Matthew Stafford was robbed of Super Bowl MVP, which would have cemented Hall of Fame

Detroit Free Press

There’s no easy or subtle way to say this, so I’m just going to say it:

Matthew Stafford was robbed of the Super Bowl 56 MVP award.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m the guy who said Detroit Lions fans shouldn’t root for the Los Angeles Rams quarterback after his disappointing career in Detroit.

And, true to my word. I did not, I refused to root for Stafford in the Los Angeles Rams’ 23-20 win Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI in Inglewood, California, after his disappointing career with the Detroit Lions.

But just because I didn’t root for the guy doesn’t mean I refused to watch the game closely and accept that he played great.

DAVE BIRKETT: Stafford got his ring, now Lions must focus on the future

I watched every game Stafford played with the Lions for 12 years, and the consistent theme was he often got too much credit for the amazing things Calvin Johnson did that most other receivers could only accomplish with a Horcrux. But he also got too much blame for interceptions that bounced off inept receivers.

That was the case again Sunday at SoFi Stadium, when he had one great receiver and Sean McVay’s mind, but not much else. Cooper Kupp played a fantastic game, catching two touchdown passes, including the winner, and had 92 yards on eight catches. Kupp was marvelous all season and nearly broke (ahem, in 17 games) Johnson’s single-season record (ahem, in 16 games) for receiving yards.

For that, Kupp was awarded the game’s MVP award as voted on by a panel of 16 media members and — I’m only including this because the NFL claims it’s part of the voting — fans who voted at Fan vote tallies aren’t released, so I’m guessing they carry as much weight as votes for class clown.

The Rams probably wouldn’t have won that game without Kupp. But they definitely wouldn’t have won without Stafford. His statistics were good: 26 of 40 for 283 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. But the game was about a lot more than a stat line for Stafford.

Odell Beckham Jr. left the game in the second quarter with a knee injury. A quarterback’s best friend is the run game, and the Rams produced only 43 rushing yards. Receiver Van Jefferson had a poor game, with four catches on eight targets for 23 yards. And without injured starting tight end Tyler Higbee, Stafford had even less to work with at that position.

Still, Stafford made three great touchdown passes and engineered two crucial scoring drives in the second half when the Rams needed it most.

The first of those drives happened in the third quarter. The Rams had been punched in the mouth — or perhaps a bit lower in their anatomy — twice in 22 seconds when the Bengals opened the third quarter with a 75-yard touchdown pass and then intercepted Stafford’s pass that deflected off Ben Skowronek’s hand.

Just like that, the Bengals had the ball at the Rams’ 31-yard line with 14:38 left in the third quarter and holding a 17-13 lead. Eight plays after the pick, they had a 20-13 lead.

The Rams had to respond on their next drive and thanks to Stafford, they did. It was a workman-like 10-play drive that resulted in Matt Gay’s 41-yard field goal. But it was one of the gutsiest drives I’ve seen from Stafford. They tried to run the ball three times and netted 1 yard. Kupp caught one pass for 15 yards. And instead of going three-and-out, Stafford audibled running back Darrell Henderson into the slot and threw him a beautiful pass down the sideline for 15 yards on third-and-8.

That play kept that drive alive and that drive kept the Rams’ hopes alive. The field goal didn’t have the sizzle of Beckham’s first-quarter TD catch, but was just as important at that point of the game. Especially when you consider how much the momentum had swung in the Bengals’ favor and how little Stafford had to work with, it was extremely impressive.

The winning drive was its own epic masterpiece, a 15-play, 79-yard march in 4:48 that ended with Stafford’s wonderfully placed throw to Kupp. And if you didn’t catch Stafford’s no-look pass to Kupp with 3 minutes left, watch it. Stafford must have channeled some old Magic Johnson artful trickery that trickled over from the nearby Forum.

Kupp had a great game, but he didn’t dominate. He commanded double coverage much of the game, but didn’t crack 100 yards and his longest catch was 22 yards. There’s simply no question, in my mind, Stafford was called upon to do more and he played a more significant role in the game’s outcome.

And don’t even start with those two picks. The deep interception in the end zone was partly Jefferson’s fault for not playing better defense, and it came on third-and-14 from Cincy’s 43. Maybe if Stafford checks it down the Rams get a field goal. Instead, they essentially got a short punt. The second pick was a little off target, but was mostly Skowronek’s fault for not catching the pass.

I have no skin in the game. I couldn’t care less if Stafford won the game or the MVP. But I appreciate a superlative performance on the biggest stage, and Stafford should have gotten the appropriate hardware for what he did.

MITCH ABLOM: Stafford’s Super Bowl win looked like a Lions game … until the end

What about the Hall of Fame?

That brings me to the repercussions of Stafford missing out on the Super Bowl MVP award. If he had won the award, he would have been a lock for the Pro Football Hall of Fame based on his stats. He’s 12th in career passing yards and touchdowns, and likely to finish somewhere near the top five in both categories when he retires.

Those numbers, plus a weighty award like Super Bowl MVP, plus however many more conference championships or Super Bowls he wins, plus the notion if he had been on a team like the Rams all along he would had much more success, would add up to a strong Hall of Fame argument for Stafford.

We also can’t forget he was the quarterback behind two of the greatest single seasons by a receiver: Johnson’s 1,964-yard season in 2012 and Kupp’s 2021 triple-crown season when he led the NFL in yards, catches and touchdowns on his way to being offensive player of the year.

For the record, I absolutely, positively, 100% think right now Stafford is not a Hall of Famer. The only time he belongs in the same room as Tom Brady, Peyton Manny, John Elway and Joe Montana is if he’s buying them drinks at the bar.

Richard Sherman: ‘No measuring stick’ by which Matthew Stafford is Hall of Famer ]

But that’s right now and the book is far from closed on Stafford. He just turned 34 and if he stays healthy, could play another five years at a high level.

A lot of awards are based on perception and reputation. This was the first season most NFL fans got to see Stafford play in nationally televised games. He took down Brady twice and played well in the playoffs, which contributed to the narrative of his failures being an indictment of the Lions and how a woeful franchise held him back all those years.

Even in Los Angeles, Stafford had to establish his own reputation since he ranked somewhere around the 10th banana on the city’s sports scene behind LeBron James, Mike Trout, Aaron Donald, Walker Buehler, Shohei Ohtani, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty — well, you get the picture.

That will change, both in LA and around the country. He will be considered more seriously for future Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams and will be looked upon favorably as the late-bloomer who found redemption, a close runner-up to sports’ favorite feel-good story line of the young phenom.

Stafford might have been that phenom once, a long time ago in a city like Detroit that most of the country doesn’t understand. Now he’s on a different trajectory in a different place that most of the country also doesn’t understand.

But no matter where you are, you should understand the guy they used to denigrate for his empty stats for so many years in Detroit went to LA and remade himself as a domestic import, rebranding himself from a Ford to Lincoln, from a Chevy to a Cadillac, from Pad Statford to Super Bowl champion.

He should have been the MVP, too. Stafford’s performance this season and in the final game earned my respect. And even though I refused to root for him, I certainly would have voted for him.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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