With the NFC West already clinched and a home game in the playoffs secured, Rams coach Sean McVay rested several of his starters Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
But one key player needed as many repetitions as possible.
Kicker Sam Ficken.
Ficken is preparing for a critical role as the Rams prepare to host the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday at the Coliseum.
Sunday’s 34-13 loss to the 49ers provided another opportunity for the rookie to gain experience after last week’s turbulent performance against the Tennessee Titans.
Ficken made both of his field-goal attempts against the 49ers.
“Felt more comfortable,” he said. “And more relaxed out there.”
Last week, Ficken missed a 36-yard field-goal try and an extra point — a 33-yard kick — before converting three extra points.
On Sunday, Ficken kicked field goals from 23 and 21 yards and also converted an extra point.
“Today was a great way for Sam to kind of rebound and show what he can really do,” said punter Johnny Hekker, who holds for kicks.
McVay said he planned to stick with Ficken moving forward.
“He did a nice job today,” McVay said. “Made the most of his opportunities.”
Greg Zuerlein, who averaged 11.8 points a game and scored 158 points this season, was placed on injured reserve and underwent back surgery after a Week 15 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
The Rams tried out 12 kickers, including several NFL veterans, and signed Ficken despite a lack of NFL experience.
Special teams coordinator John Fassel said Ficken had the best workout.
But Ficken had no NFL experience aside from some preseason games and had not kicked in a meaningful game since his senior season at Penn State in 2014. He attended a few NFL minicamps in 2015, and went to training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2016 and the Kansas City Chiefs this season.
Ficken had been working at a brokerage firm in Connecticut while preparing for an NFL opportunity.
He said Sunday that game experience has helped his confidence.
“You try as much as you can when you’re kicking on your own to kind of emulate a game, but it’s just not the real thing,” Ficken said. “Every step forward here I think I’m going to get a little more comfortable.”
Hekker said the kicking situation was more fluid Sunday than it was against the Titans and that he, Ficken and snapper Jake McQuaide made adjustments during the practice week.
“Sam was able to give us a couple little technique things that he likes to have in the operation,” Hekker said. “We were able to change a couple of things just to make him more comfortable out there.”
Ficken’s opportunities Sunday were sparse.
Backup quarterback Sean Mannion started in place of Jared Goff and the offense struggled. Hekker punted seven times.
Ficken lined up in the first quarter for a 23-yard attempt after Mannion’s third-down pass to Josh Reynolds from the 49ers’ five-yard line fell incomplete.
His second field goal came after Mannion completed a 50-yard pass to Michael Thomas to put the ball at the 49ers’ three-yard line with one second left in the first half.
“I would have liked to have given him a few more shots,” McVay said. “But I think for him to be able to come in here, definitely improving from the previous week and kind of finished on the same note that he finished off the Tennessee game, so pleased with Sam today.”
Ficken said he kicked enough to find a rhythm and to move on from any jitters.
“I’ve kind of gotten over the hump at this point,” Ficken said. “So a lot of confidence going into next week.”