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‘It was sweet’: Puka Nacua scores game-winner in latest record-setting effort

The former BYU receiver caught his first career touchdown in overtime for the Rams in a win over the Colts

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Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (17) celebrates the winning touchdown in overtime during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua (17) celebrates the winning touchdown in overtime during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Indianapolis.

Zach Bolinger, Associated Press

Puka Nacua has his first touchdown as a pro — and it was a memorable one.

The former BYU wide receiver caught a 22-yard touchdown pass in overtime to lift the Los Angeles Rams to a 29-23 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

On the play, Los Angeles faced a third-and-4, with the prospect of having to decide going for it on fourth down or kicking a field goal (and giving Indianapolis one possession) if they didn’t convert.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford took the snap in the shotgun, sat in the pocket for a few seconds before delivering a pass to the middle of the field.

Nacua, with the closest defender a few yards away, caught the pass around the Indianapolis 9, then turned upfield, put a juke on Colts safety Rodney Thomas II, then fought pass Indianapolis safety Julius Blackmon and into the end zone.

“It was sweet,” Nacua told reporters, of his first NFL touchdown. “I already called my mom and all my siblings, just constant screaming. I think I screamed for maybe 10 minutes straight.”

“I could tell by the ball, he was trying to hold me in the zone. So I was like, ‘OK, I’m not running through this.’ So then I turned around and was like, ‘Wait, there’s nobody here.’ I just tried to find the end zone, saw the safety coming and made a move on him. I was in shock as well.”

Nacua’s walk-off winner was his ninth reception of the game. He had a career-high 163 yards receiving in the win.

“Great play by Puka,” Stafford said. “… It felt like a little bit of a blown coverage. I felt like I’m looking down the middle going, ‘Man, I’m not seeing somebody in there.’ Threw it a little bit high just thinking that there was somebody standing there — and there wasn’t.

“Happy that he made the play and got it in so we didn’t have to keep going.”

Rams coach Sean McVay said he saw that the Colts brought pressure on the game’s final play, but applauded the effort of his quarterback and wide receiver to connect for the game-winner.

“Matthew put it in a spot for Puka to be able to make another big-time play,” McVay said. “… He was a man today.

“We were calling that to be able to get to the end zone or at least get a conversion, but we were certainly trying not to allow them to even get another possession. Our guys delivered.”

The rookie fifth-round draft pick also passed 500 receiving yards on the season with the TD catch.

He now has 39 receptions for 501 yards through four weeks of the 2023 season — both records for an NFL player through his first four career games, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Nacua is just the second player in NFL history with three 100-plus receiving yard games in three of his first four career games, joining the Bears’ Harlon Hill, who did the same in 1954.

Nacua, who prepped at Orem High, started off his latest big day with a 26-yard reception where the 6-foot-2 receiver tipped the ball to himself and caught it one-handed. That led to a Rams touchdown on their opening possession.

Nacua made several key plays throughout the game:

  • He had five catches for 98 yards in the first half, including the aforementioned 26-yarder, a 7-yard grab on third-and-4 on a touchdown drive, a 26-yarder on another TD drive, and a 32-yard catch on a field goal-scoring drive.
  • Nacua recovered a fumble deep in Rams territory on a drive where Los Angeles scored a field goal.
  • He made a 17-yard reception on a field-goal scoring drive in the third quarter.
  • On the Rams’ game-winning drive in overtime, Nacua had a 20-yard catch on the first play of the possession.

Los Angeles took control of the game early, scoring a pair of first-quarter touchdowns to build a double-digit lead and extending that to 23-0 midway through the third quarter on a trio of Brett Maher field goals.

Indianapolis rallied, though, scoring touchdowns on three possessions out of four — and adding a pair of two-point conversions — to tie the game at 23-23 with just under two minutes to play in regulation.

Even after losing the momentum, though, Los Angeles was able to retake control — and the game — with an eight-play, 75-yard drive on the only possession of overtime, and Nacua started and ended the drive with a pair of catches that totaled 42 yards.

“You come out with the win, that’s the most exciting part,” Nacua said.