MINNEAPOLIS – Brandon Powellwalked up to the podium to conduct his postgame press conference with a football cradled in his arm.
If you had been sitting at home uncertain about your football future three months earlier, you wouldn't want to let go of a gameball rewarding you for your performance in a big game, either.
The Rams wide receiver and punt returner had a 61-yard return for a touchdown in the Rams' 30-23 win over the Vikings on Sunday, a pivotal play in a game that helped the Rams clinch a spot in the playoffs. It was the Rams' first punt return for a touchdown since 2015, and first non-offensive and special teams touchdown of this season.
"It's going to be with me 'til we get back to L.A.," Powell said. "I'm probably going to sleep with that. The hotel get kind of lonely so I'm sticking with this one."
The Rams were clinging to a 3-point lead midway through the third quarter and desperately needed a spark. After linebacker Justin Hollins and safety Nick Scott teamed up for a third-down stop, Vikings punter Jordan Berry kicked the ball 40 yards to the Rams 39, where Powell awaited.
Because defensive back Grant Haley and running back Jake Funk took care of the gunner on the Rams' return team, Powell said all he had to do was catch-and-run.
He caught the ball, then took off up the right sideline and ran untouched into the endzone, finishing off the touchdown run with a somersault into the endzone.
The Rams went up 20-10, and while the rest of the second-half remained tightly contested, it provided a much-needed boost.
"It was a great job," Rams head coach Sean McVay said. "I was very excited. Any time you see a play like that, it's a good reflection of the unit. That's why football is the greatest team sport there is. We were able to get the wall set up perfectly. He goes right down the sideline. I thought Hoecht's block at the end to really finish that out was instrumental and really being able to punch that in. We had to have that. You talk about you could feel it was a three-point game. We were sputtering a little bit offensively. To go back up 10 was big time. What an outstanding job by our special teams, Joe (DeCamillis) and Dwayne Stukes deserve a lot of credit, but mostly those players that make it come to life."
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp isn't surprised by it, given the work ethic he regularly observes from Powell. Kupp said Powell "comes out there with great intention," and is always asking for more responsibilities.
"He's a really good football player, so I was pumped to see him get an opportunity there and make the most of it," Kupp said. "I know that the player that he is, he's not going to be complacent at all. He keeps driving, keeps pushing, so he's a great asset for us."
Three months ago, he was back at his house in Miami, on the beach and reading a book – his "life every day for three weeks," he said.
On Sunday, he was brought into the huddle by Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford before the final kneel-down so the offense could applaud him for the difference he made in the team's victory.
"I've been with B.P. for a while. He was in Detroit with me. He's got great ability, man," Stafford said. "We went to Lambeau (Field) a couple years ago together, and he had a hundred (yards) receiving. He's got great ability in him. Really happy for him to make a huge play in a huge game. A chance to clinch a playoff berth and take the lead back in the division, and Brandon Powell, who's everything that's right about NFL football. A guy who works his tail off. He's bounced around a little bit trying to find a home. Just really happy. Happy for him, happy for his success. Just a huge play in the game."