Alexander: The new guy makes an impact on Rams right away

INGLEWOOD – SoFi Stadium’s full, official unveiling, with its long-awaited first full house, coincided with Matthew Stafford’s debut as a Ram. Both were brilliant Sunday night.

The NFL’s Inglewood palace truly is a magnificent venue, just as Stan Kroenke – and commissioner Roger Goodell, and Jerry Jones, the matchmaker between the league and Los Angeles – had intended. The effect was particularly dramatic for NBC’s cameras, and let it be noted that most of those who held the 70,425 tickets distributed were in their seats by kickoff, which indicates they’d heard the cautionary tales from the preseason and left their homes early enough to deal with the expected traffic and parking issues.

As for the Rams’ new quarterback? This could be lots of fun.

The first clue that things would be different around here came quickly, on the home team’s third offensive play of the evening. Stafford faked a handoff, rolled out to his left and flung a 46-yard strike to Van Jefferson, who caught the ball at the 21, fell down untouched at the 15, got back to his feet before either Bear in the vicinity could get there to touch him, and sprinted to the end zone.

The Rams’ first possession of the second half provided more early evidence for general manager Les Snead’s executive of the year campaign: Another play-action pass by Stafford and a 56-yard connection with Cooper Kupp, who caught the ball a full 10 yards behind three hapless Bears’ defenders and might as well have walked into the end zone.

And then there was the rapid response to a Bears touchdown early in the third quarter. After Chicago had trimmed the Rams’ lead to 20-14, Stafford directed a drive featuring a 37-yard pass to Tyler Higbee – a flawlessly executed back-shoulder toss – and a 17-yard pass to Kupp over the middle that wasn’t a touchdown only because a review showed Kupp’s knee was down before he stretched the ball over the goal line. No worries. Darrell Henderson scored on the next play.

Stafford’s first night’s work as a Los Angeles athlete: 20 for 26, 321 yards, three touchdown passes, no picks and a 156.1 quarterback rating. His high school chum from Dallas, Clayton Kershaw, has a tough act to follow when he returns to the Dodger Stadium mound Monday night.

Did Sean McVay have a favorite Stafford moment? Hard to tell.

“The first drive of the second half was what I thought was most impressive,” he said afterward. “But now I’m thinking about what an unbelievable job he did progressing (through his receivers), finding Robert Woods on the last touchdown (with 3:17 left). So there was multiple things.

“But I think the overall game management, and I think the expectation. You know, you can just see there was a look in his eye. He had confidence in his teammates. He expects to play well. And, you know, he did a great job. It’s hard to say that there was one thing. I loved everything that he did tonight.”

The most impressive thing might have been his ability to get everybody involved. Five receivers caught at least two passes, and Darrell Henderson had one catch for 17 yards as well. McVay noted his ability to “go where the coverage dictated,” and when you have a quarterback who can utilize all of his weapons, the possibilities can be immense.

“We’re going to get our best when everybody gets involved in the game,” Stafford said. “I’m not sure how many different guys had catches, but it felt like a lot. And those guys are talented playmakers, and they all do it in a different way. Hopefully we can make sure those guys are able to kind of show their abilities and then go out there and play.”

Notably, too, there was a steadiness attached to the new quarterback. No fluctuation in emotion, no flustered or desperate throws under pressure (although the offensive line protected Stafford admirably aside from one sack).

It’s only one game in, but it seems pretty obvious: The Stafford-for-Jared Goff trade wasn’t just a necessity but could be the final piece in a championship mosaic. For sure, the new guy understands.

“There was a lot of anticipation for this game, you know, for me,” he said. “You know, it’s a very cool thing, a new place, a new stadium, new fans, the whole deal. But this team has embraced me and I really appreciate that. And, you know, I just want to work as hard as I can. … They’ve wrapped their arms around me and it felt good to go out there and play with them tonight.

“Such incredible players on this team. I’m lucky to be a part of it. I’m going to do everything I can to try to lead this team to where we want to go. Obviously, this is just one. Got to keep building on this, but it felt great to get out there.”

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Rams get running back Sony Michel from Patriots in trade

The Rams have acquired running back Sony Michel in a trade with the New England Patriots, making a big move to repair their threadbare backfield by adding a Super Bowl ball carrier.

In return, the Rams are sending New England sub-first-round draft picks in 2022.

The deal was announced by the Rams early Wednesday morning.

Michel, 26, instantly becomes the most accomplished running back on the Rams’ roster.

