SEATTLE — When he returned to play football in Washington again Thursday night, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp just did what he does wherever he goes.
The Davis grad turned in another strong performance, producing enough to become the NFL's leader in receptions with 41, and yards with 505 for the season. Those numbers demonstrate Kupp's remarkable consistency through the season's first five games, but that's not to say it was just an ordinary business trip to CenturyLink in front of a large group of family and friends.
"I never want to say I feel like I treat a game bigger than anything else in terms of my preparation and anything like that," Kupp said, pausing to give a brief smile. "But it’s nice to get off the plane and feel that Northwest air. A little brisk. It felt good."
Kupp played a key role with two catches for 20 yards on what looked like a game-winning drive right up until the point when typically reliable kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard field goal. As might be expected from one of the league's best route runners and a three-time academic All-American at EWU, Kupp said failure to execute the "little things" throughout the game cost Los Angeles more than one bad play in a 30-29 loss.
He spent an unusual amount of time on the sideline in the first quarter as Los Angeles leaned heavily on running back Todd Gurley in a two wide-receiver set. Quarterback Jared Goff struggled when asked to throw, completing just two of his first eight passes.
"When you do get in there you don’t want to feel like you’re now trying to figure out what’s going on with the game," Kupp said. "Try to get a feel for what guys are doing and then while you can see from the sidelines, be able to communicate what you’re seeing out there, how you’re attacking, what kind of releases are working for you."
A switch to more of an air attack paid off immediately and Kupp looked ready to go, when he caught a 25-yard pass from Goff for the third straight completion of at least 12 yards, setting up a field goal. Los Angeles and Kupp hit their stride on a touchdown drive in the final two minutes, which included three Kupp catches, capped off by a nine-yard touchdown reception.
He created enough space near the end zone on a crossing pattern to catch a second touchdown in the final quarter that would have put the Rams up by eight points. But Goff's third down pass sailed over the head of the 6-foot-2, 208-pound wideout, forcing the Rams to settle for a field goal.
Kupp caught a screen pass and multiple balls over the middle with room to run out of the slot, helping him take over as the NFL's leader in yards after catch for non-running backs. The tendency to seek out any extra yards he can find mirrors his relentless work ethic that has drawn rave reviews from Yakima to Eastern Washington to LA.
It helped him recover with astonishing speed from a torn ACL suffered last November 11 in a 36-31 win over Seattle. Nine months later, Kupp returned to full speed even stronger than before, an achievement Cooper's father, Craig Kupp, attributed to a collaborative effort between his son, the surgeon, trainers and coaches.
"I'm just so happy with how it turned out," Craig Kupp said. "Just so blessed that he’s come back and his top speed’s faster than what he had before the injury."
Kupp also knew when to go out of bounds and avoid hits in the fourth quarter, including on an over-the-shoulder catch for 26 yards, his biggest gain of the night. When Goff needed to pick up yards quickly with his team down by one after the two-minute warning, he turned frequently to his favorite target in third-down and red zone situations.
Another impressive night gave Kupp's family, friends and fans plenty to cheer for once again, despite the loss. Mark Millsap, an Eastern Washington fan from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, made the drive over and wore the No. 18 Kupp jersey he bought last season.
"He just looks like he's a hard worker," Millsap said before the game, noting he admired Kupp when he saw him play several times on the red field in Cheney.