May 24, 2024

Cooper Kupp is a team guy and decidedly not a clubhouse lawyer. But the All-Pro receiver was stubbornly dug in about returning to play as quickly as possible after his hamstring injury, even though some people within the Rams thought he might be rushing the process.

“There were some healthy debates going into it, whether it was going to be even the smart thing to come back when I did,” Kupp said Sunday, with a second highly productive game under his belt. “There were some conversations around that.”

Safe to say Kupp was firmly entrenched on one side of that debate.

“I was always…” he said, smiling and rubbing his beard like a sure-handed Socrates. “Well, we’ll leave those conversations in house.

“But we handled things the right way.”

The statistics reflect that. Kupp caught seven passes for 148 yards and a touchdown Sunday in a 26-9 victory over Arizona, a week after reeling in eight for 118 against Philadelphia.

The game Sunday was a yawner — Whose House? Snooze House — until Matthew Stafford hit Kupp with a deep ball down the middle for a 49-yard gain with 43 seconds remaining in the half.

That set up a field goal, but that same combination produced the go-ahead touchdown on the opening possession of the second half, with Kupp catching a 13-yard scoring pass on third and nine.

“Cooper was outstanding today,” McVay said. “Had a couple things early on, but once he settled in he was a huge factor for us.”

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp slips past Arizona Cardinals linebacker Kyzir White
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp slips past Arizona Cardinals linebacker Kyzir White.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp slips past Arizona Cardinals linebacker Kyzir White after making a catch in the first half Sunday at SoFi Stadium. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

One of those issues early in the game was a tweaked ankle that didn’t turn out to be anything serious. But considering the way Kupp’s career has gone — stretches of excellence interrupted by some significant injuries — people keep close watch on how quickly he pops to his feet.

In a loss to Arizona last November, Kupp suffered a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery. Early in training camp this summer, he was sidelined by a hamstring injury. He returned for a joint practice with the Denver Broncos but would up aggravating his bad hamstring, which led to him going on injured reserve and missing the first four games of the season.

For him, being a spectator was excruciating.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “As much as I love football and love being around it, coach Sean [McVay] was always saying to put my coaching hat on. I loved that I was going to help these guys out and do what I can, but, man, it is so hard not playing and watching the game and feeling like you’re seeing the game but your body just isn’t healthy enough to do it yet.

“It was a lot of just watching football. There was a point of mentally being like, `I haven’t done this since November. What does it look like for me now?’ I always felt like I was seeing the game well enough that, `Shoot, if I can get healthy, I know that my body is going to step into where my mind already is.’ ”

So far, these Rams have exceeded the rather low expectations many people had for them. They hung tough with San Francisco and Philadelphia, the NFL’s two remaining undefeated games heading into Sunday. Both the 49ers and Eagles were upset by Cleveland and the New York Jets, respectively, AFC teams led by smothering defenses and erstwhile second-string quarterbacks.

Basically, the NFC is becoming a big mush pot, and the Rams are right in the middle of the mix. They play host to Pittsburgh next Sunday, and a Rams defense that’s hitting its stride could present lots of problems for a struggling Steelers offense.

In each of their three wins, the Rams have shut out their opponent for a half — the second half against Seattle, the first half against Indianapolis, and the second half against Arizona.

As long as he stays healthy and gets enough protection, Stafford is going to have that pinpoint accuracy. Kyren Williams has come on strong carrying the ball, running for all but four of his 158 yards in the second half. Receiver Tutu Atwell finally has a meaningful role, and rookie Puka Nacua was an undeniable steal in the fifth round.

It should be noted, by the way, that with his four catches Sunday, Nacua has 50 receptions for the season, the most in NFL history for a player in his first six career games. His 598 yards receiving are the most in the Super Bowl era for a player in his first six games, surpassing the 592 of Anquan Boldin in 2003.

But Kupp is the essential piece that upgrades the Rams offense from decent to dangerous. On that, there is no debate.

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