ”He’s really easy to get along with, but he’s got really strong opinions. … He’s had a lot of repetitions playing the quarterback position at a high level in this league, and his ability to recall and remember those and use them to his advantage is really how you get better. It’s been pretty impressive.”
While Stafford gets most of the attention in Inglewood, all eyes back in Chicago will be on Dalton.
The Bears declared the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback their starter when they signed him to a one-year deal and stuck with him even after they traded up to draft Justin Fields with the No. 11 overall pick.
Dalton gets his first chance to quiet the calls for the prized rookie against the defense that led the NFL last season. Then again, those calls figure to get even louder if the Bears struggle.
Dalton insisted during the week he wasn’t looking over his shoulder. And the Bears continued to praise him.
”The things I would say that really stand out about Andy would be his competitiveness and his poise and ability in pressure situations to operate,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. ”I think at the end of some really close games that he’s come back and won in two-minute situations.”
It’s conceivable Fields plays in certain situations, such as third downs or on the goal line. The Bears would not say if he will, but McVay says the Rams are preparing to see Fields.
Stafford isn’t the only veteran playmaker added to a Rams offense that stagnated over the past two seasons. Speedy receiver DeSean Jackson is back in his native Los Angeles after a 13-year NFL career spent entirely on the East Coast – and more importantly, the five-time 1,000-yard receiver says he is completely healthy after being limited to eight games in the past two seasons with Philly.
Protection could be an issue for the Bears, and that’s not just because of All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
There’s a big question at left tackle with Jason Peters expected to start. The Bears signed the two-time All-Pro in mid-August because with rookie Teven Jenkins missing the start of the season following back surgery.
But at 39, it remains to be seen how effective Peters will be and whether he can stay on the field. He played in 21 games over the past two seasons in Philadelphia.
Right guard James Daniels (quad) and right tackle Germain Ifedi (hip flexor) are coming off injuries.
NO. 1 HITS
The Rams’ vaunted defense lost four starters to free agency and a failed contract renegotiation, while coordinator Brandon Staley left for the top job with the Chargers. Their replacements are all expected to debut against the Bears.
Raheem Morris will start his first full season as an NFL defensive coordinator by running a scheme similar to Staley’s setup, but with tweaks for LA’s personnel.
A’Shawn Robinson will move into Michael Brockers’ spot on the defensive line if his knee injury has healed, while Justin Hollins is likely to take Samson Ebukam’s starting spot at linebacker.
The Rams’ new starting free safety is Taylor Rapp, who started as a rookie in 2019 before getting hurt last year and getting inconsistent playing time.
The Rams’ replacement for Troy Hill at nickel back is likely to be several players.
AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.
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