Rams beat 49ers to set up classic Matthew Stafford vs. Lions, Jared Goff playoff game

Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua, left, catches a pass in front of 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is heading back to Detroit to play against the Lions in a decades-in-the-making postseason game.

Rams coach Sean McVay is rolling into another matchup against Jared Goff, the quarterback he jettisoned to the Lions in favor of Stafford, who helped him win a Super Bowl.

“No story lines here, right?” quipped Kevin Demoff, the Rams chief operating officer, after a 21-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium improved the Rams’ record to 10-7 and clinched the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs.

The Rams will play the third-seeded Lions next Sunday night in a wild-card game at what is sure to be a delirious Ford Field.

“All those narratives are fun,” McVay said, “but it’s going to be about the Lions versus the Rams.”

Uh, sure. Perhaps after the kickoff.

Read more: Rams' 21-20 road win over the San Francisco 49ers by the numbers

Until then, it’s going to be all about Stafford. And McVay and Goff.

Stafford, the top pick in the 2009 NFL draft, played 12 seasons for the Lions before a Goff-weary McVay and Rams general manager Les Snead sent Goff, two first-round draft picks and a third-round pick to Detroit for Stafford before the 2021 season.

Seven weeks into that season, the Rams defeated the Lions at SoFi Stadium.

But that drama paled compared to this.

Stafford, who was inactive Sunday, said returning to Detroit for a postseason game would be fun.

“I know it’s going to be rocking there,” he said. “Haven’t had a playoff game there in about 30 years or whatever it is. ... It will be a great atmosphere. It will be a tough task, but I’m definitely excited.”

The Rams did not need Stafford against the top-seeded 49ers (12-5). McVay and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan both rested stars and played in a manner so as not to reveal their hands if they meet in another playoff round.

Carson Wentz, making his first start since the end of the 2022 season, passed for two touchdowns and ran for another, and Puka Nacua established NFL rookie records for catches and yards receiving.

The Rams' Puka Nacua (17) is congratulated by coach Sean McVay after breaking two NFL rookie records.
The Rams' Puka Nacua (17) is congratulated by coach Sean McVay after breaking two NFL rookie records in a game against the 49ers. (Scot Tucker / Associated Press)

But those were mere subplots leading to the Rams-Lions playoff scenario.

“We’ve been talking about it for a couple weeks now,” Rams safety John Johnson said. “We joke about it and say it’s in the script, the NFL script … with all the crazy stuff that happens. They’ve been wanting this, so we’re going to give it to ‘em.

“I’m on both sides of it, because I played with Goff and Stafford. It’s going to be a crazy game. I know they both want to win. They both want to win, badly.”

Offensive linemen Joe Noteboom also is among Rams players who have been teammates with Goff and Stafford.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Noteboom said when asked if he could see this matchup coming. “Now that it’s here, holy crap. ... You’re in a way in awe of how it all shook out.”

Or, as rookie defensive lineman Kobie Turner said, “It’s insane.”

Rams quarterback Carson Wentz (11) passes against the San Francisco 49ers.
Rams quarterback Carson Wentz (11) had 17 completions and 17 rushing attempts against the 49ers. (Jed Jacobsohn / Associated Press)

Stafford, 35, passed for 24 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions, for a Rams team that defied external expectations and won seven of its final eight games to return to the playoffs.

Stafford, who was voted to the Pro Bowl, is anticipating the hype.

“There will be a lot of stuff beforehand that I’m sure I’ll have to answer questions about, and they will too, all that kind of stuff,” Stafford said. “But once the ball is snapped, it’s time to go play football.”

Stafford is looking forward to seeing people he knows that remain in the Lions organization and at Ford Field. He remains grateful for the opportunities he was afforded during his time with the Lions.

“There will be excitement just because it’s a playoff game,” Stafford said. “Anytime you’re in the playoffs, man, it’s so much fun. ... I’m sure it will be exciting for everybody.”

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Sam Darnold (14) fumbles in front of Desjuan Johnson.

Stafford won’t be overwhelmed by the buildup or atmosphere, Rams offensive lineman Rob Havenstein said.

“He’s a pro’s pro,” Havenstein said. “I’m sure he might have a fleeting moment at the beginning of the game and then it will be business as usual.”

For the first time since 2018, Sunday’s outcome between the Rams and 49ers was not business as usual: McVay triumphed over mentor and nemesis Shanahan for the first time in the last 10 regular-season games.

McVay held out Stafford, receiver Cooper Kupp, running back Kyren Williams, defensive lineman Aaron Donald and linebacker Ernest Jones IV.

Shanahan sat quarterback Brock Purdy and running back Christian McCaffrey and limited snaps for other star players.

Read more: Hernández: Rams-Lions playoff matchup puts Sean McVay-Jared Goff drama back in limelight

“We were very vanilla in our approach,” McVay said of the Rams in a statement that fit both teams.

Wentz, auditioning for a starting opportunity with another NFL team for next season, engineered a comeback victory.

“For me, it was a long time coming just to get to play again,” Wentz said. “Halfway through this year I was still at home, and so I was just chomping at the bit for a chance to play. ... I got a chance today to go out and compete and I had a lot of fun with it.”

The fun, as it turns out, was just beginning.

“Happy for all those guys,” McVay said of his players, “and now here we go.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.