He rushed for 931 yards as a rookie in 2018 after being drafted out of Georgia with the 31st overall pick, and he had 94 yards and a 2-yard touchdown to break a fourth-quarter tie in the Patriots’ Super Bowl LIII victory over the Rams.

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Michel followed that with 912 yards on the ground in 2019, before a quadriceps injury sent him to injured reserve and limited him to 449 yards in nine games last season.

With the Rams, he could be the starting running back or back up Darrell Henderson when the season begins Sept. 12 with a Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium.

The Rams’ excitement about their running backs for 2021 began to fall apart when Cam Akers, coming off a fast finish to the 2020 season, tore an Achilles tendon a week before training camp.

Henderson was penciled in to replace Akers as the starter, but behind him were Xavier Jones and rookies Jake Funk and Otis Anderson, none of whom has taken a handoff in an NFL regular-season game.

After Henderson sprained a thumb in practice Monday, a reminder of the lack of depth at the position, Coach Sean McVay was asked if the Rams had the running backs they needed or were looking for help.

“I think we’re still in the process of figuring that out. We’ve got a little bit of time,” McVay said.

Two days later, they reached for help.

It wasn’t immediately clear which 2022 draft picks the Rams were giving up, but for once they won’t include a first-rounder.

The Rams already traded away their 2022 first-rounder – along with their 2023 first-rounder and 2021 third-rounder and quarterback Jared Goff – to the Detroit Lions last January in the deal that brought quarterback Matthew Stafford to L.A.

Michel is entering the final season of a four-year, $9,626,695 contract after the Patriots declined to pick up his fifth-year option.

More to come on this story.

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Rams’ Bryce Perkins, Tutu Atwell start preseason fast

  • Quarterback Bryce Perkins #16 of the Los Angeles Rams passes against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver Tutu Atwell #15 of the Los Angeles Rams catches a pass for a first down against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams fans called the Melon Heads look on prior to a pre-season NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Bryce Perkins #16 of the Los Angeles Rams looks on agaimnstr the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Defensive tackle Forrest Merrill #66 of the Los Angeles Chargers tackled running back Raymond Calais #30 of the Los Angeles Rams for a loss of yards in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Defensive back John Brannon #38 of the Los Angeles Chargers intercepted pass in the end zone from quarterback Devlin Hodges #19 of the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Defensive back John Brannon #38 of the Los Angeles Chargers intercepted pass in the end zone from quarterback Devlin Hodges #19 of the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Cornerback Donte Vaughn #39 of the Los Angeles Chargers reacts after knocking a pass away wide receiver Jeremiah Haydel #18 of the Los Angeles Rams in the end zone in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Raymond Calais #30 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for yardage against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Devlin Hodges #19 of the Los Angeles Rams passes against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Chargers fans react after defeating the Los Angeles Rams 13-6 during a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Devlin Hodges #19 of the Los Angeles Rams passes against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Tight end Jacob Harris #87 of the Los Angeles Rams drops a pass in the end one against defensive back Tevaughn Campbell #20 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the second half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Devlin Hodges #19 of the Los Angeles Rams passes against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Raymond Calais #30 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for yardage against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Devlin Hodges #19 of the Los Angeles Rams passes against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Raymond Calais #30 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for yardage against the Los Angeles Chargers in the second half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Tight end Jacob Harris #87 of the Los Angeles Rams drops a pass in the end one against defensive back Tevaughn Campbell #20 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver J.J. Koski #17 of the Los Angeles Rams catches pass and runs for a 20 year first down against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Tight end Jacob Harris #87 of the Los Angeles Rams drops a pass in the end one against defensive back Tevaughn Campbell #20 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Raymond Calais #30 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for yardage against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Tight end Jacob Harris #87 of the Los Angeles Rams drops a pass in the end one against defensive back Tevaughn Campbell #20 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the second half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Tight end Jacob Harris #87 of the Los Angeles Rams fumbles as teammate wide receiver J.J. Koski #17 of the Los Angeles Rams recovers against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Tight end Jacob Harris #87 of the Los Angeles Rams fumbles as teammate wide receiver J.J. Koski #17 of the Los Angeles Rams recovers against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Tight end Jacob Harris #87 of the Los Angeles Rams fumbles as teammate wide receiver J.J. Koski #17 of the Los Angeles Rams recovers against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver Trishton Jackson #83 of the Los Angeles Rams catches a pass for first down against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Chase Daniel #7 hands off to running back Joshua Kelley #27 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver Jalen Guyton #15 of the Los Angeles Chargers drops a pass against defensive back Brontae Harris #35 of the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Joshua Kelley #27 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs for yardage against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Linebacker Justin Lawler #53 of the Los Angeles Rams tackled quarterback Chase Daniel #7 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Raymond Calais #30 of the Los Angeles Rams slides for yardage against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Outside linebacker Kyzir White #44 of the Los Angeles Chargers tackled running back Jake Funk #34 of the Los Angeles Rams for a loss of awards in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Outside linebacker Kyzir White #44 of the Los Angeles Chargers tackled quarterback Devlin Hodges #19 of the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Jake Funk #34 of the Los Angeles Rams runs for s first down against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Linebacker Justin Lawler #53 of the Los Angeles Rams reacts after a tackle against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Joshua Kelley #27 of the Los Angeles Chargers is upended by the Los Angeles Rams defense in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Devlin Hodges #19 of the Los Angeles Rams scrambles against outside linebacker Kyzir White #44 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams cheerleader looks on against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams take on the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Justin Jackson #22 of the Los Angeles Chargers is tickled for a loss of yards by the Los Angeles Rams defense in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Justin Jackson #22 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs for a first down against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Chargers fan reacts against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams fan looks on against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver K.J. Hill #84 of the Los Angeles Chargers catches pass for yardage against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Quarterback Chase Daniel #7 of the Los Angeles Chargers scrambles against the Los Angeles Rams in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Running back Joshua Kelley #27 of the Los Angeles Chargers is tackled by the Los Angeles Rams defense in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Chargers fan Joe Sanchez of Palm Springs takes photos of the stadium prior to a pre-season NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams fans Richard Trudy De Fino of Mission Hills pose for a picture next to a giant mural prior to a pre-season NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams fans Gilbert Castro, right, along with his son Fabian Castro of Santa Barbara look out over the stadium wearing there defensive end Aaron Donald #99 jerseys prior to a pre-season NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Offensive tackle Rashawn Slater #70 of the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver Trishton Jackson #83 of the Los Angeles Rams reacts after touchdown catch against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Wide receiver Jason Moore #11 of the Los Angeles Chargers catches a pass against the Los Angeles Rams for a first down in the first half of a pre-season NFL football game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams General Manager Les Snead looks on prior to a pre-season NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams enter the field as the melon heads cheer prior to a pre-season NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams prior to a pre-season NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Rams enter the field as the melon heads cheer prior to a pre-season NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

