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Column: Cooper Kupp like Kobe and Tom Brady? Rams receiver closing in on elite comparisons

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown.
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, right, celebrates with teammates after scoring the winning touchdown against the Seahawks in the fourth quarter. Kupp had two TD receptions and has 14 for the season.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Three years ago, as the Rams were preparing for the Super Bowl, their head physician was in the lobby of the team hotel recalling his experiences working with Kobe Bryant and Tom Brady.

Neal ElAttrache spoke of how attentive Bryant and Brady were to details, how they wanted to know everything there was to know about every part of their body, how they were selective with their sources of information.

ElAttrache mentioned there was a Rams player who reminded him of Bryant and Brady.

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The player in question was not a star but, rather, a second-year wide receiver recovering from a knee operation.

The Rams didn’t play their best in a game delayed by COVID-19 issues, but Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp continued their magic in a win over Seattle.

The player was Cooper Kupp.

“Cooper Kupp is like a mad scientist when it comes to this stuff,” ElAttrache said at the time.

A comparison that once sounded preposterous is becoming more credible by the week, as the former third-round pick from Eastern Washington is transforming into the kind of performer against whom future receivers will measure themselves.

With nine receptions in the Rams’ 20-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday night, Kupp now has 122 catches, three more than the previous franchise record established by Isaac Bruce.

With 136 yards in the win at SoFi Stadium, Kupp has registered 90 or more yards in each of his last 10 games, breaking a tie with Michael Irvin and Odell Beckham Jr. for the longest streak in NFL history.

“He’s having a fantastic season,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “He’s such a huge part of what we do as a team, not only on offense, he’s back there catching a bunch of punts for us on special teams. I’m just happy I get to play with a guy like that. I know a lot of guys on our team feel the same way.”

Stafford is the most talented offensive player on the Rams, but Kupp is the most important.

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp stiff-arms Seahawks cornerback Sidney Jones after making a catch in the second quarter.
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp stiff-arms Seahawks cornerback Sidney Jones IV after making a catch in the second quarter. Kupp had nine catches and set a franchise record for catches in a season with 122.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Limited to three points in the opening half, the Rams had trouble beating a destitute Seahawks team, as Stafford started slowly yet again.

The solution was simple: Throw the ball in Kupp’s direction.

Don’t be fooled by how Kupp doesn’t look like a prototypical NFL receiver or by his low-key demeanor.

Kupp is spectacular.

Short, deep, over the middle, near the sidelines, in traffic — wherever Stafford places the ball, Kupp will catch it.

He was a one-man show Tuesday, as he was targeted on 13 of Stafford’s 29 throws.

Kupp caught a 42-yard pass as he was upended by Seahawks safety Ugo Amadi.

He ran past Sidney Jones IV and turned back around to haul in a 32-yard throw from Stafford. Later in the drive, he scored his first touchdown to level the score 10-10, catching a six-yard pass from Stafford a step inside the end zone.

Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp spearheaded a second-half offensive surge to led the Rams to a 20-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday.

The reception was Kupp’s franchise-record-setting 120th of the season.

Kupp was predictably understated about the milestone.

“That’s the first time I [heard] that,” Kupp said after the game. “Obviously, it’s a great honor considering the receivers who’ve come through this organization. So much tremendous respect for the receivers that have come before us. They have set a pretty incredible legacy and just continue to be around too and want to be part of this organization moving forward.”

Kupp scored the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a well-timed crossing route, catching a laser from Stafford in midstride on his way to the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with him,” Stafford said. “Spent a lot of hours watching tape, talking ball and watching him run routes and throw it to him. Got to trust that one. You’ve got to cut it loose early and cut it loose to a spot that I think only he’s going to be able to get to. And it ended [up] being a good spot, and then he caught it and scored.”

Stafford, who was knocked to the turf on the play by Seattle defensive tackle Al Woods, smiled.

“I didn’t get to see a lot of it,” Stafford said. “I was kind of laying down for some of it.”

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 20-10 win over the Seattle Seahawks at SoFi Stadium on Tuesday — scoring and statistics.

Kupp was selected to his first Pro Bowl a day earlier. There should be more honors in his future.

Three games remain in the first 17-game season in NFL history, and Kupp is closing in on a couple of league records set in 16-game seasons: Michael Thomas’ 149 catches in 2019 and Calvin Johnson’s 1,964 receiving yards in 2012.

Kupp is 339 yards short of Johnson’s mark.

“He has an idea of how well he’s playing, but he is truly one of the most humble special players that I’ve ever been around,” coach Sean McVay said. “He doesn’t need all the accolades. ... I think he’s a legitimate candidate for a lot of awards, but he is about our team.”

When the Rams lost to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, Kupp watched from the sideline because of a torn knee ligament that was surgically repaired by ElAttrache.

Kupp is giving the Rams a chance to return to that stage, which will be at SoFi Stadium this season. In doing so, he will have a chance to share a distinction with the two athletes to whom ElAttrache once compared him. He will have a chance to become a champion.


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