Sean McVay told us the outcome of the Los Angeles Rams’ Week 18 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers was less important than rest for key starters. Still, Carson Wentz led a much different looking Rams offense and helped take down LA’s NFC West rivals 21-20. Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, Cooper Kupp, Kyren Williams, and Ernest Jones watched from the sidelines while the usual reserves kept the game close.
While the usual stars were not on the field, there were a handful of players that stood out in positive and negative ways:
Sean McVay, Head Coach
McVay proved resting key players was the correct decision, and the Rams somehow emerged from this game with a win and the sixth seed. They never put Stafford, Donald, Williams, etc. at risk and still were able to defeat the 49ers.
Meanwhile Jalen Hurts injured his finger for the Philadelphia Eagles and will be surrounded by uncertainty heading into wildcard weekend. Rookie phenom Sam LaPorta injured his knee and could miss time for the Lions—an absence that could loom large in the Rams’ next game.
Carson Wentz, QB
The broadcast announced that Wentz’s 17 carries were the most by a Rams quarterback since 1950. This was his only start for this franchise, and McVay’s offense looked much different with Wentz under center.
Wentz flashed all the talent we knew he had, though there were come inconsistencies and missed opportunities at times. Still, we have to appreciate that Wentz was signed late into the season and considering the context this was an impressive debut.
The veteran QB completed 17 of 24 passes for 163 yards, two touchdowns, along with an interception. He rushed 17 times for 56 yards and a score while Rams running backs had 18 attempts.
His most impressive throws of the day came on a fourth down to rookie TE Davis Allen and an early touchdown to Puka Nacua.
A successful Carson Wentz QB draw is just the icing on the cake today pic.twitter.com/G90lsqCnDU— Life of a Philly Fan (@PhillyFanLife) January 8, 2024
Russ Yeast, DB
Starting safety Jordan Fuller was ruled out of the game with an ankle injury, which plagued him over the practice week. Yeast came into the game and made his presence felt—and he was a key reason why the Rams came out on top of this matchup. He made two major pass breakups by hitting receivers at the perfect moments late in the game on downfield throws. San Francisco easily would have been in field goal position if either of those throws were completed.
Russ Yeast might've made the 2 biggest plays for the Rams today holy— Sosa Kremenjas (@QBsMVP) January 8, 2024
Puka Nacua, WR
It took two and a half quarters, but Puka Nacua secured the rookie receiving records for most catches (105) and most yardage (1,473) in a player’s first season. His touchdown came against San Francisco’s best CB in Charvarius Ward.
While critics will point out that Matthew Stafford is a receiver “king maker” and helped catapult historic seasons for Calvin Johnson and Cooper Kupp, Nacua still looked like the best offensive player on the field with Wentz under center.
Puka Nacua has broken the all-time rookie receiving yardage record that has stood for 63 years— PFF (@PFF) January 7, 2024
1,473 YARDS pic.twitter.com/QucOpX7Nue
Ronnie Rivers, RB
Rivers has been a joy to watch over the last couple of preseasons. We haven’t seen him involved much over the regular season because he suffered an injury in the same game as Kyren Williams earlier this year against the Arizona Cardinals.
This was the longest look we’ve had at Rivers, and he did not disappoint. He carried the ball 13 times for a career-high 52 yards (4.0 average). Rivers consistently found more yards than were seemingly available based on blocking. He runs a lot tougher than he looks with his slight frame.
Brett Maher, K
Maher wasn’t an abomination in this game, but he did miss one of his two extra point attempts. You’d want to see his confidence high heading into the postseason; however, he did little to improve his job security and the Rams should keep their options open this week. If Dustin Hopkins is healthy for the Cleveland Browns, they may be able to sign Riley Patterson off their practice squad. It’s a situation worth monitoring.
Zach Evans, RB
I was excited coming into this game to get an extended look at Evans, who has effectively been given a redshirt rookie year. Rivers took the bulk of the work at running back. Royce Freeman also had four rushes to Evans’ single attempt.
How far behind is the rookie in the NFL learning curve to not play him in a game where the outcome is not important to the coaching staff, which they told us was the case by resting key starters?