How did Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp look in their first game together?
The former BYU star and the 2021 NFL receiving triple crown winner accounted for the lion’s share of receiving production for the Rams in a loss to the Eagles
One of the bigger revelations in the early portion of the 2023 NFL season has been the emergence of Los Angeles Rams rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua.
Nacua has become not just one of the top first-year wideouts in the league — his production has the former BYU star and Utah native among the NFL’s leaders in multiple receiving categories.
On Sunday, he finally had the chance to play alongside one of the league’s top wide receivers, Cooper Kupp, who missed the Rams’ first four games while on injured reserve as he rehabbed from a hamstring injury.
The pair work together well.
“It’s fun being out there with him, just the joy and excitement he has playing this game,” Kupp told reporters, about Nacua. “He’s physical, and he has fun out there. It’s fun playing with him, and he’s just going to continue to get better, which is crazy to say, as good as he’s been.”
While the outcome wasn’t what Los Angeles wanted — the Philadelphia Eagles controlled the clock and ultimately the game’s rhythm in a 23-14 Eagles victory at SoFi Stadium — it was clear that Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford had plenty of targets to go around for both Kupp and Nacua.
Kupp, the 2021 NFL receiving triple crown winner, had a team-high eight receptions for 118 yards on 12 targets in his first game since mid-November 2022 — a different injury caused him to miss the back half of last season.
Nacua, meanwhile, added seven receptions for 71 yards and a 22-yard touchdown reception on 11 targets.
For the first-year Nacua, “the game comes easy, and it flows kind of naturally, being able to ask questions” with Kupp out there, he told reporters.
Kupp and Nacua were on the receiving end of 85% of Stafford’s 222 passing yards against Philadelphia.
Even though the Rams offense “stalled out,” as Kupp put it, in the second half there were some positives to take away from the loss.
“It was good,” Kupp said, per the team’s website, of getting back out on the field. “I mean, I think there’s some stuff, just processing, seeing the field, seeing what defenses are doing, and then just being able to react to it, there’s a few things that I’m sure I’m going to be looking at tomorrow and just feel like, ‘man, this should’ve happened a little bit faster.’ But it did feel good to be out there playing football again.”
Kupp caught five passes for 56 yards on the Rams’ opening possession, which ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to fellow receiver Tutu Atwell. Kupp had six of his receptions for 95 yards in the first half.
Nacua got off to a slower start, but his touchdown reception — one week after his first career TD was the game-winner in overtime — with just 32 seconds remaining in the first half gave the Rams a short-lived lead.
“(Stafford) told me in the huddle, I’m going to give you a chance to be able to make a play,” Nacua said. “They were kind of sitting underneath me earlier in the game, so it was nice to get a vertical route. Whenever No. 9 puts the ball out there, I’ve got to come down with it. He makes it easy.”
That score was set up by Los Angeles’ longest play of the night — a 39-yard Kupp reception.
The veteran Kupp also had his teammates’ back in the third quarter, when Nacua fumbled on a third-down reception near midfield. Kupp recovered the fumble to prevent the Eagles from getting the ball in prime field position.
With Sunday’s effort, Nacua now has a league-high 46 receptions for 572 yards (second in the NFL) and two touchdowns.
The pair will get their next chance to play together next Sunday, when the Rams host NFC West rival Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium.
Kupp emphasized that while not everything went exactly as Nacua may have hoped, he was impressed with the young receiver’s resolve.
“I thought he did a good job responding to stuff, to some plays that he might want back. He’s the same Puka Nacua he’s been the past four weeks, and he put his head down and went back to work,” Kupp said.