NFL

Stafford 'playing lights out' for unbeaten Rams after outduelling Brady

By Sports Desk September 27, 2021

Matthew Stafford is "playing lights out" for the undefeated Los Angeles Rams as Aaron Donald hailed the quarterback following his performance against Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Stafford outduelled superstar Brady as the Rams beat NFL Super Bowl champions the Buccaneers 34-24 in Los Angeles on Sunday.

In a blockbuster Week 3 showdown, Stafford stole the show with four touchdowns to condemn the Buccaneers to their first loss of the season.

With his haul of four TDs, Stafford improved his season tally to nine – matching Hall of Famer Kurt Warner (1999) for the most by a Rams quarterback in the first three games of a season.

Stafford, who arrived from the Detroit Lions via a trade in the offseason, finished 27 of 38 for 343 yards and no interceptions as he earned praise from team-mate Donald.

"He's playing lights out," Rams defensive linseman Donald said. "That's why he's here, we expect that from him and I know he's going to continue doing what he's doing and even at a higher level."

"It's only three games, still got a long season, but obviously that's the ultimate goal [a Super Bowl], that's what we're chasing," said Donald. "That's the only thing I'm chasing."

Stafford – a Pro Bowler in 2014 – was also lauded by Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians post-game.

"He pushes it down the field so easily," Arians said. "You're right up in his face one time, he finds a guy wide-open down the field and gets it to him.

"A lot of guys, they see it but they can't get it to him. He's a special player."

Stafford, who threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the third quarter to give the Rams a 21-7 lead, added: "I was the new guy coming in and they've embraced me, which was awesome.

"I'm just trying to be myself every single day, bring my best every single day and see where that takes us."

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    Thierry Henry declared the race for the Ballon d'Or over after Karim Benzema lifted the Champions League with Real Madrid on Saturday.

    Benzema became just the second French captain to lift the trophy, after Didier Deschamps with Marseille in 1993, following a 1-0 win over Liverpool at the Stade de France.

    Carlo Ancelotti's side were largely indebted to the heroics of Thibaut Courtois after the goalkeeper produced nine saves – a Champions League final record since Opta began recording data in 2003-04.

    Vinicius Junior may have scored the winner in Paris but a 14th European Cup for Madrid, which is double the tally of second-best Milan (seven), came down to Benzema's efforts throughout the knockout stages.

    The 34-year-old netted a hat-trick against Paris Saint-Germain, four goals across two legs with Chelsea and three in the tie with Manchester City, including an extra-time penalty to win the semi-final.

    Benzema has been involved in 59 goals this season (45 goals, 15 assists) in all competitions, with only France team-mate Kylian Mbappe (60) bettering that total across Europe's top five leagues.

    And Arsenal great Henry believes Benzema ended the debate for who should win the Ballon d'Or this year with his success in Paris.

    "I just wanted to say something for France Football or whoever is voting. Close the votes, Benzema won it. Bye," Henry said to CBS Sports after the final.

    France coach Didier Deschamps will hope Benzema can lead Les Bleus to more World Cup glory in November, and he echoed Henry's sentiments by suggesting the Madrid talisman should win the award.

    "The answer is simple: yes. This new title and the sporting season achieved with his team, and what he was able to do, he was so decisive," Deschamps told Telefoot.

    "Obviously, he was already one of the favourites and he deserves this reward."

    The Ballon d'Or has been won by Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in 13 of the past 14 seasons, barring when Benzema's team-mate Luka Modric was named the winner in 2018.

    While Benzema may believe his achievements on a personal and team level are enough to stave off Liverpool's Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, the Madrid forward insisted he will be satisfied either way.

    "Obviously, I finished my season, now I will join up with the national team," Benzema told Canal Plus.

    "I think at club level I can't do better. We'll see what happens but in any case I'm proud of what I've achieved."

