Rams’ play vs. Raiders not the only positives, and preseason defeat not the only loss

Rams safety J.R. Reed (36) puts his hands over his facemask while running off the field after he intercepted a pass.
Rams safety J.R. Reed (36) reacts after he intercepted a pass thrown by Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Nathan Peterman during a preseason game Aug. 21 at SoFi Stadium.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Starters do not play in preseason games for the Rams, a policy coach Sean McVay has adopted and adhered to so he can keep key players healthy for the start of the season.

But controlling COVID-19 issues is a tougher task.

On Saturday, hours before the Rams kicked off against the Las Vegas Raiders at SoFi Stadium, they placed punters Johnny Hekker and Corey Bojorquez on the reserve COVID-19 list.

Kicker Matt Gay handled those duties, and he was one of several Rams who made positive impressions in a 17-16 exhibition defeat.

Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins’ two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Harris with 15 seconds left pulled the Rams to within 17-16. But his two-point conversion attempt to Harris fell incomplete.

“I thought that was a resilient effort by our guys,” McVay said.

Rams tight end Jacob Harris can't hang on to a two-point conversion pass.
Rams tight end Jacob Harris can’t hang on to a two-point conversion pass with Las Vegas Raiders defensive back Dallin Leavitt defending.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Raiders linebacker Tanner Muse (55) reacts as Rams tight end Jacob Harris can't hang on to a two-point conversion pass .
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Last season, the first played with virus protocols, the Rams placed several players on the COVID-19 list. But no starters missed games.

How long Hekker and Bojorquez remain sidelined will be determined in coming days. The Rams play the Denver Broncos next Saturday in a final preseason game, and they open the season Sept. 12 against the Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium.

Hekker, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, is the NFL’s highest-paid punter, carrying a salary-cap number of $4.9 million this season. The 10th-year pro is coming off a 2020 season that he acknowledged was below his standard.

Check out updates ahead of Rams vs. Raiders during Week 2 of the NFL preseason.

Aug. 19, 2021

After the Rams signed Bojorquez during the offseason, McVay said Hekker was the punter and that there was not a competition for the job. But Hekker has said he regards every drill, workout and game as a competition.

In last week’s 13-6 loss to the Chargers, Hekker averaged 45.5 yards for two punts. Bojorquez also punted twice, averaging 43 yards and placing one inside the 20-yard line.


McVay said the situation with the punters “escalated quickly” during Saturday morning’s walkthrough.

“There was a chance that we thought that Johnny might have it, and then when it was confirmed that he did, then Corey ended up being a close contact,” McVay said.

On Saturday, Gay averaged 42 yards for four punts, including one from the end zone. Gay also kicked a 36-yard field goal near the end of the second quarter to give the Rams a 10-7 lead, but his fourth-quarter attempt from 43 yards was blocked, setting up the Raiders’ game-winning touchdown.

Rams running back Jake Funk breaks away from Raiders tight end Matt Bushman.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
Raiders running back Trey Ragas leaps into the end zone to score against the Rams defense on fourth down.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

If Bojorquez returns from the COVID list and performs well, and Gay emerges as a viable backup, would the Rams part ways with Hekker, their longest-tenured player and one of team’s most respected players?


Saturday’s game marked the third time in four days the Rams and Raiders shared the field — their joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday at the Rams’ Thousand Oaks training facility featured numerous scuffles — as rookies, undrafted free agents and other players trying to make the rosters focused on impressing coaches.

Rosters must be trimmed to 80 players by Tuesday. They will be cut to 53 players by Aug. 31.

Perkins, running back Xavier Jones and outside linebacker Chris Garrett all had their moments Saturday.

Perkins, competing with Devlin Hodges for the No. 3 role behind Matthew Stafford and John Wolford, played the entire game. He completed 26 of 39 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns, with an interception. He also rushed for 41 yards.

“I was really pleased with just his poise, his command and composure throughout the course of the game,” McVay said.

The “flow of the game” led to the decision to let Perkins take every snap, McVay said.

“We just kind of had a feel for it during the course of the game,” he said. “Wanted to give him that opportunity, and we’ll see what that looks like for next week.”


Said Perkins: “It was kind of just drive by drive. He’d come up [and say] ‘You’re still going.’ I was just ready when he told me that. Just stay locked in throughout the game.”

Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins scampers for extra yardage before being tackled by Raiders linebacker Asmar Bilal.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Jones showed signs that he might be a capable backup for Darrell Henderson, rushing for 27 yards in five carries during the first half. He would have enjoyed an even better performance had several runs and receptions not been nullified by penalties. He finished with 29 yards rushing in seven carries. Jake Funk rushed for 56 yards in seven carries.

Garrett, a seventh-round draft pick from Concordia-St. Paul, made a big impression in the second quarter. He tipped a pass that was intercepted by defensive back J.R. Reed and also forced a fumble on a sack.

Defensive back Brontae Harris also intercepted a pass that set up Gay’s 43-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter. Raiders lineman Darius Philon deflected the kick wide left.

The Raiders took advantage, quarterback Nathan Peterman connecting with receiver Marcell Ateman for a 29-yard score and a 17-10 lead.



Running back/kick returner Raymond Calais suffered a foot injury that will require surgery, McVay said. ... Receiver Tutu Atwell caught eight passes for 46 yards. ... Tight end Kendall Blanton caught a touchdown pass. ... The Rams were penalized 10 times for 84 yards. ... Rookie defensive lineman Bobby Brown III, a fourth-round pick, made a huge stop in the first quarter, shedding one blocker and pounding a running back in the backfield.