Los Angeles Rams rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua made quite the first impression in his NFL debut Sunday afternoon.

Just one day after the team put its star receiver, Cooper Kupp, on injured reserve, Nacua caught a team-high 10 passes for 119 yards as the Rams went on the road and beat the Seattle Seahawks 30-13.

Nacua, the fifth-round draft pick out of BYU, was targeted a team-high 15 times by Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford.

“This is football heaven for me,” Nacua told reporters after the game, a contest in which the visiting Rams scored the game’s final 23 points. “Everything, the game, the way it went, being able to come back in the second half and continually build on the pieces I felt we were building in the first half and just continue to execute the when we needed to.”

The effort had historical significance to it:

  • Nacua become just the fourth player in NFL history with 10 receptions and over 100 receiving yards in his first career game, per ESPN Stats, along with Keke Coutee (2018), Anquan Boldin (2003) and Sid Banks (1964).
  • Nacua’s receiving total was the most for a Rams rookie in their NFL debut — for context, Kupp had 76 yards in his receiving debut, per the team.

Stafford threw for 334 yards to lead Los Angeles, and fellow wide receiver Tutu Atwell added six catches and 119 yards.

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Puka Nacua draws praise from new teammate Cooper Kupp, LA Rams head coach Sean McVay

Rams coach Sean McVay said he wasn’t surprised to see Nacua and Atwell, a third-year wideout with 298 career receiving yards entering the contest, step up in a big situation with Kupp not an option.

“I’m so proud of those guys but I am not surprised. That’s what Tutu Atwell had been doing going months back and I thought he really started to play with a lot of confidence towards the latter part of last year when he got his opportunities that were earned,” McVay told reporters.

“Puka Nacua’s come in and he’s as mature a rookie I have ever been around. He is a physical, tough, strong player. He’s got a great way about himself.

“Both of those guys stepped up.”

Nacua, who prepped at Orem High and started his college career at Washington before transferring to BYU, had five catches for 71 yards in the first half. 

That included a 16-yard catch when the Rams faced a second-and-goal situation from the Seahawks’ 17 after a block in the back moved the ball back 10 yards two snaps earlier. 

On the grab, Nacua caught a quick out from Stafford, then spun away from a defender’s tackle attempt and raced toward the pylon before being dragged out at the 1.

“What a play on second-and-17 by Matthew and Puka to get it down to the 1-yard line,” McVay said.

That set up Los Angeles’ first score on the next play, a 1-yard run by Kyren Williams.

In the third quarter, Nacua had a pair of critical receptions on a Rams touchdown drive. The first was a 5-yard grab to convert a third-and-4, and the second a 11-yard catch on second-and-10 to move the ball near midfield.

With the Rams trying to build on their 24-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Nacua came up big again. 

Los Angeles faced a third-and-8 from its own 27, and on the play, Seattle put heavy pressure on Stafford, who was able to get a pass away near midfield.

Nacua hauled in the pass near the sideline with a defender in tight coverage, then was able to get both feet inbounds for a 21-yard catch, his longest of the day.

“That one late in the game to Puka on the sideline was a pretty good shot, moving in the pocket a little bit and he did a great job winning at the top of the route,” Stafford said. “I had to throw that one to a spot early and he did a nice job catching it.”

McVay complimented his quarterback for the poise he showed on the play to stand strong in the pocket and deliver the throw.

“He sat in there and delivered it. There was a rush bearing down on him and he’s our guy,” McVay said about Stafford.

That reception helped set up Seattle’s final score of the day, a 54-yard field goal.

Stafford and Nacua nearly connected for a touchdown as well.

One play before that field goal, Nacua beat his man on a third-and-5 at the Seattle 35 and Stafford threw long to the wide receiver down the left sideline, but the pass landed just out of Nacua’s reach near the goal line.

There will be other opportunities to make those kinds of plays in the future, though, after Nacua showed a clear connection with his veteran quarterback.

“Puka Nacua, what a grown man he was today,” McVay said.

While Nacua lamented a few times when his targets didn’t work out, he was still focused on the most important thing.

“The Rams won, so that’s a perfect game plan for me,” he said.