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Pharoh Cooper's big returns unlock Rams' offense in rout of Seahawks

Pharoh Cooper's big returns unlock Rams' offense in rout of Seahawks
Pharoh Cooper makes a 53-yard return to the half-yard line against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter, leading to the Rams' first touchdown. (Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images)

Pharoh Cooper showed Sunday why fans made him a leading vote-getter as a return specialist for the Pro Bowl.

Cooper returned a punt 53 yards and consistently gave the offense superior field position in the Rams’ 42-7 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. He averaged 18.3 yards for seven punt returns.

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“All week, we expected some big returns,” Cooper said. “Last week [Seattle] had a few miscues on their punt team, so this week we felt we could attack in that area. The special teams unit did a heck of a job blocking.”

The Rams led 6-0 in the first quarter when Cooper fielded a punt at the Rams’ 46-yard line. He darted his way through the Seahawks before falling just short of the end zone.

“My knee hit the ground and the ball kind of bounced off,” he said. “I thought I was in for a second, but I think I was just short.

“I’m still upset with myself.”

Cooper’s return set up running back Todd Gurley’s first touchdown.

In the second quarter, Cooper set up another touchdown drive with a 26-yard return.

“I was kind of surprised,” Cooper said of punter Jon Ryan’s strategy not to kick away from him. “I knew they were going to try and kick them short to let their cover team get down the field a lot faster, but he kept booting them far and that just kept giving us opportunities to make more plays.”

Cooper, a second-year receiver who also returns kickoffs, took over punt returns early in the season after Tavon Austin muffed several kicks, and it appears he isn’t giving the job back.

“He is getting a great feel in terms of being able to catch the ball clean and understanding how to set things up,” Coach Sean McVay said. “To be able to flip the field consistently, especially with what our punt return unit has done, has been huge for our offense.”

Woods returns

Receiver Robert Woods returned to the lineup after a shoulder injury sidelined him three weeks.

Woods caught a one-yard pass for a touchdown to give the Rams a 27-0 lead in the second quarter and finished with a team-best six receptions for 45 yards.

Quarterback Jared Goff described Woods’ return as “big” for the offense.

“He does a lot of things that kind of go unnoticed in the running game and everything,” Goff said.

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Less is more for Goff

Goff, who was held under 200 yards for the second time this season in last week’s loss to the Eagles and had a costly fumble, didn’t exactly bounce back against the Seahawks’ stingy pass defense, but he avoided making many mistakes.

Goff completed 14 of 21 passes for a season-low 120 yards and two touchdowns, to Woods and Gurley, with an interception.

The interception came on a fourth-and-one play in the second quarter with the Rams on the Seahawks’ 24-yard line. Safety Bradley McDougald tipped the pass and linebacker Michael Wilhoite caught it.

However, Goff’s performance was much improved from Week 3, when he was 22 of 47 with no touchdowns and two interceptions, for a season-low 48.9 passer rating, in a 16-10 loss to the Seahawks.

Goff has passed for 3,503 yards and 24 touchdowns this season, with seven interceptions.

Kupp returns home

Rookie receiver Cooper Kupp played in front of a hometown crowd, and several family members and friends.

Kupp grew up in Yakima, 2½ hours southeast of Seattle, and graduated from Eastern Washington.

“It was nice to be back here; fresh air,” Kupp said. “It felt really good.”

Kupp dropped a short pass on third down in the first quarter. But in the second, he caught a short pass and fought his way to a 15-yard gain that put the Rams at the Seahawks’ one-yard line. Gurley scored on the next play to take a 20-0 lead.

Kupp finished with two catches for 21 yards. He has caught a team-high 58 passes for 804 yards and four touchdowns. He moved into second place on the Rams’ all-time rookie receiving yardage list behind Eddie Kennison, who amassed 924 yards in 1996.

Zuerlein still in lead

Greg Zuerlein, who kicked field goals from 36 and 31 yards and made four of five extra points, still leads the league with 158 points, averaging 11.3 per game.

Zuerlein has made 38 of 40 field-goal attempts and 44 of 46 extra-point kicks this season.

Challenges

McVay challenged two calls, won both and was awarded a third challenge.

In the first quarter, McVay threw his red flag to challenge a 23-yard reception by tight end Jimmy Graham, who appeared to fumble as he was tackled. Officials had ruled the play a catch but after the review, the call was changed to an incomplete pass.

In the fourth quarter, Seahawks receiver Paul Richardson appeared to catch a short pass. McVay challenged and the call was reversed as officials ruled the pass incomplete.

Silencing 12th man

McVay positioned speakers on the practice field this week to prepare for the crowd noise at one of the NFL’s loudest stadiums. On Sunday the Rams were flagged for only one false-start penalty. Communication did not appear to be an issue.

“When we started scoring early and often you could start feeling it kind of dull down a little bit,” offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said.

By the fourth quarter, with a 42-7 lead, Saffold said the crowd wasn’t a factor.

Heads-up play

The Rams might have lost a fumble if not for offensive tackle Rob Havenstein, who came back from a knee injury suffered in last week’s loss.

On the second-to-last play of the first half, Goff dropped back to pass and was stripped of the ball by defensive end Frank Clark. For what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a second, the ball lay on the turf. That’s when the 328-pound Havenstein leaped on it like a wrestler jumping from the top ropes.

“The crowd was going nuts, so I was kind of wondering what was going on behind me,” Havenstein said. “I turned around and the ball was kind of sitting there perfectly still.

“I was like, ‘Is that live?’ So I just jumped on it. Had to get to it somehow. It was like it was happening in slow motion. You’ve got to play to the echo of the whistle. Jump on it and see what happens.”

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