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INGLEWOOD — As first hurdles go, some were more spectacular than others in SoFi Stadium’s debut with fans Saturday night.

First SoFi Stadium football crowd? 68,791 fans, not a sellout but good for a preseason game. First NFL game experience for many young Rams players? Call the results mixed. A literal hurdle of a tackler for a first down by Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins? It created the roar of the night from the fans and his teammates, and the single brightest memory from the exhibition against the Chargers.

“Usually when I’m on the field I can’t hear anything (from the sidelines),” Perkins said of his run. “But after that play it seemed like on I heard everybody.”

A Rams team of third- and fourth-stringers ended up on the wrong end of a 13-6 victory by the Chargers, in part because of mistakes by the offense and kicking team and the running game’s failure to break loose.

But with Rams coach Sean McVay holding all of his starters and most of his second unit out of preseason games to reduce injuries, this game was less about the Rams battling the Chargers than Rams players battling each other for roster spots.

Some of the young Rams played Saturday night as if they’d been anticipating the return of preseason games and fans to L.A.-area sports venues as long as the crowd.

There was Tutu Atwell, the tiny rookie wide receiver, surviving a hard early tackle, turning a short pass into a long gain and turning his first crack at a punt return into a people-pleasing burst.

There was running back Raymond Calais taking advantage of his first punt return to top Atwell with a 46-yarder.

There were Perkins and Trishton Jackson taking advantage of a short field by connecting on a pass for the Rams’ first touchdown of the exhibition season.

Atwell’s eased some doubts about the Rams’ decision to use a second-round pick, their first in last April’s draft, on a receiver who says he’s striving to bulk up to 160 pounds.

There’s still concern about what happens the first time a pro-size linebacker blasts him, but they’ll have to find him first.

“Those things were encouraging, to be able to get him a couple of touches early,” McVay said. I thought he did a good job popping up, because that was quite a hit that he took on his first catch.

“You can see the explosive playmaker that has us excited about his potential.”

A crowd like this might have liked to see Rams starters like quarterback Matthew Stafford, but at least they were forewarned about what to expect from McVay.

This was the first SoFi Stadium game with fans, after the Rams and Chargers played home schedules in front of 70,000 empty seats in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And this was the Rams’ first preseason game since 2019, after 2020 exhibitions were called off.

