Rookie safety John Johnson III makes a splash in first start with Rams

Rookie safety John Johnson III makes a splash in first start with Rams
Rams safety John Johnson III steps in front of Seahawks tight end Luke Willson to intercept a pass from quarterback Russell Wilson. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Rams rookie safety John Johnson III made his first start, grabbed his first interception and nearly scored his first touchdown in a 16-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

If only he hadn't run out of gas 19 yards short of the goal line at the Coliseum.


Johnson stepped in front of tight end Luke Willson to intercept a pass by Russell Wilson in the second quarter and returned it 69 yards, pausing once for a blocker and then running out of steam, he admitted after the game.

"That's something I have to work on," Johnson said. "I've got to get to the end zone."

The Rams converted the interception into a field goal to take a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.

Johnson, a third-round pick from Boston College, also deflected two passes and made three tackles.

"He made a couple splash plays," coach Sean McVay said, adding, "John's a player that since he's got here, he's continued to grow. He's a player that we have a lot of confidence in and expecting him to continue to improve."

Johnson started in place of Maurice Alexander, a fourth-year pro who was inactive despite not appearing on the injury report all week.

McVay was asked if Alexander did not start because of disciplinary reasons.

"It was nothing disciplinary," McVay said. "It wasn't anything like that. We're always evaluating our personnel and trying to figure out how we can get the best 46 up."

When asked when he found out that he would start, Johnson said, "I had no idea. I prepare like I'm a starter every day."

Johnson's interception return was the longest for a rookie in the NFL since Kansas City Chiefs defensive back Marcus Peters made a 90-yard return in 2015.

Safety Cody Davis, who started in place of injured Lamarcus Joyner, also intercepted a pass thrown by receiver Tanner McEvoy on a trick play. That pick eventually led to a touchdown.

Highs and lows

It was an up-and-down game for Tavon Austin.

He looked spectacular on a 27-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Rams the early lead, but continued to struggle on punt returns. Austin muffed two of them, and one was recovered by the Seahawks.


"I'm a little scarred up right now, but it's all right," said Austin, who has muffed four kicks this season. "Never going to make excuses. Just got to keep working at it day in and day out. Hopefully I can get it back."

McVay replaced Austin with rookie Cooper Kupp after the first miscue Sunday.

But he gave Austin another opportunity after he scored the touchdown.

That's when Austin turned the ball over.

"I'm true to myself and I understand what's going on — I know what's up, " Austin said, adding, "It's just a mental thing for me right now. I just have to keeping getting better and better and I'll be all right."

Asked if Austin would continue to be the punt returner, McVay said, "We will go back after this game and evaluate some of those things moving forward."

Austin rushed for 27 yards in six carries and caught three passes for 14 yards.

Fewer touches

Running back Todd Gurley was averaging nearly 27 touches per game. Against the Seahawks, he had 16.

He rushed for only 43 yards in 14 carries and caught two passes for seven yards.

"You can't get the ball every time," he said, adding, "I've got to do a better job of just going out there and just making plays.

"If I make plays, then I will get the ball."

Said McVay: "We know what a special player Todd is, but given some of the things that they were presenting, we felt like there were some other chances with some different things, but nothing that Todd wasn't doing."

Mr. Automatic misses

It was a good run while it lasted.

A week after Greg Zuerlein kicked seven field goals in a win over the Dallas Cowboys, he missed one of two attempts against the Seahawks.

Zuerlein kicked a 35-yard field goal in the second quarter to give the Rams a 10-0 lead, then missed a 36-yard attempt in the third quarter with the score tied at 10.

He has made 15 of 16 field-goal attempts this season.

The Times' Sam Farmer and Lindsey Thiry discuss the Rams loss to the Seattle Seahawks and the team's future. Can they keep Los Angeles' attention with their next home game at the Coliseum more than a month away?

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Twitter @LindseyThiry