  • 'A beautiful adventure' – Pele congratulates Vinicius and Marcelo after Madrid's Champions League triumph 'A beautiful adventure' – Pele congratulates Vinicius and Marcelo after Madrid's Champions League triumph

    Pele has congratulated fellow Brazilians Vinicius Junior and Marcelo for their contributions to Real Madrid's triumphant Champions League campaign, which he hailed as a "beautiful adventure". 

    Vinicius converted Federico Valverde's cross in the 59th minute to fire Madrid to a 1-0 final win over Liverpool at the Stade de France, as Los Blancos were crowned European champions for a 14th time - seven more occasions than any other team.

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    The winger's sixth goal in the Champions League this season, combined with his previous four assists, made him the first South American aged 21 or younger to record 10 goal contributions in a single edition of the competition since Lionel Messi's 14 in 2008-09 (nine goals, five assists).

    Meanwhile, Marcelo lifted the trophy as club captain before announcing his departure from Madrid, having made more appearances for Los Blancos than any other non-Spanish player during his 15-year stay at the Santiago Bernabeu.

    Writing on Instagram after the final, Brazil great Pele hailed his compatriots for their roles in Madrid's success, also praising man-of-the-match Thibaut Courtois and Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti, who is the first coach to win the Champions League/European Cup four times.

    "That's why football is the most beautiful sport in the world. I got to see a dear friend, Vinicius, who overcame so many challenges to decide an epic game," Pele wrote.

    "I'm delighted to see Marcelo be the first Brazilian to lift a Champions League trophy as captain. 

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  • 'It is impossible for a goalkeeper to win it… even more with Benzema!' – Courtois casts doubt on Ballon d'Or hopes 'It is impossible for a goalkeeper to win it… even more with Benzema!' – Courtois casts doubt on Ballon d'Or hopes

    Thibaut Courtois believes he has little chance of winning the Ballon d'Or despite his incredible Champions League final performance for Real Madrid, noting the presence of team-mate Karim Benzema makes such an honour even more unlikely.

    Courtois was in imperious form as Madrid claimed their 14th European Cup/Champions League triumph in Paris, making nine saves as Carlo Ancelotti's team beat Liverpool 1-0.

    Liverpool managed 24 shots throughout the contest, the most a team has recorded without scoring in a Champions League final since Opta records began (in 2003-04).

    Courtois' tally of saves, meanwhile, is the highest on record in a single Champions League final, with his 59 across Madrid's dramatic European campaign also a single-season record (both since 2003-04).

    However, after being named man-of-the-match, Courtois cast doubt on his chances of winning the biggest individual prize in world football.

    The 30-year-old said goalkeepers have little chance of being named the best player in the world, particularly given the form of Benzema, who scored 44 goals and added 15 assists in all competitions as Madrid were crowned champions of both Spain and Europe.

    "It is impossible for a goalkeeper to win it, even more so if he plays in a team with Benzema," he told reporters, as quoted by Tuttomercato.

    "I can go far, but it is difficult to win this trophy. 

    "For me, what matters is the fact that when I returned to the locker room, all my team-mates were screaming my name. This is worth more than personal recognition."

    Lev Yashin is the only goalkeeper to win the Ballon d'Or, doing so in 1963, while Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer came third in 2014.

    Courtois also topped the Champions League charts for save percentage (80.6, minimum five saves), and goals prevented according to expected goals on target data (4.7) this season, before capping his fine season in perfect fashion in Paris.

    While Courtois was keen to emphasise the collective nature of Madrid's success, he believed his saves from Mane in the first half and Salah after the break were crucial.

    "It is incredible for me to win the Champions League final like this. For me, it was not important to be a protagonist, it was important to win," he added

    "I was ready, I made an important save at 0-0 and one at 1-0. The one on Salah with my hand was beautiful, but also the one with my foot.

    "I'm here to help my teammates, to keep the clean sheet and win. I'm happy to have been MVP in the final."

    Meanwhile, Courtois also wished Liverpool supporters well after kick-off was twice delayed amid reports of heavy-handed policing in Paris.

    Writing on Twitter on Sunday, the former Chelsea man said: "I feel sorry for Liverpool fans and the way they were treated. I hope everyone got home safe!"

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