NFC Wild Card: Pharoh Cooper's struggles spell doom for Los Angeles Rams vs. Falcons

By Jay Paris, The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 7, 2018 at 4:36 PM
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LOS ANGELES -- Pharoh Cooper threw the Rams for a loop on Saturday night.

There were many reasons why the Atlanta Falcons posted a 26-13 win over the Rams in the NFC wild-card game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. But it's hard to overlook Cooper's struggles and what it meant to an inexperienced team in the playoffs.

Cooper, fresh from being named a first-time Pro Bowl returner, was a bust from the outset against the NFC defending champions.

Cooper and Blake Countess had some issues on the initial punt. Neither was clear on who was going to catch the ball, and when it hit the ground and nicked off Countess, it was clear the ball wasn't going to bounce the Rams' way. The ball did carom toward Cooper, but he was unable to corral it.

Cooper, who was also named an All-Pro, would later fumble another punt. He also juggled a ball and failed to set his feet before netting a short gain.

But it was the first two miscues in the opening quarter that showed these green Rams -- with just six players having playoff experience -- weren't quite ready for prime time.

"Pharoh is a great player that we have a lot of confidence in, and two plays won't define him," Rams head coach Sean McVay said.

But special teams was one area in which the Rams seemed to hold an edge over Atlanta. Instead, Cooper's missteps led to 10 points for the Falcons, and maybe more critically, gave the visiting Falcons a dose of belief while fueling the thought that the Rams were too young to shine.

Atlanta streaked to a 13-0 lead as the Rams looked to unravel quickly.

"Certainly I think (Cooper) wishes he could have a couple of those plays back," McVay said.

Quarterback Jared Goff, another Ram who struggled, didn't point any fingers toward the special teams.

"They've won so many games for us, in particular Pharoh," Goff said. "They have contributed to, and put us in, good field position."

The Rams, though, aren't in the position to play on. Cooper's showing didn't help their cause: an average of 1.8 yards on four punts, with the two miscues, and an average of 20 yards on six kickoffs.

"They started the game off and made some big plays for turnovers and gave themselves a lot of momentum," linebacker Robert Quinn said. "So we were in a tough spot from the jump. The guys kept fighting, but we just didn't make enough plays from the start."

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