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How a dropped game-winning TD as rookie shaped career of WR Cooper Kupp

Rookies have growing pains: How a dropped touchdown pass led to a playoff stretch of clutch football from the WR.

Super Bowl LVI - Los Angeles Rams v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

The line between “good” and “great” in the NFL is extremely fine, and players can often spend entire careers waiting for their breakout moment. For many they find themselves on the wrong of the age-old cliché — ”football is a game of inches”— and they may find the most important catch or pass of their lives bounce to the turf instead of being met with roaring cheers from a crowd of 60,000. You have to make the most of each opportunity because you can never be sure how many chances you’ll have to break through.

Los Angeles Rams WR Cooper Kupp, met his uncomfortable moment in the fifth game of his career, where he had the game-winning pass from Jared Goff bounce off his hands in the end zone on fourth down. The Rams ended up losing to the Seattle Seahawks 16-10 and fell to 3-2 on the season instead of moving to 4-1.

We know that the Rams would go on to make the playoffs — quite a turnaround for their first season under HC Sean McVay — and we know that Kupp would later go on to win the esteemed “receiving triple crown” (leading the NFL is catches, yards, and TD’s for a given season) as well as catching game winning passes in the NFC divisional round and Super Bowl LVI.

When the game is on the line and your offense needs to make a play, there’s fewer individuals in the NFL that you’d rely on over Cooper Kupp—and that missed opportunity as a rookie seemed to shape the greatness that was in store for the Eastern Washington product.

In the 2021 divisional playoff round against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Rams saw their 27-3 lead dissolve at the hands of QB Tom Brady. With the game tied and with just under thirty seconds left on the game clock, Matthew Stafford uncorked a long pass to Kupp who looked the ball into his hands as he fell to the turf. The catch setup a 30-yard Matt Gay field goal that sealed the game for Los Angeles and prevented the contest from heading to overtime.

But Kupp wasn’t done yet, with Odell Beckham, Jr. injured and the Rams unable to muster much offense in his absence, LA’s leading receiver took over on the game’s final drive.

The first impressive catch was on a “no-look” pass from Stafford that moved the defender just enough to create an opening, and he and Kupp took advantage to move the ball towards scoring position:

Kupp wouldn’t be denied at the goal line, the Cincinnati Bengals trusted the oft-maligned CB Eli Apple one-on-one in coverage with the savvy receiver—the results were great for Los Angeles and catastrophic for the Bengals. Aaron Donald and the LA defense were able to earn a fourth down stop against Joe Burrow and the rest was history.

The book is not yet written on Cooper Kupp, though it seems clear that a missed opportunity as a rookie paved the path for as clutch as a playoff run as there is for a wide receiver. After missing significant time with an ankle injury last year, can Kupp bounce back and create new memorable moments in 2023 for the Rams?