When it mattered most, Cooper Kupp again carried the Rams

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp is tackled by Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. after making a 44-yard catch.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp is tackled by Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. after making a 44-yard catch to set up a game-winning field goal in the Rams’ 30-27 playoff win Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The father of Rams receiver Cooper Kupp stands nearly 6 feet 5, and he was teetering on a chair to peer over the people clustered at the front of a suite Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

No one dared breathe.

“We were living and dying in that fourth quarter,” Craig Kupp said.

The Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers miraculously had clawed their way out of a deep abyss to tie the NFC divisional playoff game with 42 seconds left, and the Rams had one final chance to answer.

Then, in five plays sure to be etched in Rams history, quarterback Matthew Stafford drove his team 63 yards to set up Matt Gay’s 30-yard field goal on the final play that secured the 30-27 victory.


After the Rams had blown a 24-point lead, quarterback Matthew Stafford leads final drive with two big passes to Cooper Kupp and Matt Gay kicks deciding field goal on final play.

Jan. 23, 2022

After Stafford was sacked for a one-yard loss — and a fleeting fumble that he frantically recovered — he connected with Kupp on pass plays of 20 and 44 yards to position the Rams for the winning kick.

How poetic that it was Kupp who made those plays, a guy who has carried the Rams this season, becoming just the fourth player since 1970 to finish the regular season with the most catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns to win the league’s “triple crown.”

No catch was bigger than that 44-yarder down the middle.

“Cooper was on a vertical route right down the pipe, and Matthew put great trajectory on it,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Cooper was able to dig out from underneath it, and the rest is history. It felt like that ball hung up for about 12 seconds.”

Ah, yes, 12. Brady’s jersey number. That could have haunted McVay even more than it already does, as the Rams lost the Super Bowl to Brady’s New England Patriots three years ago.

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp (10) scores easily after a catch past  Buccaneers corner Carlton Davis (24) in the first half.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) scores easily after a catch against Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis (24) in the first half.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians told reporters they planned to blitz Stafford on that fateful final pass but that wasn’t communicated to the entire defense, resulting in the busted coverage.


Before that, though, it was uneasy is the head that wears the crown because even though Kupp scored a 70-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he had an uncharacteristic fumble in the third that helped fuel Brady’s comeback.

“It’s obviously tough,” Kupp said of the fumble. “It’s an inevitable part of this game. No one has played this game and not had one of those. You felt like you let your team down, put the defense out there in a terrible spot. Never want to do that. Literally on the sideline before we go on that drive we’re preaching, ‘Ball security. Ball security. Ball security.’ That kind of started the slow trickle of what our offense turned into.”

The Rams’ playoff win over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers has set up an NFC championship game for the ages between the Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.

Jan. 23, 2022

But his chance for redemption would come, and he took full advantage. He finished with nine receptions for 183 yards, something of a routine day of work for a player the Rams — and many others — argue should be the league’s most valuable player. A receiver has never won that honor in the Super Bowl era.

“The way he produces in clutch moments for our team is incredible and something that can’t be praised enough,” punter Johnny Hekker said. “The guy just works tirelessly. Never for self-glorification but for the team.”

The last time the Rams got this far, Kupp was a spectator. He was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament when his team made its march to the Super Bowl in 2018.

“That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through,” he said. “One part of me was completely and fully invested in pulling for my guys and wanting to see them achieve success, achieve the pinnacle of success.


“And then on the other side, fully and completely wanting to be a part of it and not being able to. It can tear you apart a little bit. I think I would have the appreciation for this, regardless, but I know what the other side of this is. I have a ton of appreciation for every snap I get to play this great game.”

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 30-27 NFC divisional playoff victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

Jan. 23, 2022

Meanwhile, his parents were watching from a suite rented by Kelly Stafford, the quarterback’s wife. Craig Kupp must have been eight feet tall standing on that chair, and by game’s end felt even taller.

“We went from euphoria, to ‘What the heck’s going on here?’ and back to euphoria,” he said.

Afterward, he was basking in the afterglow. Among the greatest moments in a parent’s life.

“We have four kids,” Craig said. “And this makes the top five.”

Kupp was about eight feet tall standing on the chair. At game’s end when he stepped off it, he was even taller.