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Johnny Hekker, punt unit help Rams win field position battle against Bears

INGLEWOOD, Calif. –– In Week 3, Rams punter Johnny Hekker did not punt once against the Bills. Yes, Rams head coach Sean McVay noticed.

"Yes, I was aware of that, given the fact that if we have to punt, usually I'm pissed," McVay said during an Oct. 2 video conference.

Four weeks later, Hekker launched five punts, though McVay probably had a different reaction after seeing their results as the game progressed.

In a Monday Night Football game featuring two of the league's top defenses this season, Hekker gave the Rams' unit an added advantage with all five of those punts landing at or inside the 10-yard line in their 24-10 Week 7 win over the Bears at SoFi Stadium.

"It starts with the other 10 guys on the punt unit," Hekker said during his postgame video conference. "It's not just me out there doing it myself. (Long snapper) Jake (McQuaide) snapped the ball on the money, (defensive back) Nick (Scott)'s giving us great protection calls, making sure that we know what we're doing, and the gunners played their tails off."

Each of those punts landed at or inside the Bears' 10-yard line. In order: 7, 10, 1, 6, and 5.

The Rams' defense took advantage of Hekker's first punt, as the Bears went 3-and-out and were forced to punt from their own 10. In turn, the collective efforts of Hekker, Los Angeles' defense and Nsimba Webster's ensuing 15-yard punt return set up L.A.'s offense near midfield. L.A.'s offense then cashed in on the prime field position with a 7-play, 52-yard drive ending with a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jared Goff to wide receiver Josh Reynolds for an early 7-0 lead.

Hekker and the Rams' defense flipped the field again after the Bears started from their own 10, setting up a scoring drive that began at the Rams' 38 and ended with 22-yard field goal by Sloman.

Starting from their own 1-yard line, it was a similar story for the Bears offense: A 3-and-out forced by the Rams' defense, followed by a scoring drive by the Rams' offense that extended Los Angeles' lead to 17-3.

A 63-yard punt by Hekker led to Chicago's offense starting at its own 6. Again, L.A.'s defense capitalized with cornerback Jalen Ramsey intercepting Chicago quarterback Nick Foles. Set up at the Chicago 39 following the pick, L.A.'s offense converted the takeaway into points with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Malcolm Brown at the end of the ensuing drive. Rams 24, Bears 3 with 7:35 remaining.

"I'm not usually getting off the bench for a punt," Goff said of his celebration after Hekker's longest of the night.

Hekker's final punt put the Bears in a challenging position, needing to 95 yards to potentially make it a one-possession game. The drive ended with a failed 4th and 18 attempt from their own 34.

"Oh, it's exciting," said Rams linebacker Justin Hollins, when asked what it's like to see Hekker pin punts deep like he did Monday night. "We got the best punter in the league and he performs every week. It just feels amazing, because then you get the offense backed up, the whole playbook isn't open, and you can just come off the rock and go make something happen."

With Monday night's performance, Hekker has had 255 career punts inside the 20 in nine NFL seasons.

"He was phenomenal tonight," McVay said during his postgame video conference. "Exactly what we expect. We don't ever take it for granted."

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