INDIANAPOLIS – Matthew Stafford has toughed it out through an in-game injury before. The famous footage from NFL films of the shoulder injury he suffered against the Browns on a game-winning drive he led as a rookie in 2009 with the Lions comes to mind.
Still, a hip injury is up there among the more difficult ones for any player to deal with.
"Moving," the Rams quarterback said with a smile, when asked postgame what the challenge was of playing through an injury like that.
Whatever limitations it brought to him, Stafford wasn't going to let it slow him down, as he gutted through that pain to throw the Rams' game-winning touchdown in Sunday's 29-23 overtime win over the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Stafford said he injured his hip in the third quarter when a Colts defensive end "jetted up the field" as they tried to run a keeper and landed on him with his full body weight – which was the play before he threw his lone interception of the game. McVay said the injury was re-aggravated further on the play when the Colts sent a Cover-0 blitz as Stafford completed a pass tight end Tyler Higbee in the flat.
Walking with a noticeable limp for most of the second half as he led drives, Stafford said the hardest part with the injury – besides moving – was just "shutting down the leg a little bit, right, where you feel like you can step and you push on the normal leg, and then step and push not normally. The muscles were kind of shutting down."
"Just kept going," Stafford said. "Knew it was just going to be one of those things that was you know, pain slash function. As long as I could keep it warm on the sideline and keep the function going, I was going to try to stay in there."
Was there any question in his mind that he was going to finish the game?
"It was going to have to shut all the way down for me to not keep playing," Stafford said of his hip.
The degree to which Stafford pushed through the pain was not lost on his teammates, especially the Rams offensive linemen tasked with protecting him. At one point in the game, he had a simple message for them.
"He might not want me to say this, but he comes off and he's like, 'hey, if I ever get knocked down, just get my ass up,'" Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein said. "'Help me up, and let's get going.' So you're like, 'OK! Got it.' He ain't gonna ever take yourself out of a game when he's still breathing, so it's an absolute testament that guy. Love him, guy's a dog. Proud he's my quarterback. Proud he's my captain."
Collectively, Stafford and the offensive line strained enough to put him in position to lead the game-winning drive. It started with a 20-yard completion to wide receiver Puka Nacua, then a couple plays later, back-to-back completions to running back Kyren Williams, before ending with the walk-off 22-yard touchdown pass to Nacua.
"Man, the guy, the legend, the leader of our offense, it's super cool, just the confidence," Nacua said. "I know that he's going out there and playing, trying not to show it as much as he can, but just the level of communication that he had throughout that whole overtime and even the fourth quarter, It makes playing football super fun."
Asked what it was like watching Stafford make the plays he did on Sunday with effectively one healthy leg, Rams head coach Sean McVay summed it up best.
"There's nothing you can say but just, wow, holy sh–," McVay said. "I mean, he was great."