It was a good start for Atwell as he fights Trishton Jackson and others for a position on the roster behind wide-receiver regulars Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, DeSean Jackson and Van Jefferson, none of whom played Saturday.

It was a good start for Jacob Harris, a converted wide receiver looking for a roster spot at tight end behind Tyler Higbee and Johnny Mundt, who led Rams receivers with four catches for 43 yards.

It was a good night on defense for Justin Lawler, the outside linebacker finally healthy after a series of foot injuries, who often was in Chargers quarterback Chase Daniel’s face, finishing with two QB hits and a tackle for loss.

And it was a good start for Perkins in his effort to hold off Duck Hodges for the third quarterback slot on the roster behind Stafford and John Wolford.

Perkins, the 2019 undrafted free agent from Virginia who had yet to play for the Rams, completed 7 of 10 passes for 42 yards. That included the touchdown pass.

Perkins, whose legs are his best weapon, showed patience in the pocket and waited for Jackson to get open as the second option before lobbing the ball where the receiver could go down and get it at the back of the end zone.

That 12-yard run and leap for a first down in the fourth quarter is what fans will remember best.

“I was just trying to keep the chains moving,” said Perkins, who would have been short of a first down if he’d gone out of bounds. “Plays like that are just reactionary.”

Hodges, the former Steelers backup, had led the Rams out for their first and second offensive series and completed 6 of 8 passes for 39 yards. But 20 of those yards came on a short pass that Atwell turned into a 20-yard gain. The offense had to call time out before its second snap.

Hodges came back in after halftime and led a drive that ended with a missed field goal, and finished 11 for 19 for 85 yards with a drive-killing interception in the fourth quarter.

Unfortunately for the Rams, Perkins was their leading rusher.

There was no early winner in the competition to back up running back Darrell Henderson, which is also an effort by the backs on the current roster to prove the Rams don’t need to add running-back depth after Cam Akers’ Achilles’ injury.

Xavier Jones had 21 yards on seven carries, the longest going eight yards, and two catches for six yards, and rookie Jake Funk had 12 yards on five carries, plus one catch for negative yards.

The other early negative for the Rams was the kicking game, which they thought they’d figured out. Kicker Matt Gay missed an extra point after a penalty backed him up five yards. Second-string kicker Austin MacGinnis hit the right upright with a 40-yard field-goal attempt.

But that probably won’t change coaches minds about that position.

Other performances might at least set the terms for competitions to be continued when the Rams scrimmage against the Raiders twice in the coming week, host the Raiders in a preseason game next Saturday at SoFi Stadium, and face the Broncos in Denver in their last exhibition before the regular-season opener against the Bears at SoFi on Sept. 12.

Said Perkins, summing it up for everyone: “I’m not going to get too caught up on one play or one drive, because there’s more games to be played.”

NOTES

Rams wide receiver Ben Skowronek, a seventh-round draft pick, fractured a forearm and will have surgery Monday, the team said.

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Alexander: Rams cut their losses quickly and decisively in swap of QBs

You can’t say the Rams don’t move swiftly and decisively.

As for effectively? We’ll see.

Two summers ago, coming off a Super Bowl appearance – albeit an offensively flaccid one against the Patriots – they gave Jared Goff a huge contract extension, four years, $134 million all told and a little over $110 million of that guaranteed.

Saturday night, having judged that the offense under Goff likely wasn’t going to get appreciably better, they cut their losses. Goff, plus a third-round pick in 2021 and first-rounders in 2022 and ’23, will go to Detroit for quarterback Matthew Stafford, and consider that just minutes after the trade SportsBetting.com dropped the Rams’ odds in 2022 for Super Bowl LVI in Inglewood from 18-1 to 10-1, behind only Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

Betting lines, of course, are hardly a scientific method of determining whether a trade was a good one. But they do reflect or at least predict public sentiment, and it was pretty obvious by the latter part of the season that Rams fans had Goff fatigue.

The main takeaway here is that the Rams front office gets it. Southern California adores winners and shuns losers. And in a town that has already celebrated two championships in the last five months, even the most expensive stadium in North America will not be enough to hold L.A. fans’ interest when they’re finally allowed in unless the product matches the opulence.

But is this decisiveness or desperation? Obviously the Rams aren’t afraid to change course, as the second bombshell in two offseasons has shown. But they painted themselves into a corner by handing Goff that huge contract following the Super Bowl year. And as we suggested was likely earlier in the week  they had to add assets in order to find a taker.

Probably not coincindentally, that turned out to be new Lions GM Brad Holmes, whose last gig was as the Rams’ director of college scouting. In that role he scouted Goff at Cal, so I think we can assume he knows what he’s getting.

