Stafford says toe OK; not feeling playoff pressure

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthews Stafford says his toe is doing OK after and shouldn’t impact him in Monday night’s wildcard playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals.

And no, you can’t see it.

Stafford took a friendly dig at Aaron Rodgers during his weekly media session Thursday, a moment of levity amid weightier questions about Stafford trying to win a playoff game for the first time in his 13-year NFL career.

Stafford said his toe was landed on awkwardly late last Sunday as the NFC West champion Rams lost 27-24 to the San Francisco 49ers.

“But it’s doing OK,” he said. “I’ll be out there. I’ll be good to go.”

The Rodgers joke came when Stafford was asked whether his toe will impact how he steps into throws. The Green Bay Packers quarterback presented his bare foot to reporters during a Zoom session in November as proof he didn’t have “COVID toe” but a fracture instead.

“No, I don’t think so,” Stafford said. “I think I should be feeling really good on Monday. I’d show it to you but I don’t want to do that. That’s for other guys to do. I’ll keep my toes to myself in this one. But it’s doing good. I should be alright.”

The Rams listed Stafford as a full participant on Thursday, though that was an estimation as they held a walk-through.

Stafford was asked how much he feels as though he needs to prove himself having not won a playoff game yet. He lost in all three of his appearances while with the Detroit Lions.

“Every time I step on the field I’m proving myself, whether it’s a preseason game or a regular-season game, practice, a playoff game,” he said. “I want to go out there and play well. This is just another opportunity to do that.”

Stafford said the pressure isn’t any different in Los Angeles compared to Detroit. The expectations may be greater, however, given how much the Rams have loaded up their roster in a bid to win Super Bowl LVI on their home field.

That included last offseason’s trade for Stafford, who delivered a typically-prolific regular season with 4,886 yards (third) and a career-high-tying 41 touchdown passes (second) over 17 games. His 17 interceptions were tied for most in the league with rookie Trevor Lawrence, however. He tossed seven interceptions over the final three games and lost a fumble in that stretch.

“I love the competitiveness, the way we win that division, win 12 games with him, the standards that he has for himself,” coach Sean McVay said. “One of the best things I love the most about this guy is the first thing he’s going to do is take extreme ownership and accountability for the things he can do better. I think there’s an occupational hazard with some of the turnovers as a competitor. They certainly don’t all fall on him. But the answer is yes, I’m very pleased with him.

“Looking forward to playing very clean ball in the postseason, trusting his teammates, playing the way that he’s capable of and if he just plays within himself, I trust really good things will happen for this team.”

McVay said he doesn’t think the 33-year-old Stafford needs to prove he can win a playoff game.

“I think that he’s got an established resume,” McVay said. “I think that’s something you want to be able to do. He was instrumental in leading us to our first divisional title that we’ve had since ’18 and that’s a big deal, but now it’s the next step. But I think his body of work speaks for itself and I don’t think you can just confine it into, ‘Oh he hasn’t won a playoff game.'”

Stafford’s playoff losses came after the 2011 (at New Orleans), 2014 (at Dallas) and 2016 (at Seattle) seasons. McVay noted that the Cowboys game may gone differently if not for a controversial call. Detroit was ahead by three points midway through the fourth quarter when officials flagged Dallas for pass interference on third down only to reverse the call, leading to a Detroit punt and an eventual blown lead.

“It was a bad call that I’m probably going to get fined for even mentioning,” McVay said. “In all seriousness, here’s what’s crazy about this game — the narrative is that, but more than likely, if that call isn’t made, he probably has won a playoff game and it’s like, did he really play any differently as a result of that?”

McVay said cornerback Darious Williams will be good to go Monday night despite his shoulder injury. The team listed their starter opposite Jalen Ramsey as a full participant Thursday. Safety Taylor Rapp is making good progress, per McVay, but remains sidelined while in concussion protocol.

Rapp’s concussion and fellow safety Jordan Fuller’s season-ending ankle injury led the Rams to bring 37-year-old Eric Weddle out of his two-year retirement this week and sign him to their practice squad. McVay said his exact role is still to be determined, but Weddle left no doubt that he expects to play Monday and said he wouldn’t be here otherwise.

“Once you play as long as I did, football becomes who are,” he said. “So even though I haven’t been playing football, I still train like I’m playing football even though it was never even a remote possibility ever over the last year and a half because I was pretty much set in my decision and very happy. This is my no means me having an itch or anything like that, it was just an opportunity of a lifetime, quite honestly.”

Weddle has remained close with McVay and is a long-time friend of Raheem Morris, who’s in his first season as the Rams’ defensive coordinator. When Weddle saw a text from Morris earlier this week, he thought the DC was hitting him up for intel on the Cardinals.

“Then the conversation started to happen and he’s like, ‘You’re not fat and out of shape, are ya?'” Weddle said. “As soon as he said that, I knew what was coming next.”

Weddle, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, last played in the Rams’ 2019 regular-season finale. Monday will mark 750 days since then. He acknowledged that his timing and tackling could be rusty but said he feels “amazing” physically.

“Obviously training for an NFL season is unlike anything else,” he said. “You can’t get that outside by yourself. And I’m not saying I’m on that level but I have done things both training-wise and playing five-on-five once or twice a week. I love basketball and that change of direction, jumping, start and stop. I came out yesterday and ran and lifted and it was as if I had been here all season. I’m not going to say I’m at that level. That discredits every NFL player that’s spent the time and effort. But if I didn’t feel like I can go out there and be what I’m expected to be, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

Running back Cam Akers was not listed on the Rams’ practice report, indicating he was a full participant. Akers played 13 snaps last week in his first game back from the Achilles tear he suffered over the summer. He gained 13 yards on eight touches against the 49ers.

“I do feel like I’m 100%, but me saying that probably don’t make you believe it,” he said. “I’d just rather go play ball, just go show people that you’re 100%. Not show myself because I already know. Just go out there and make plays.”

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