With each dropped pass in training camp and the exhibition season, the frustration with Rams receiver Brian Quick grew. It's one thing to be criticized by fans and reporters; it's another when the head coach calls you out, as Jeff Fisher did in August, when he said Quick "needs to catch the football, not drop it."
As much as the words stung, they also lighted a fire under Quick, who went from a fifth-year pro in danger of not making the team to a high-value target who made two acrobatic touchdown catches on Sunday, including the game winner late in the fourth quarter of a 17-13 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
"When someone doubts you, of course you're going to be motivated to prove them wrong, but my teammates still had my back," Quick said. "The thing is, you have to fight. You have to be strong mentally. If [the coaches] feel like things are shaky, that means you have to do things better."
No one was doubting Quick's receiving abilities Sunday, when the 6-foot-3, 218-pounder from Appalachian State used the athleticism and leaping ability he honed as a standout basketball player at Ridge View High in Columbia, S.C., to help the Rams improve to 3-1.
"You can see it," Fisher said of Quick's development. "He's had a really solid couple of weeks on the practice field making those kinds of plays. I think, in Brian's case, the game is starting to slow down a little bit for him. Now, you just go and make those plays."
After a Cardinals defensive holding penalty on third down extended a Rams drive late in the first quarter, quarterback Case Keenum lofted a pass from the Rams' 35-yard-line toward midfield, where Quick made a leaping catch near the left sideline between defensive backs Marcus Cooper and Tony Jefferson.
When Cooper fell down and Jefferson overran the play, Quick sprinted about 50 yards down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown play that gave the Rams a 7-0 lead with 1 minute 59 seconds left in the quarter.
"I had to be strong," Quick said of the catch. "Case threw a heck of a ball, and I had to make a play. I grabbed it and finished."
With the Rams trailing, 13-10, in the fourth quarter, Tavon Austin returned a punt 47 yards, and a facemask penalty on Arizona's Ifeanyi Momah tacked on 15 yards to the end of the play, giving the Rams a first down on the Cardinals 19-yard line with 5:09 left.
Five plays later, on a second and goal from the four, Quick went in motion — running left to right — and leaped over Cooper to catch a quick out pass with 2:36 left, giving the Rams a 17-13 lead.
"We knew they were gonna play man coverage on second down, we saw that coming, and the coaches made a great call," Quick said. "Case made a great throw, and I had to step up and make a play for the team."
The common denominator of both touchdown catches: Quick's hops.
"That's a basketball player at heart," Austin said of Quick. "He really likes basketball better. I'm always on him about that. 'No one can jump with you.' And it showed today. Nobody can jump with that man."
Quick, a second-round pick in 2012, caught 25 passes for 375 yards in the first seven games of 2014 before suffering a shoulder injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season. Still bothered by the injury, Quick started only once in 2015 and caught seven passes for 73 yards on the season.
He signed a one-year "prove-it" contract for $1.75 million before this season, and if not for injuries to rookie receivers Pharoh Cooper and Nelson Spruce, Quick might have been released during camp.
But with his 44-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of last week's 37-32 win at Tampa Bay and his two huge touchdown catches in University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, Quick has solidified his job for now.
"Oh, man, I'm happy for the big guy," Austin said. "That year he got hurt, he was having a tremendous year. It's good for him to get out there and open things up for everybody else."