Or at least he knows his former boss isn’t afraid to throw around draft picks. If you listen closely you can hear echoes of George Allen’s “The future is now” philosophy. The Rams’ last first round choice was Goff in 2016 with the No. 1 pick. Their next first-rounder? Right now it’ll be in the 2024 draft, but stay tuned.

Anyway, two words for those who would treat those first-round picks like gold: Cam Akers, a second-rounder who could be a star.  And two more words: Jalen Ramsey, the haul for two of those first-rounders and maybe the best shutdown corner in the NFL.

Will this deal be worth it?

Goff is 26, while Stafford turns 33 in a week. He was the 2009 No. 1 pick out of Georgia, and in 12 NFL seasons he has averaged 273.4 passing yards and 23.6 completions per game, both No. 4 on the all-time lists. He has a strong arm, and he’s tough, but he’s been banged up and beat up over the years while playing for a forlorn franchise that has reached the postseason three times in his 12 seasons, the last in 2016. His teams have been in the league’s top 10 in scoring twice, and in one of those (2017) the Lions missed the playoffs.

How much of that has been on the quarterback, and how much of that on the team he has had around him?

When general manager Les Snead held his end-of-season session with the media last Tuesday, we should have anticipated this was coming. Over and over he was asked about Goff, and the way he parried those questions made it clear that something was up. When it’s said that someone is the quarterback “right now,” you might as well put it in big neon letters that his days are numbered.

Snead also made it clear that offensive improvement was a priority: “Being more explosive, scoring more points, not turning the ball over as much.” That’s fairly obvious. But here we should point out that in 2020 Goff threw for 20 touchdowns but was responsible for 17 turnovers (13 interceptions, four lost fumbles). Stafford, with an even leakier offensive line, threw for 26 touchdowns and coughed it up 11 times (10 picks, one lost fumble).

Stafford was on his way to perhaps his best season in 2019 (19 touchdowns, 5 interceptions and a career best 106.0 quarterback rating after eight games) before fracturing bones in his back. He regressed somewhat in 2020, but played with injuries to his ribs, ankle and throwing hand and also had little help from a running game that was 30th in the league. That shouldn’t be a problem in L.A. (see: Cam Akers).

This is not a move for three or five years down the road. The Rams feel the urgency of a big market team, as they should. If it doesn’t work, all the urgency in the world might not be enough a few years from now.

In the meantime, Stafford will now be reunited with his high school teammate from Dallas Highland Park, a fellow named Clayton Kershaw.

Maybe Kersh will let Stafford rub his World Series ring for luck.

jalexander@scng.com

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

 

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First look at the NFL playoffs schedule

The schedule for the NFL playoffs was released Sunday night, Jan. 3.

(All Times PST)

Wild-card playoffs

Saturday, Jan. 9

Indianapolis at Buffalo, 10:05 a.m.

Rams at Seattle, 1:40 p.m.

Tampa Bay at Washington, 5:15 p.m.

Sunday, Jan. 10

Baltimore at Tennessee, 10:05 a.m.

Chicago at New Orleans, 1:40 p.m.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh, 5:15 p.m.

Divisional Playoffs

 

Saturday, Jan. 16 and Sunday, Jan. 17

NFC lowest seed remaining at Green Bay

AFC lowest seed remaining at Kansas City

TBD vs. TBD

TBD vs. TBD

 

Conference Championships

Sunday, Jan. 24

 

Super Bowl

At Tampa, Fla.

Sunday, Feb. 7, 3:30 p.m.

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Rams don’t want to see a Carson rerun when they play Seahawks

INGLEWOOD — The Rams’ first game against the Seattle Seahawks this season produced one of their best moments of the year, a solid bounce-back win that gave them life in the NFC West race.

Getting the same result in the same desperate circumstances when the teams play again Sunday in Seattle won’t be easy, in part because these aren’t the same Seahawks.

In November, running backs Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde were both injured and missing from the Seahawks’ offense. What the Rams’ defense did in a 23-16 victory, sacking Russell Wilson six times and shutting down DK Metcalf, was impressive anyway. But they know it will take more to repeat that performance now.

Carson and Hyde are healthy after foot and hamstring injuries, while third running back Rashaad Penny is back from a knee injury, and the Seahawks have won four out of five games after losing three out of four.

“You’d be surprised what five weeks can do for a team from a personnel standpoint,” Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley said this week.

“Because of the run game, I think that they’re a much more complete offense than when we first faced them and they’re definitely hitting their stride.”

