Rams' new kicker starts off on wrong foot but finishes strong against Titans

Sam Ficken started the week working at a brokerage firm in Connecticut, having never played in a regular-season NFL game.

He ended it as a division champion in the Rams’ 27-23 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.

But the kicker’s performance wasn’t without struggle, leaving the Rams in a position to evaluate the future.

Ficken won a tryout to replace Greg Zuerlein, the Rams’ “Mr. Automatic” and the NFL’s leading scorer. And the rookie overcame a disastrous start, missing an extra point and a field goal in the first quarter before settling into a rhythm.

“He found a way to respond and came away being able to make the rest of the opportunities that he did have,” coach Sean McVay said.

Ficken finished by making three extra points. The rookie also handled kickoffs.

“With this being my first game here I’d like to come in and obviously have a clean start,” Ficken said. “But that didn’t happen and we worked through it.”

Middle linebacker Alec Ogletree praised Ficken’s resiliency.

“He came back, he kicked at the end of the game, you couldn’t ask for anything better,” Ogletree said. “It was a tough situation to step in like that, but he didn’t blink — just how [McVay] preaches to us every week.

“He earned his respect, and hope to continue to use him. And he’ll get better for sure.”

As the Rams turn to a regular-season finale against the San Francisco 49ers and begin to prepare for their first playoff appearance since 2003, it remains uncertain how long Ficken’s run with the team will last.

McVay said the position will be evaluated.

The Rams signed Ficken last Wednesday after Zuerlein was placed on injured reserve because of a back injury that required surgery.

Ficken was among 12 kickers, including several veterans, who tried out.

Special teams coordinator John Fassel said that Ficken had the best workout, and that a lack of NFL experience could bend in his favor because he had no “mental scars.”

But Ficken had not kicked in a meaningful game since he played at Penn State in 2014. He attended a few NFL minicamps in 2015, went to training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016 and the Kansas City Chiefs this season.

Ficken acknowledged Sunday that there were some nerves when he took the field.

“It was just a little rust or first-game jitters,” Ficken said, adding, “It was good to kind of finish out the day making a couple and kind of getting my feet under me.”

Regardless of the kicking situation, quarterback Jared Goff said the offense knew it would need to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals to defeat the Titans.

But the Rams left as many as seven points on the board as a result of kicking.

Their opening drive resulted in a turnover on downs instead of the usual long field-goal attempt when punter Johnny Hekker took the field on fourth down. Hekker faked the punt and threw a pass to Mike Thomas in the end zone, but the pass was thrown short and fell incomplete.

The following series, Todd Gurley rushed three yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a 6-0 lead, but Ficken’s extra-point attempt from 33 yards missed wide right.

And Ficken’s luck didn’t improve on the ensuing drive when he came on to attempt a 36-yard field goal after Goff was sacked. The kick looked good off of his foot, but drifted and bounced off the right upright.

“The first one moving the way it did, I would say just [I] rushed it,” Ficken said. “But the second one, I actually thought it was a pretty good hit, maybe my alignment was off.”

Hekker, who also holds on kicks, said that Ficken remained confident despite the initial miscues, and that teammates offered encouragement.

“I told him to just treat his next kick like it was his first kick,” Hekker said. “And he had the fortitude to hang in there.”

Ficken found a rhythm in the second quarter. He followed another Gurley touchdown with an extra point, and repeated in the third quarter after Sammy Watkins caught a touchdown pass to give the Rams a 20-13 lead.

Ficken finished with an extra point in the fourth quarter to make it a four-point game after Cooper Kupp caught the game-winning, 14-yard touchdown pass.

“I knew he needed to warm up a little bit and get him a little loose,” Goff said, adding, “He finished up out there for us pretty good.”

lindsey.thiry@latimes.com

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