Rams’ Matthew Stafford prepares to be Ford Field tough: ‘I’m the bad guy coming to town’

Team events. Wardrobe changes for photo shoots. Media days.

Those were the few times Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford can recall being in the visitors’ locker room at Ford Field in Detroit, where he spent his first 12 NFL seasons playing for the Lions.

But Sunday, before an NFC wild-card game, the visitors’ locker room is where Stafford will prepare for his first game in Detroit since he was traded to the Rams in 2021.

Stafford indicated Wednesday that muscle memory would not kick in and lead him to the home locker room.

“I hope I don’t end up in the wrong one,” he quipped. “But I do know it’s the same tunnel — both the home team and visiting team come out of the tunnel.

“I think we have a little side alley we’ve got to take, at least that’s how it used to be.”

Despite a crowd that is expected to be extremely loud, Stafford is expected to be comfortable in a venue where he developed into one of the most prolific passers in NFL history.

Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL draft, played in 165 games for the Lions. He passed for 45,109 yards and 282 touchdowns, with 144 interceptions.

The Lions made the playoffs in 2011, 2014 and 2016, but lost wild-card games each time.

Now the Lions are hosting a playoff game for the first time in 30 years.

“It’s an amazing city and an amazing group of fans,” Stafford said. “The organization does a heck of a job, and I know they’re going to be excited.

Detroit Lions fans watch the NFL draft in Kansas City, Mo.

Detroit Lions fans have been psyched about their team’s prospects all season.

(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, probably one of the best we’ve played in in a long time. … It’s going to be a cool experience for those people, and really, everybody involved in the game.”

Stafford remains popular in Detroit. He appreciates how he and his family were embraced and he still is close to many people in the city.

Stafford has no illusions about how he might be received, however, when he takes the field.

“I’m not expecting anything,” he said, adding, “The biggest thing for me is go experience whatever that experience is going to be. … I’m not a stranger to the situation, and understanding that I’m the bad guy coming to town.”

After the 2020 season, Stafford and the Lions agreed that it was time to move on.

Rams coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead jumped at the opportunity to rid themselves of quarterback Jared Goff in a deal that sent Goff, two first-round draft picks and a third-round pick to the Lions for Stafford.

Stafford led the Rams to a Super Bowl title in 2021. In 2022, he sat out a midseason game because of a concussion and then suffered a season-ending spinal injury.

This season, Stafford played through a hip injury suffered during an overtime victory at Indianapolis, and a right-thumb injury that forced him to sit out a Nov. 5 defeat at Green Bay.

Stafford still earned Pro Bowl recognition with a second-half performance as the Rams won seven of their last eight games. During one five-game stretch, he passed for 14 touchdowns, with one interception.

In 15 games — Stafford was held out from the Rams’ 21-20 victory Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers — he passed for 24 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions.

Goff also has played well, passing for 30 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions, for a Lions team that finished 12-5 and won the NFC North.

McVay reiterated Wednesday that Goff “has done a great job” for the Lions and that he “did a lot of really good things here for the four years that we were together.”

But McVay acknowledged missteps in how Goff learned of the trade for Stafford.

“Could it have been handled better on my end?” McVay said, “Absolutely. … He deserved better than the way it all went down. I’ll acknowledge that. And I think he knows that too. And I’m not afraid to admit to those things.”

McVay and Goff “are good,” Goff told reporters in Detroit on Wednesday.

“We had our differences there at the end, but he’s a great coach,” Goff said. “He’s done a lot of great things and, you know, he’s a guy that taught me a lot.”

Stafford and the Rams defeated the Lions in a 2021 game at SoFi Stadium, but the stakes are higher this time around.

That Ford Field is the site for the game is beside the point for a Rams team that defied the expectations of most outside the Rams organization, Stafford said.

“I’m excited to go play anybody, anywhere, in the playoffs,” he said. “We were a team that at the beginning of the season nobody gave us a chance to be in the position that we’re in.”

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