Sean McVay and Jon Gruden elected to treat Saturday night’s preseason game between the LA Rams and Las Vegas Raiders as an opportunity to imagine an alternate universe where the players who started the game were legitimately each team’s best players. Rather than play phases of the game where they begin with starters, then move to backups, then finally give playing time to the players fighting for roster spots, the Rams and Raiders sat their starters and most of the reserves, and gave extended opportunities to players who might be on the bubble.
The result was a game that felt legitimately competitive and came down to the final :15 seconds, when a Bryce Perkins two-point attempt flew by and out of reach for Jacob Harris and Las Vegas beat Los Angeles 17-16 at SoFi Stadium.
But the night was not a failure for Perkins, who overcame a slow start with a strong second half, when he was stacking successful first down throws, mixed with resilience in the face of any attempt to sack him. I’m not going to say what his stat line was and I’m not going to include many, if any numbers from the game other than the ones that feel especially significant.
Like the one time Perkins converted this fourth down late in the game.
And this touchdown throw to Harris in the final minute of the game, his second of the game.
In the first Rams preseason game of the year, Devlin Hodges had an opportunity throw a game-tying touchdown late, but the throw was incomplete. On Saturday night against the Raiders, drive after drive was expected to be the one where Hodges would enter the game, but that’s when it became apparent that again McVay had defied preseason traditions.
Perkins played every snap at quarterback, and he was throwing to J.J. Koski, Tutu Atwell, and Landon Akers in the first quarter, just as he was in the fourth quarter. Xavier Jones and Jake Funk split time at running back for the entire game. And the same offensive line that was drawing penalties in the first quarter, was also drawing them in the second, third, and fourth quarters.
While there was definitely some rotations and different players subbing in for opportunities, especially on defense, players like Brontae Harris, Terrell Burgess, J.R. Reed., and Juju Hughes were on the field for most of it, and it seemed that Perkins had the opportunity to face much of the same defense throughout the game.
So when Raiders quarterback Nathan Peterman threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Marcell Ateman in the fourth quarter, it felt more special to the Vegas sideline. And when Perkins led LA down the field and threw a touchdown to Harris to give the Rams an all-or-nothing opportunity, it felt more special.
But the loss will have no impact on LA’s upcoming regular season, though by playing Perkins for an entire game, McVay may risk losing him if he doesn’t make the final 53-man roster. Though Perkins isn’t yet at a place where he should start for an NFL team, and most likely would be ranked behind most backups, including John Wolford, his two-game efforts could be enough for a team with an opening for a number three quarterback on its roster.
Here’s pretty much everything important that happened in Saturday night’s game:
First defensive drive: Tackle by Travin Howard shows speed to edge. Juju Hughes with pass deflection on third down.
Holding on punt return for Tutu Atwell
Bryce Perkins and Jake Funk get the starts. Funk gets carry on first play but slips and falls. Perkins next finds J.J. Koski for a conversion on third down, but it is called back for holding. The next playcall is a lateral pass to Koski, who is immediately tackled for a loss, putting the Rams at their own 1.
Matt Gay handles the punt as well as expected, booting it 35 yards.
Raiders are able to run on Rams at will on their first offensive drive. Among starters on defense are Terrell Burgess, Ernest Jones, Micah Kiser, Justin Lawler, Brontae Harris, Kareem Orr, Jonah Williams, Chris Garrett, Marquise Copeland, Donovan Olumba, J.J. Hughes.
Nice tackle by J.J. Hughes, but Las Vegas quarterback Nathan Peterman keeps it for a touchdown on the next play. The play is overturned on review, but the Raiders score on the next play on a fourth down run by Trey Ragas.
Aqib Talib mentions that Alex Leatherwood, the tackle drafted by Las Vegas in the first round, is “moving people around.” Leatherwood has been receiving high praise all throughout training camp.
As predicted, they mention and show unreleased footage of the skirmish from joint practice on Thursday. Mentions of it will pop up throughout broadcast.
Rams get the ball back and Jake Funk has a fantastic run to pick up an immediate first down. Perkins completes a short pass to Brycen Hopkins, but the tight end’s first catch of the night is called back because of a penalty on Bobby Evans. These were not the types of mentions that Evans needs right now.
Perkins next pass should have been intercepted, but it was dropped by Las Vegas linebacker Javin White.
Gay has another decent punt, this one going longer than the first.
At one point on the next defensive drive, LA defensive back Brontae Harris is called for defensive pass interference. The run defense continues to struggle, until Bobby Brown III dismantles his blockers to make a tackle for a loss and force a punt.
There’s immediately another offensive penalty, then a nice catch by undrafted rookie wide receiver Landon Akers.
It’s odd to see a player named Akers make plays for the Rams right now.
A short catch by J.J. Koski is followed up by a deep pass to Tutu Atwell. But Perkins underthrows Atwell slightly (I think) and it is incomplete. On third down, Perkins does a nice job of escaping a broken pocket and gets free, but overthrows Koski on a shovel pass.
Now Matt Gay has a fantastic 50-yard punt, but it is returned 23 yards.
Peterman pass is tipped by Chris Garrett and then intercepted by J.R. Reed, who is making a strong case for the final 53-man roster. J.R. is the son of former NFL player Jake Reed.
Nice catch by Xavier Jones for a first down.
Perkins throws a touchdown pass to tight end Kendall Blanton.
On the next defensive drive, Garrett beats wide receiver Keelan Doss for a tackle for a loss. Then it appears Kareem Orr is nearest defender by D.J. Turner on a 17-yard reception. Chris Garrett and Jonah Williams combine for a sack.
