The former University of Georgia football star and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick entered this postseason having never won a playoff game in 12 previous seasons, all with the Detroit Lions.
When Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams after last season, there was reason to believe the script might flip.
Stafford saw to it on Sunday night, overcoming the loss of receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a knee injury at the 3:50 mark of the second quarter.
Beckham’s injury was a blow to a Rams’ pass game arsenal that entered the night missing its second-leading pass catcher, tight end Tyler Higbee, who was placed on injured resave on Friday.
Higbee’s absence loomed large when Stafford’s third-quarter pass for Ben Skowronek went out of the backup tight end’s hands and was plucked out of the air by Bengals’ cornerback Chidobe Awuzie at the Rams’ 32.
Eight plays later, Cincinnati kicker Evan McPherson booted a 38-yard field goal at the 10:15 mark to extend the Bengals’ lead to 20-13.
Stafford answered with a 10-play, 52-yard drive that set up a Rams field goal that made the score 20-16 with 5:58 left in the third quarter.
The score was locked on the scoreboard until Stafford directed the game-winning drive, finding Kupp in the end zone for the decisive touchdown.
“That’s hard work,” Stafford said of his chemistry with Kupp, who won MVP honors with 8 catches for 92 yards and 2 touchdowns. “That’s hours together.”