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By Fred Altieri
Sports Reporter 

Rams face Bengals on Monday Night Football

 

September 21, 2023

A promising start and a season home opener couldn't stop the Rams futility streak against NFC West archrival San Francisco 49ers. Los Angeles lost its ninth consecutive regular season game to the Niners, 30-23, before 74,742 fans at

SoFi Stadium, seemingly half dressed in red 49er gear. The Rams stood toe-to-toe for the better part of three quarters on Sunday before turnovers helped seal their fate and first loss of the season.

"I thought it was a high caliber game today. I was really pleased with a lot of different things. You could see the margin for error is really small against a great football team (Niners) like that," said Rams head coach Sean McVay after the game. "Today was a great opportunity for us to be able to learn, to be able to understand where that margin for error is but I love the look in these guys' eyes."

The Rams (1-1) now get an extra day and a slight break preparing for their next match against the stumbling Bengals (0-2) on Monday Night Football, September 25, 5:15 PT at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. The Bengals, a promising preseason pick to compete in the tough AFC North, have suffered mainly due to quarterback Joe Burrow's lingering calf injury. It has limited and affected his mobility, accuracy and throwing deep passes to his talented receiving corps.


The game will feature two of the youngest teams in the NFL, with the Rams having 14 rookies on their roster compared to 10 for the Bengals. Wide receiver Puka Nacua has made a major offensive impact for the Rams, setting several NFL rookie receiving records including most receptions in a single game with 15 and most receptions by a rookie with 25 in his first two games.


Now in his second year running back Kyren Williams leads the team in rushing which has suddenly made 3rd-year back Cam Akers expendable. The team is currently seeking a trade for Akers this week with Williams leading the team in rushing with 104 total yards and three touchdowns, which is tied for the league lead. McVay decided not to play Akers against the Niners, stating that Williams gave the team the best opportunity.

"There's some other teams that have expressed interest, but it is a combination of certain things with him but also some of the things with the confidence we have in Kyren and Ronnie Rivers, Zach Evans and we flexed up Royce Freeman," said McVay. I think sometimes it boils down to, alright, is it a fit? What are some of the best opportunities based on putting together what you think is the best way to circumvent or be able to organize your team?"


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The Rams have a lifetime 7-8 record against the Bengals and are a 2.5-point underdog against Cincinnati. In their last matchup Los Angeles beat the Bengals 23-20 in Super Bowl LVI, with quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and wide receiver Cooper Kupp leading the way. Kupp, who was the game's MVP, has been sidelined this season with a hamstring injury but hopes to return by NFL Week 5.

Also on the injury list is offensive lineman Joe Noteboom (shoulder) who is questionable for Monday's game, tight end Hunter Long (thigh), linebacker Ochaun Mathis (knee), and defensive back Jason Taylor II (groin). Rookie quarterback Stetson Bennett is out with a non-injury related condition. Most notably for the Bengals is Burrow who is questionable with his calf injury.


The Rams and 49ers battled to a 17-17 tie at halftime with Williams scoring two touchdowns in the second quarter. The turning point in the game came late in the third quarter with the Rams driving for the lead. Williams failed to haul in a Stafford pass and it popped into 49er cornerback Isaiah Oliver arms for an interception. Kicker Jake Moody gave the Niners a 20-17 lead with a 57-yard field goal minutes later. Quarterback Brock Purdy then drove the Niners 71 yards in six plays for a 27-17 lead. The Rams fell short with only two Brett Maher field goals in the fourth quarter.

Stafford, who was sacked only once after being sacked 29 times in nine game last season, had praise for his offensive line: "Yeah, did a great job. Kept me clean majority of the night. That's a great front. They started getting aggressive in the second half. We did a great job of kind of undressing their pressures for the most part." Stafford completed 34 passes on 55 attempts for 307 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.


Nacua was targeted 20 times and has become Stafford's primary receiver with Kupp not playing. "If he gets a man matchup, he's winning and doing a great job of separating and catching the ball, making plays after he catches it. If we're in zone, I'm just clicking through progressions, and he was on the front side of a few of them today," said Stafford.

Nacua took his early success in stride during an ESPN postgame interview: ""I'm not really aware of kind of what's going on. But my success will come when the team wins, so I'm excited for us to be able to come back and capitalize when we are able to win. So, it was sweet last week. I got things to improve on, so it's cool and all, but the most important thing is getting that W."


Nacua and wide receiver Tutu Atwell have been performing at a high level in place of Kupp's absence so far. Nacua has a league leading 25 total catches on 35 targeted passes for 266 total yards (ranked 2nd) in the first two games. Interestingly, he has yet to catch a touchdown pass. Atwell is tied for 10th with 13 catches for 196 total yards (ranked 8th). Stafford's only touchdown pass this season has been to Williams.


With the possibility that Burrow may not start against the Rams on MNF, backup quarterback Jake Browning would be on tap. Browning played at Folsom High in California and the University of Washington, where he set numerous school passing records, has only four snaps and one incomplete pass in his short NFL career. That happened in the Bengals final possession in their opening season 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

 

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