The Seahawks’ offense begins with Wilson, who’s on his way to career highs in passing yards and touchdowns throwing to Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.

The Rams held Wilson to his worst game of the season in Week 10 at SoFi Stadium. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey limited Metcalf to two catches for 28 yards on a season-low four targets. Seahawks running backs managed 51 yards in the team’s third game without Carson and Hyde.

That win following a sloppy loss at Miami lifted the Rams into a first-place tie with Seattle and Arizona, which led on a tiebreaker.

Now, as the Rams try to right the ship after losing to the Jets, Carson and Co. make their task tougher.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a balanced attack, and there was a portion of the schedule in there when we lost three running backs at the same time,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said this week. “We didn’t have the same rhythm.”

With the running game intact again, Carroll said, “This is as good as we’ve been all year.”

In Carson’s four seasons in Seattle, including 2,381 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in 2018-19, the Seahawks are 30-14 when he’s playing and 11-10 when he isn’t.

Carson is running for 5.0 yards per carry, which would be a career high over a full season and ranks eighth in the NFL this year.

The Rams are 3-5 this year when opponents average for 4.5 or more per carry.

That’s a statistical benchmark to watch Sunday in a game that shapes up as a showdown between the Rams’ defense (No. 1 in yards allowed per game and per play, No. 1 against the pass, No. 2 against the run) and the Seahawks’ offense (No. 6 in yards per play, No. 5 in passer rating, No. 4 in yards per run).

“It gives them another dynamic. That’s going to be something we needed to be really ready to defend,” Ramsey said before practice Thursday.

The Rams (9-5) can clinch a playoff spot Sunday with a win or tie against Seattle (10-4), a Chicago loss or tie at Jacksonville or an Arizona win or tie against San Francisco. They can go back into first place in the NFC West by beating Seattle, giving themselves a chance to wrap up the division title by beating Arizona or seeing Seattle lose at San Francisco in the season’s final week.

Carson’s and Hyde’s return will make that harder.

Rams coach Sean McVay calls Carson, 26, a seventh-round draft pick from Oklahoma State, “one of the more underrated players in this league.” McVay has seen Carson at his best, rushing for 116 and 118 yards in L.A.’s past two games at Seattle.

“Getting those runners back and how they’ve run the football,” McVay said, “has definitely made them even more of a challenge than they already were as a great offense.”

NOTES

The Rams practiced at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Thursday afternoon, the third time they’ve done that during the season, because strong wind was forecast at their facility in Thousand Oaks. The team will practice on Christmas day, but will start work later than usual to allow players and coaches to spend the morning with their families. … Right tackle Rob Havenstein practiced and is “ready to roll” for Sunday after being limited Wednesday by a neck injury suffered in the loss to the Jets. … Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the third Rams player to earn Pro Bowl selections in his first seven seasons, joining defensive tackle Merlin Olsen (who did it in his first 14) and linebacker Les Richter (eight), the Rams said, quoting the sports data company Sportradar.

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Alexander: Rams might get where they want to go with old-fashioned football

First of all, let’s stipulate. If Thursday night’s Rams-Patriots game was a rematch of Super Bowl LIII, as was advertised, it was in name only. Not even the laundry was the same, though the Rams’ new uniforms are looking better and better as the weeks go by.

It was not a night for revenge, or redemption, or much else having to do with that February 2019 night in Atlanta. Those scars, as Sean McVay said after Thursday night’s 24-3 Rams victory, aren’t going away.

“That’s always going to be a part of, you know, the coaching trajectory for me and a night that, you know, you got to be able to learn from,” he said. “But as far as how that affected our plans going into this game, it really didn’t at all.

“We’re a totally different team. I mean, you see, we’re doing a lot of different things.”

Totally different. And, potentially, quite a bit better.

For example: As colleague Kevin Modesti noted, when Cam Akers uncorked a 35-yard run off left tackle on the second offensive play Thursday night it equaled Todd Gurley’s rushing total in that Super Bowl. We know now that Gurley was physically compromised that night and for much of the back end of that season.

But there’s a message there, and McVay and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell seem to have deciphered it loud and clear. Who knows? Maybe they do read This Space.

Akers didn’t stop at 35. He didn’t stop until he got to 171 yards, on 29 carries, the best game by a Rams rookie running back since Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis pounded his way to 211 on 28 carries in New Orleans in December of 1993, when the Rams were based in Anaheim.

Akers was asked if he thought McVay got the message when he noted last Sunday in Arizona that the more touches he gets, the better his rhythm.

“I think he did,” the rookie said with a grin.

Glad to help, Cam.

