When the Los Angeles Rams forced a missed field goal at the end of the first half, an excited Sean McVay jumped around and slapped fives with all the defensive players he could find. When DeSean Jackson scored a long touchdown, McVay ran all the way to the tunnel to celebrate with him.
McVay knew what Sunday's game meant. The Rams' 34-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced to the NFL that they can be taken seriously as Super Bowl contenders. The final score was a lot closer than the game itself was. The Rams controlled the action most of the game.
The Rams got plenty of love after trading for Matthew Stafford. But until we saw them against a quality team there would be some questions. There aren't many teams in the NFL better than the defending champion Bucs, and the Rams outplayed them in every way possible on Sunday.
Matthew Stafford shines in win
Stafford didn't have much success at all against the best teams on the Detroit Lions' schedule in his time there. He started slow on Sunday too.
When Stafford got going, the Buccaneers couldn't do much with him. Stafford started spreading the ball around, without much pass rush to bother him, and his touchdown passes to Tyler Higbee, Cooper Kupp and a 75-yarder to Jackson to start the second half. When Tom Brady rallied the Buccaneers for a touchdown drive to cut the Rams' lead to 21-14, Stafford coolly led a long drive that ended with Kupp's second touchdown.
When the Buccaneers did anything, the Rams had an answer. That's the sign of a team that should be playing deep into January.
Rams defense plays well too
For the first two weeks of the season, Tom Brady and the Bucs offense looked just about unstoppable. Brady had nine touchdowns through two games. He had none on Sunday until the final two minutes, when the game was decided and Gio Bernard got one.
The Rams had the top-ranked defense in the NFL last season, and they should be among the best again this season. The Buccaneers put up some yards, but a lot came late when the Rams were out to a nice lead. The Bucs built their championship team on a great defense and Brady's efficiency, and the Rams did a good job to minimize both on Sunday. They hit the Bucs hard at every turn.
Los Angeles and Tampa Bay could meet again in the postseason. Both teams are championship quality. But in the Rams' first huge test after the Stafford trade, they showed they could be the best team in the NFL.