It was one of the most productive performances by a defensive player in NFL history — and Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam produced it on “Monday Night Football” in only his second season.
In a 54-51 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs last season, Ebukam returned a fumble for a touchdown, returned an interception for a touchdown and caused a fourth-quarter interception when he hit Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He also had a sack and a tackle for a loss.
“I don’t want to be known by one particular game,” Ebukam said Monday. “I want to be known by the type of player that I am.”
Ebukam’s will have a high profile Sunday when he starts in place of the injured Clay Matthews against the San Francisco 49ers in an NFC West game at the Coliseum. Consecutive losses to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks dropped the Rams’ record to 3-2.
The 49ers, who beat the Cleveland Browns 31-3 on Monday night, are 4-0.
Matthews, the Rams’ leader with six sacks, suffered a broken jaw in Thursday night’s 30-29 loss to the Seahawks. Coach Sean McVay initially said Matthews would be sidelined for at least a month. On Monday, he said Matthews’ jaw has been wired shut and that he might not return for as many as six weeks.
Ebukam said he is prepared to fill in for Matthews.
“I’m going to do my best to keep the seat warm for him,” Ebukam said. “I know what kind of impact player that he is. Definitely try to do my best just to live up to his reputation.”
Ebukam has been a productive player for the Rams ever since they selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft.
As a rookie, he backed up and learned from veteran Connor Barwin and had two sacks. Last season, Ebukam started 14 games. He had three sacks and six tackles for losses while playing through a knee injury that required offseason surgery.
The signing of Matthews, coupled with the Rams re-signing edge rusher Dante Fowler to a one-year, $12-million contract, pushed Ebukam into a rotational role.
Matthews, 33, is an 11-year veteran and six-time Pro Bowl selection. He amassed 83½ sacks and won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers.
“That’s like a future Hall of Famer that they put in front of you,” Ebukam said.
Ebukam was held out of offseason workouts while he rehabilitated from surgery, but he studied and learned from Matthews during meetings. Once training camp began, he worked alongside him on the field.
This season, Ebukam has nine tackles. He also has forced and recovered a fumble.
How to “play more free” is one of the lessons Matthews imparted by example, Ebukam said.
“He kind of like goes against a lot of the rules because he just already knows what’s going to happen on the offensive side of the ball,” Ebukam said. “So I’ve just got to make sure I’m able to do the same thing and have an impact just like he did.”
Rams players lamented the loss of Matthews but said Ebukam is ready to step up.
“It’s unfortunate for Clay — how much he brings to our team and how well he’s been playing,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Samson will get in there. … We’ll rally.”
Safety John Johnson noted Ebukam’s dual role on special teams, which could be adjusted so that he can focus on linebacker duties.
“It’s big loss,” Johnson said of Matthews being sidelined, “but I think we’ll be just fine.”
Rookie Natrez Patrick and second-year pro Obo Okoronkwo are expected to get more opportunities playing behind Ebukam.
Ebukam said the adjustment to starting would not be difficult.
“It’s a different mind-set because you know that you’re going to be in there like 90% of the time, but I’ve done it before,” Ebukam said. “So I’m comfortable in knowing that I’m going to be able to do it again.”
Linebacker Bryce Hager, who sat out against the Seahawks because of a shoulder injury, is “making really good progress,” but his availability for Sunday’s game is to be determined, McVay said. Safety Taylor Rapp (ankle) is “right on track” and “we expect him to be ready to go” this week, McVay said. … The Washington Redskins on Monday fired coach Jay Gruden, who gave McVay his opportunity to become an offensive coordinator. The Redskins are 0-5 and have not made the playoffs since the 2015 season. McVay said “a lot of the opportunities that I’ve been given in this league” resulted from Gruden’s “willingness to kind of teach me.”