These are different teams and a different time and the Super Bowl rematch angle was useful for Fox’s promotion of its Thursday night game but not worth much else. The Patriots might have won four of their previous five going into Thursday’s game, and they might have embarrassed the Chargers on Sunday, but they’re now 6-7 and 2½ games out of an AFC playoff spot with three games to play, and all of Bill Belichick’s coaching powers probably won’t get them into the tournament.

Meanwhile, it is fair to suggest that the Rams, who have won four of five themselves since the debacle at Miami on the first day of November, might be putting themselves in position to do something special. Remember what we said a few weeks ago about keeping up with their championship L.A. neighbors, the Lakers and Dodgers? It seems more feasible now than it did then.

Rediscovering the running game makes a difference. They had a 16-play, 90-yard third-quarter drive Thursday that chewed up 9:42, and 12 of those 16 plays were runs, nine by Akers. (Again, Coach McVay, you’re welcome.)

Jared Goff only threw for 137 yards, with two touchdowns (one rushing), one interception, one sack and a 74.9 rating, but it was almost immaterial.

“As a quarterback, you know, you may think that’s not fun,” Goff said. “(But) those are the best, when we’re just pounding it and able to make those plays.”

It’s old-time football, and it might be the best way for the Rams to operate: Force the opponent’s defense to respect the run and use their own defense to create havoc and impose their will. Somewhere, the late Chuck Knox is smiling.

There certainly was enough defensive havoc Thursday night. The Rams sacked Cam Newton four times and backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham twice, with Michael Brockers getting two and Aaron Donald credited with 1½.

“You know, it’s definitely a cliche statement: stop the run, earn the right to rush the passer,” Brockers said. “And I think that’s what we did.”

But there was more. Consecutive New England incursions into the red zone ended with (a) former UCLA Bruin Kenny Young’s first NFL pick-six, a 79-yard interception return on the first play of the second quarter, and (b) a goal-line stand after New England had a first-and-goal at the 6, with Newton trying to run it in from the 2 on fourth down and getting stuffed by linebacker Justin Hollins for a 2-yard loss.

The Rams came into the game with the league’s No. 2 overall defense behind New Orleans and No. 1 against the pass, giving up 291.3 yards per game overall and 198.3 through the air. On Thursday night, those numbers were 220 and 113. The Saints, who have allowed 288 yards per game, face the Eagles (29th in the league in offense) this week, so their number shouldn’t balloon, but that could be an interesting race.

And this is as good a time as any to launch Donald’s campaign for the league’s MVP award, Patrick Mahomes or no Patrick Mahomes, because the attention he gets from opponents creates so many openings for others. The last defensive player to win The Associated Press MVP award was Lawrence Taylor in 1986. I think it’s time.

But that’s a side issue. And if you really want to use this occasion to re-explore Super Bowl LIII, maybe the Patriots did the Rams a favor that night, painful as it was at the time.

“Being at that pinnacle, being at that Super Bowl and understanding what it takes to get back – all I’m trying to do is lead this team and give examples on what we have to do to keep finishing, keep pushing through,” Brockers said.

“Because there’s going to be another chapter.”

@Jim_Alexander on Twitter

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Whicker: Goff’s bodyguards keep his jersey clean enough to beat Bucs

The Rams are 7-3 this morning because they had the better quarterback on a field that also included Tom Brady.

The main reason Jared Goff was the better quarterback on Monday night is the capable friends he brought, even with a close one left behind.

The Rams won, 27-24, when Jordan Fuller intercepted Brady at the end, on a night when Goff threw 51 times at Raymond James Stadium. Without injured left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was carted away from last week’s victory over Seattle, they could have been putting Goff in the same danger zone that engulfed him in Miami.

Instead, Goff never was sacked and probably has had 18-hole rounds that were more painful. The Bucs’ defense only hit him three times. The cushion he was provided, to find Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and the rest of the crew, was why the Rams put up just enough points to win.

Joe Noteboom got the call to replace Whitworth. To his right, in order, were Austin Corbett, Austin Blythe, David Edwards and Rob Havenstein. Of that group, only Havenstein was manning the same position he played in the Rams’ Super Bowl loss to Brady and New England. Havenstein also committed the only penalty of the game for the offensive line (holding) and nobody on the unit false-started against a Tampa Bay rush unit that averages 3.2 sacks, fourth in the league.

“Joe Noteboom had a great game at left tackle,” Woods said. “You gotta think about whose position he’s filling. He had Shaq Barrett and JPP (Jean-Pierre Paul) to deal with.”

