Matthew Stafford started the season without his favorite target, with a rebuilt and unproven offensive line, and with an outside narrative that the ceiling for the Los Angeles Rams this season is just being competitive.
The Rams looked far more than just competitive by outplaying and at times dominating the Seattle Seahawks to open the season.
Stafford threw for 334 yards even without Cooper Kupp, Kyren Williams and Cam Akers combined for three touchdown runs and the Rams stunned the Seahawks 30-13 on Sunday.
“I think we’re excited because we put the work in. I think the cherry on top of this is getting to see y’all reaction to it,” Stafford said. “I think the big thing for us, though, is we care about it because we put the work in. It wasn’t given to us.”
Stafford was brilliant picking apart Seattle’s secondary for the 58th 300-yard passing game of his career in the regular season. He did so despite Kupp being sidelined for the first four games of the season while on injured reserve due to a hamstring injury.
Stafford found some new targets to use.
Rookie Puka Nacua had 10 catches for 119 yards and was targeted 15 times in the first game of his career. Tutu Atwell had a career-high 119 yards on six catches. And the Rams were at their best on third downs, where they converted 11 of 17 chances leading to long drives and a huge advantage in time of possession.
Los Angeles had 27 first downs, 426 total yards and 39:23 time of possession.
″This is football heaven for me of everything,” Nacua said. “The game the way the game went. Being able to come back in the second half and just continually build on the pieces that I felt like we were building on in the first half and just continue to execute when we needed to.”
Williams had a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and his 7-yard score on the opening drive of the second half gave Los Angeles a 14-13 lead. Akers added a 1-yard TD with 9:45 remaining on fourth-and-goal and left Seattle’s fans booing the performance of the home team.
The goal for Stafford, head coach Sean McVay and the rest of the Rams was to be competitive even after an offseason that due to salary cap issues saw most of the roster be gutted. That left Los Angeles relying on several unproven players surrounding the few remaining stars on the roster.
The opener was a good indication the Rams can be more than just the outside expectations.
The Rams handed Seattle its worst home loss since Los Angeles beat the Seahawks 42-7 during the 2017 season. Including that 2017 win, the Rams have won nine of the past 13 games against Seattle.
″I couldn’t care less what’s said outside,” McVay said. “There might be some change in narratives and that doesn’t affect any way that we’ll go about our business right now.”
Meanwhile, Seattle flopped entering a season where the belief was it could close the gap on San Francisco in the NFC West. But many of the issues that emerged last season when the Seahawks ran into problems remained prevalent.
Seattle couldn’t get off the field on third down. It couldn’t sustain its own drives going 2 of 9 on third downs and settled for field goal attempts in the first half when touchdowns were needed. The frustration with the performance became evident in the closing minutes when DK Metcalf was flagged for taunting and Quandre Diggs was called for unnecessary roughness for a foul away from the play.
“I thought we lost our minds a little bit and we’ll talk about that,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said.
Seattle had just 12 yards of offensive and only first down in the second half.
Geno Smith’s second season as a starter got off to a rocky start as he completed 16 of 26 passes for only 112 yards. He had a 10-yard touchdown toss to Metcalf in the first half, but Seattle had only one offensive play of longer than 15 yards.
“You never want to see another team or the opposing team, especially somebody in your own division, play harder than you,” Metcalf said. “I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of mistakes that we have to clean up.”
Seattle lost both of its starting offensive tackles to injuries in the third quarter with right tackle Abraham Lucas and left tackle Charles Cross leaving, along with wide receiver Tyler Lockett.
Lucas was announced with a knee injury, which Carroll said was a recurrence of an issue that required Lucas to miss some time in training camp.
Cross suffered a sprained toe and couldn’t continue, Carroll said. Lockett was hit by Rams safety Russ Yeast on a run play and was examined for a concussion but cleared protocol, Carroll said.
Rams cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon was injured late in the fourth quarter and did not return.
Seattle was without rookie first-round pick Devon Witherspoon as the young cornerback continues to work back from a hamstring injury that limited him during training camp. Witherspoon was listed as questionable, but Carroll said the team wasn’t going to rush him back after only returning to practice last week.
Rams: Host San Francisco next Sunday.