He didn’t wear team apparel, and stood in the shadows so he wouldn’t be approached by reporters. The receiver stayed at the margins after suffering a season-ending knee injury.
But Kupp, who doesn’t seek the spotlight anyway, made a triumphant return Sunday as an offensive centerpiece in the passing game.
Kupp was a security blanket for Jared Goff, catching a six-yard pass on the Rams’ first play from scrimmage and reeling in six more receptions over the course of the win.
“To be around the guys is so much fun,” Kupp said. “To be able to come off the field after a game, and feel good about what you put out there, and to be able to come away with a W… It felt great to be back.”
Another critical component to that success is receiver Robert Woods, who led the Rams with eight catches for 70 yards. He might be the team’s most consistent offensive player, the go-to guy when the Rams absolutely need a big catch.
Kupp, however, a third-round pick from Eastern Washington in 2017, is a fan favorite who dealt with devastating disappointment last season.
He sustained a strained left knee when he was dragged down from behind with a horse-collar tackle at Denver on Oct. 14, and wound up missing the next two games.
Returning to the field against New Orleans, he turned a short reception into a 41-yard touchdown. Still, the Rams wound up losing. But the next week he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee on a non-contact injury against Seattle. That ended his season.
That also led to surgery and rigorous rehabilitation to find his way back to the field.
“Just having him back and his overall feel is so tremendous,” Goff said. “I think there are times when I will lean on him and ask him what he’s seeing, and he sees it just like I do. It’s like having another quarterback out there. He has a great feel.”
That doesn’t come easy. It’s a product of relentless repetition and practice.
“Even when things are clicking,” Kupp said. “Even when it looks like things are going well, we’re hitting spots and connecting, it’s still being able to go back and analyze it and say, ` ‘Yes, this worked. How can we make sure we can do it better?’ It’s about not being complacent.”
If Kupp had even a wisp of complacency, it couldn’t have lasted long. He was happily awaiting that first contact.
“It felt fine,” he said. “First play, [Panthers linebacker] Shaq Thompson gave me a little pop and I popped up, gave him a little dap, and we’re good to go.”