Since the Rams put their running game on hold, Goff concentrated on rhythmic short passes against a dynamic young Tampa Bay secondary. His two touchdown passes went to rookies Cam Akers and Van Jefferson, but Kupp and Woods were able to run profusely whenever they caught the ball short, and that doesn’t happen without drone-type accuracy from the quarterback. Those two combined for 23 catches for 275 yards.

“I really loved what Cooper and Robert did,” McVay said. “They really created a lot of stuff on their own.”

If the Rams can lean on that big-boy foundation and keep improving their efficiency, they have much to anticipate.

Their defense was special again Monday night, even though they rarely got to Brady. They stuffed Ronald Jones for 24 yards in 10 carries, with Micah Kiser perhaps foretelling the future when, on Tampa Bay’s first play, he hit fifth gear almost immediately and stuffed Jones at the line of scrimmage. Except for Mike Evans’ touchdown when Jalen Ramsey wasn’t guarding him, the Rams generally stopped the Buccaneers’ receivers in their tracks.

Evans’ 18-yard play was the longest for Tampa Bay all night, and the numbers would have looked much better if not for three pass interference penalties.

In the past two weeks, the Rams have dealt QB ratings of 57 and 62.5 to Russell Wilson and Brady.

After the Rams took a 17-14 halftime lead, they put Brady in neutral for the entire third quarter, giving Tampa Bay only 8 yards. But they allowed this to stay a seven-point game for a little too long, and when Jordan Whitehead closed strongly and intercepted Goff’s throw down the middle, it came time for Brady to call back the years.

He hustled the Bucs to the tying touchdown, finding Chris Godwin for the final 13 yards as Darious Williams couldn’t get to him fast enough. That put the onus on Goff and the Rams to see if their quick-pitch offense could work when it mattered most, with 3:53 remaining.

The Rams ran only five times in the first half, and Goff piled up the stats with short shots to Kupp and the rest.

Here, Goff used play-action and fired 25 yards to Woods on first down, the 11th ball Woods had caught. Then Goff rolled out and found Kupp for 18 yards, which was Kupp’s 11th reception as well. It was also Goff’s 50th attempt and his 39th completion.

Then the Rams picked a surprising time to revert to the running game, and wound up with a fourth-and-8 situation. Matt Gay, who was 1-for-2 beforehand, converted a 40-yard field-goal attempt for a 27-24 lead with 2:36 remaining, and with Brady holding one time out.

History indicates that Brady is somewhat lethal when given those options. But maybe current events are catching up with Brady. He tried to get a chunk of yardage with a down-the-middle throw to Cameron Brate, but it floated.

Fuller, who had already intercepted Brady once, stood there and watched the ball come to him. For the Rams, it was like a pillow mint that enabled a peaceful flight, and night.

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Rams player tests positive for coronavirus, team enters intensive protocol

The Rams will hold their team meetings from home Wednesday after an unidentified player tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday night.

“This evening, we learned a Rams player tested positive for COVID-19,” the team said in a statement. “The player immediately entered self-quarantine and out of an abundance of caution, we are entering intensive protocol.”

The Rams (6-3) were scheduled only for a light walk-through practice Wednesday with an extra-long week of preparation for their game at Tampa Bay (7-3) on Monday night. Rams players and coaches will hold their normal schedule of meetings from home on Wednesday. They haven’t determined their schedule for the rest of the week.

The Rams defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 23-16, on Sunday in Inglewood, and Coach Sean McVay gave the players Monday off following the win. Tuesday is a regularly scheduled day off.

The Rams had not had a positive for COVID-19 since rookie outside linebacker Terrell Lewis at the beginning of training camp. Center Brian Allen was the first NFL player to confirm he had tested positive for coronavirus back in April. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth also recovered from the infection earlier this year.

The NFL instituted guidelines for the intensive protocol last month as a response to an outbreak with the Tennessee Titans. It calls for rapid point of care tests in addition to the daily PCR testing, virtual meetings, the use of masks by everyone on the practice field at all times, the use of gloves by all players on the practice field, and a ban on player gatherings away from the facility.

Statement from the Los Angeles Rams: pic.twitter.com/lcxklfWNzo

— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) November 18, 2020

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Live updates: Rams visit Dolphins in Miami

The Rams travel to Miami to play the Dolphins in a nonconference showdown, fresh off a Monday night football victory over the Bears. The Dolphins are coming into the game on a 2-game win streak and a bye week.

The game will begin at 10:00 a.m. PST on FOX.


Follow Rams reporter Kevin Modesti throughout the NFL season for updates.


Live Updates:

A Twitter List by JHWreporter

 

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