June 21, 2024

Their home stadium was decorated in hostile red and throaty boos.

The Rams showed up anyway.

Their opponent was clearly more skilled, more loaded, just plain better.

The Rams showed up anyway.

There seemed to be little doubt that the unloved home team would lose their home opener Sunday to the seemingly Super-Bowl bound San Francisco 49ers and their enormous fan base Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

The Rams were a blast anyway.

The final score was 30-23, and the Rams weren’t out of the game until the final three minutes, and in the preceding three hours they made a statement that should be heartening to the scant few horned fans who showed up against all odds to actually cheer them.

This rebuilding mess of a team is actually a funky Hollywood work of art. This anonymous collection of questionable abilities is as cool as stars on the sidewalk and as surprising as handprints in cement.

The Rams feel less like an NFL team and more like a cult movie waiting to happen and, in this town, that’s a good thing.

They’re young, they’re fun, and they’re going to surprise some people — they already have — this scribe included.

Before the season I wrote that the Rams were such a lost cause, they should tank for the rights to draft USC quarterback Caleb Williams. I stand corrected.

Having watched them nearly win against a powerfully stacked team, I don’t want them to lose. Two games into this surprising season, they’re 1-1 and almost anything seems possible.

What, you’re going to bet against a guy named Puka Nacua? His name sounds like a song, and his game plays like a sunset — so pretty, so intense.

Rams receiver Puka Nacua makes one of his 15 catches against the 49ers.

Rams receiver Puka Nacua makes one of his 15 catches against the 49ers.

(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The rookie from Brigham Young ran across the middle and down the sidelines and anywhere Matthew Stafford wanted him to run, catching 15 darts for 147 yards in becoming the first receiver in NFL to have at least 10 receptions for at least 100 yards in his first two games.

Cooper who?

“This is a dream come true for me to be in the National Football League and I try to live up to that standard every day,” said Nacua afterward.

While you’re at it, are you also going to bet against a guy named Kyren? His last name is Williams, he’s a bruising second-yard running back who gained 100 total yards with two touchdowns while catching the first scoring pass by a Rams running back in more than a year.

Cam who?

Ah, but they’re still kids, and Williams’ mistake turned the game when a pass bounced off his hands and into the arms of the 49ers Isaiah Oliver with 4:10 remaining in the third quarter and the Rams driving for a go-ahead score at the 49ers’ 31-yard line. The 49ers scored 10 straight points and the Rams never pulled even again.

“There’s no more conscientious guy on our team, nobody wants to do right more than that guy, I’ve got no problem with it,” said Stafford of Williams’ mistake. “He knows he can catch that ball, but that’s part of it.”

The game wasn’t actually clinched until the defensive pressure finally got to Stafford in the final five minutes and the Rams trailing by a touchdown. He threw a pick to Deommodore Lenoir and that was that.

The stadium erupted in a press-box shaking roar, all those stinking 49ers fans finally had their moment to celebrate but, make no mistake, their team had to work for it.

“This was a helluva game, a couple of plays here or there and this one’s in our back pocket,” said Stafford.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) scampers out of the pocket for extra yardage against the 49ers.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) scampers out of the pocket for extra yardage against the 49ers.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

On an afternoon during which the Rams actually outgained the 49ers by 21 yards while running 24 more plays, it really did feel closer than anyone would have imagined.

This 49ers team that steamrolled the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opener didn’t have it so easy, with quarterback Brock Purdy failing to throw a touchdown pass while missing several open receivers against an aggressive pass rush and hassling secondary.

The last time the 49ers played here, in October of last season, Christian McCaffery ran for a touchdown, threw for a touchdown and caught a pass for a touchdown. This time he only scored once, on a 14-yard run, so that’s progress, no?

Meanwhile, behind a rebuilt and revving offensive line, Stafford was only sacked once while using the time to find seven receivers on 34-of-55 passing for 307 yards and a touchdown.

It’s actually sort of inspiring, watching the old guy directing the youngsters all over the field with a seamlessness that contradicts earlier viral quotes from wife Kelly about how the difference in age is causing a lack of connection.

“I’m trying to do everything I can, I know those guys are fighting tooth and nail,” Stafford said.

Tooth and nail might be a cliché, but these kids Rams are showing plenty of teeth amid the relentlessness of a, well, nail.

“I like the spirit, I like the competitiveness, I like the resilience of this group,” said coach Sean McVay. “I love the look in these guy’s eyes.”

There were just a few times when those eyes were focused on the wrong thing. A dropped pass here, a holding penalty there, little things born of inexperience — things that separate the remodeling Rams from the finished 49ers.

“There’s some things we felt like … we had a good grasp of, we’re just a litttttle bit away from being able to execute,” said McVay.

What did work, and what should be most promising to fans, is how the two youngsters filled two of the team’s biggest vacancies.

Nacua is essentially catching passes that once went to sore-legged Cooper Kupp, who won’t be eligible to return from the injured reserve list for a couple of weeks. There was some thought that Tutu Atwell would share in those throws, but forget that. Nacua is now the man.

“He’s tough, he’s a physical competitor. … I thought that showed up … he continued to battle all the way through to the end, he is the epitome of what we want to be as a Ram,,” said McVay. “I love Puka Nacua. … He’s a stud.”

Then there is Williams, the Notre Dame product who was taking the place of Cam Akers, an inconsistent and troubling talent who was a healthy scratch. The Rams would probably love to trade Akers and maybe Williams overall performance in this game — minus the butterfingers — showed them they can.

Even if there was no substitute, Akers doesn’t seem to fit in this young and uncomplaining bunch. They’re having too much fun without him.

“I love the rapport of the group. I love the way they play for each other,” said McVay.

I just love the way they play, period.

It’s only two games, but it feels like a thing. A remixed Rams team that started this season all but forgotten has shown up anyway.

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