THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Starting quarterbacks do not play directly against each other – they play against opposing defenses – but they are naturally compared head-to-head each game, especially if they're among the longest-tenured and highest-performing in the league.
This Sunday's game between the Rams and Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium (1:25 p.m. pacific time, FOX) fits that criteria with 13-year veteran Matthew Stafford under center for Los Angeles and 22-year veteran Tom Brady under center for Tampa Bay.
"Obviously not that way," Stafford said Wednesday, when asked how he looks at Sunday's game. "I'm going against a great defense that's played about as good as any in defense in the league. The last year, year and a half, playing really good ball. It's two teams that are playing good football right now going against each other, and I'm excited about it. It's a big challenge for us. They've obviously won a bunch of games here recently and have a bunch of talent on the team. We have to go out there and play our best football."
According to NFL Media Research, Stafford and Brady have each won one matchup head-to-head in their careers, excluding last year's Week 16 contest between the Bucs and the Lions when Stafford injured his ribs on the first drive and Brady and the Bucs later won 47-7.
NFL Media Research also says both players are two of three undefeated quarterbacks with five or more passing touchdowns this season, the other being Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
Stafford is averaging 299.5 passing yards per game this season and 10.7 yards per pass attempt with a 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while Brady is averaging 327.5 passing yards per game and 7.6 yards per pass attempt with a 9-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Stafford has a passer rating of 127.0 so far this season while Brady has a passer rating of 113.3.
Both players also have a propensity for comebacks. Per NFL Media Research, Stafford (32) and Brady (40) are two of five players with more than 30 fourth-quarter comebacks since 200 – Brady has the most since 2000, Stafford the most since 2009; joining Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger, who have 36 each. Brady is the active leader in fourth-quarter comebacks, while Stafford is third; Roethlisberger sits in between them.
"I mean, I know he likes to talk about what pick he was and all that stuff – the guy throws it as good as anybody in the league still," Stafford said. "Coming out of the hand, he throws it great. Mechanically, he's as sound as anybody. He's on time. Great anticipation, ball placement, got a ton of spin, a ton of juice on it still, can throw it down the field. I think back to the playoff game in Green Bay, right before half, where he hits 10 down the sideline, I mean that's a heave in Lambeau, drops in on 'em. So he can do it all. From the pocket, that guy's as good as it gets."
Their interactions haven't been limited to their head-to-head matchups on the field.
Stafford said he's met Brady "a few times" and talked to him a few times "here and there" and "really enjoyed his company" when he's had the chance to interact with him off the field.
"Just ton of respect for what he's done, what he's been able to do, both on and off field," Stafford said.
Of course, when they meet for a fourth time on Sunday, it takes more than just the two signal-callers to produce the way they have and continue to.
"Just knowing the two quarterbacks that are going to be at the game on Sunday, it's hard to not think about it like that," Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell said Wednesday. "But there's a lot more, all 11 on both sides, that will help make up that matchup, and it's going to be a heck of a challenge."