INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Matthew Stafford stumbled, slipped and limped his way through the final 20 minutes of regulation Sunday.
Then the gutsy 35-year-old Los Angeles Rams quarterback showed everyone he’s still gritty enough to finish what he started.
After opening the game with four straight scoring drives and then watching a 23-point lead evaporate, Stafford played through a painful hip injury and threw a laser-like 22-yard touchdown pass to record-breaking rookie receiver Puka Nacua for a 29-23 overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
“The hardest part was it was kind of shutting down the leg a little bit to where you’d step and push and normal leg, it was step and push and then not normal. The muscles were kind of shutting down,” said Stafford, who twice fell to the ground on his own. “But I just kept going. I knew it was going to be one of those things that was pain/function so as long as I could keep it going on the sideline, I was going to stay in there.”
He kept playing despite the hurting body.
The alternative, consecutive road losses, would have been even more painful because the weekly travel log included two round trip flights from the West Coast to the Midwest, totaling nearly 8,500 miles.
Plus, Stafford, Nacua and the defense had Los Angeles in complete command for 2 1/2 quarters.
Stafford finished 27 of 40 with 319 yards, one TD and one interception.
Nacua caught nine more passes for 163 yards and his first career touchdown and now has more receptions (39) and yards (501) through his first four games than any player in NFL history. He also became the first player since Harlon Hill (Chicago Bears, 1954) with three 100-yard efforts in his first four games.
But when Colts defensive lineman Dayo Odeyingbo broke free late in the third quarter and drove Stafford into the ground, things began to unravel. On the next play, the hobbled Stafford was picked off with the Rams leading 23-8.
“We had tried to run a keeper, but the defensive end jetted up the field and landed with what seemed to be full body weight but was viewed otherwise,” Stafford said. “It just started chirping right then.”
Suddenly, Stafford’s precise throws and nifty third down conversions were off.
Colts rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson took full advantage.
He scored on a 1-yard run to trim the deficit to 23-15 with 11:45 left in regulation. He threw a 5-yard TD pass to Drew Ogletree with 1:56 to go and followed that with a perfect rollout and easy toss to Michael Pittman Jr. to tie the score at 23.
Richardson even had a chance to win it in regulation only to watch three straight passes fall incomplete, sending the Colts (2-2) into their second straight overtime game.
“I was just telling the guys let’s just move the ball and focus on each and every play and try not to rush it,” Richardson said. “When we were in those last few minutes, partially it was on me, you know, just getting too excited, trying to go win the game. But you learn from it.”
Even at less than full strength, though, Stafford didn’t make that mistake.
He methodically led the Rams on a 75-yard scoring drive, hooking up with his new favorite target on third-and-4 so he could start getting treatment.
“It was going to have shut all the way down to not keep playing,” Stafford said. “Once the ball was snapped there was enough adrenaline to kind of get you through it, throw it and we complete it or get tackled or whatever and it starts talking to you again. But it was good. It was a great win.”
Richardson finished 11 of 25 with 200 yards and one interception. He also ran 10 times for 56 yards as the Colts lost their sixth straight at home.
Kyren Williams rushed 25 times for 103 yards and two scores as the Rams won their third straight at Indy and their fourth in a row in the series.
Rams: Nacua, a fifth-round pick, only needed one catch to surpass Anquan Boldin (30) for most receptions in a player’s first four games and was the sixth player in league history to get 400 yards in his first four games. Bolden (464) also had the most.
Colts: Richardson became the first quarterback in the Super Bowl era — and the first in franchise history — to have a TD run in his first three games. He now has four rushing TDs this season, making him the first quarterback with four scores in his first three games.
Rams: Left tackle Alaric Jackson (hamstring) was inactive.
Colts: Neither left tackle Bernhard Raimann nor three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly cleared the concussion protocol, and linebacker Zaire Franklin left late in the third quarter with an injured back. The league’s leading tackler did return. Receiver Alec Pierce left late in regulation to be evaluated for a concussion and cornerback Dallis Flowers (ankle) needed help to get off the field in overtime.
Rams: Begin a three-game homestand against defending NFC champion Philadelphia next Sunday.
Colts: Host division rival Tennessee next Sunday.
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