Garrett with a strip sack of Peterman on third-and-Long.
Jones runs through a big hole. Perkins throws to Atwell but play is stopped for no gain. Atwell may have been better served to turn up field on the play, per Talib.
A holding by Coleman Shelton is declined because a block in the back on Chandler Brewer is accepted.
Aqib Talib’s line of the night: “Do you think Haydel really thought he caught the ball?” after a replay showed that Haydel clearly dropped a ball but then acted as if he caught it.
First down throw from Perkins to Koski on fourth-and-9. Rams get a first down via taunting penalty by a Raiders player. A nice run to the outside by Jones is called back because of holding by Tremayne Anchrum on outside linebacker Malcolm Koonce.
Amik Robertson tackles Tutu Atwell and even though Robertson is 5’8, 187 lbs, I have to admit that he looked much bigger when tackling Atwell.
Garrett moves around edge to create QB pressure. It seems that with Terrell Lewis missing so much time, the idea of losing Garrett at final cuts now looks improbable. It’s not unusual for LA to keep 10 linebackers, but if there no surprise cuts among the top-nine, it sure looks like Lewis and Garrett are 10 and 11. Will the Rams keep 11 or make a surprise move?
Reed with a pass defensed. Reed is in a battle against some notable competition — which of them is excelling the most on special teams?
Calais muffs a punt, but the Raiders commit a penalty and they must re-kick. Calais would suffer a foot injury later in the game that McVay believes will require surgery. That means that the Rams may need to sign a running back after all. LA might just simply want to find their most reliable hands at the punt return position.
That’s the end of the first half.
Atwell twice left the game with potential injury situation, and returned both times.
Brycen Hopkins had an offensive pass interference that negated a nice gain.
Perkins scrambles for a 10-yard gain, but then is sacked on third down. Gay has another good punt.
On the next defensive drive, DE John Daka has a tackle for a loss. Two plays later, Eric Banks shoots straight up the middle for a sack. Daka seems to have a nice arm tackle on the following play, but on replay it appears he may have gotten away with tripping.
Otis Anderson makes a fair catch punt. Could Anderson win the job that Calais was gunning for?
Las Vegas rookie cornerback Nate Hobbs intercepts Perkins in the third quarter. Perkins took a deep shot to Atwell, but underthrew him for at least the second time in the game. Hobbs was a fifth round pick but throughout training camp has been praised as a steal and Jon Gruden mentioned that he could start immediately at nickel. On Saturday, Hobbs often looked like the best player on the field.
Rams #84 Landon Akers thought #39 Nate Hobbs was locked onto him in man coverage. pic.twitter.com/81QQzVYj9Q— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) August 22, 2021
In an interview, Jalen Ramsey says that Matthew Stafford has elite talent and that defensively, he expects to have his best season yet.
A good tackle by Reed forces a fourth down. Linebacker Christian Rozeboom gets away with a helmet to helmet hit on Nathan Peterman, then breaks up a pass attempt, but must leave the game to get checked out following the hit two plays earlier.
Landon Akers makes a catch short of a first down, but with fancy footwork, evades a tackle and reaches the first down. Then another nice run and throw from Perkins to Akers. On fourth-and-2, a Perkins throw towards Atwell is well off the mark.
Brontae Harris maintains focus on interception.
Brontae Harris comes up with the pick pic.twitter.com/0h7gyqjVh1— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) August 22, 2021
Perkins gains 12 on a throw to Koski on first down. Then Jake Funk looks really fast on a 19-yard gain up the middle of the field. Then an 18-yard completion to Brycen Hopkins. Perkins does a good job of protecting the football after run blocking fell apart immediately. But Matt Gay’s field goal try is blocked.
Troy Warner, brother of 49ers linebacker Fred Warner, makes a good tackle on third down but it doesn’t prevent a first down.
Raiders running back Trey Ragas has a long gain on a catch, then Peterman breaks a 10-10 tie with a touchdown pass to Marcell Ateman.
That’s not Ruggs, it’s Marcell Ateman. Watch him sell the Slant in a Dragon concept before breaking deep. This is how offenses set up double moves sometimes even weeks in advance. pic.twitter.com/wU0pWwtP1R— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) August 22, 2021
Rams get one more chance to win the game. Drive starts with a false start by Jeremiah Kolone. First down catch by Hopkins. At first it seemed he could have been hurt and was calling to the sidelines but he stayed in the game. Akers has a catch opportunity knocked away by Nate Hobbs. Koski catches the next two passes, including for a first down. Atwell gets hit hard and leaves the game, but would return later. Jacob Harris receives his first target of the game.
Perkins finds Koski but is short of a first down. On fourth down, Perkins takes a keeper around for a first down, nice call by Kevin O’Connell to play to his strengths.
Harris gets a red zone target but drops a would-be touchdown. Then Perkins scrambles for a first down on fourth-and-5 on a play that seemed impossible.
Bryce Perkins saves the game by scrambling on 4th down pic.twitter.com/JkSRV2k2jZ— Covers (@Covers) August 22, 2021
Perkins throws a touchdown pass to Harris. There are no overtimes in the preseason anymore, so Rams go for the winning two-point conversion. The fade throw to Harris is nowhere near complete. Thought it was interesting they wouldn’t give Perkins a chance to find a play, potentially running it in, rather than banking everything on the Harris fade. Must have wanted to test out that fade some more.