TAMPA, Fla. – Throughout a record-setting regular season, all Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp cared about was doing his job in order to help the team succeed. It did not matter how many receptions, receiving yards or receiving touchdowns he had – in Week 18, he would've been content spending more time blocking defensive ends to spring running back Sony Michel for big runs if it meant a Rams win.
So it was rather fitting that when the Rams needed a big play with an NFC Championship berth on the line Sunday afternoon, they got it on via one that normally does not reward the player who runs the route Kupp ran, with that route designed to help the other receivers.
"We call it 'love of the game route,' because you're really trying to just draw coverage, but (Stafford) was able to read my body language and put the ball in the right spot for us," Kupp said.
"You're never really getting the ball," Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "You're just clearing out some area, working for some other routes."
With a Cover-0 blitz bearing down on him, Stafford lofted the ball to Kupp for a 44-yard completion, subsequently clocking the ball with four seconds left to set up the game-winning field goal by kicker Matt Gay in a 30-27 Rams victory at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs had tied the game at 27 with a 9-yard touchdown run on 4th and 1 from the Rams 9-yard line by running back Leonard Fournette, but the 46 seconds left gave the Rams plenty of time to mount a game-winning drive. Although Stafford took a sack on first down, he fired a 20-yard pass to Kupp to move the Rams to their own 44 on the following play, then hit Kupp on that perfectly-placed ball deep downfield that led to Gay's 30-yard field goal.
"It felt like that ball hung up for about 12 seconds," Rams head coach Sean McVay said. "But those guys did a great job."
Kupp's 183 receiving yards accounted for exactly half of Stafford's 366 passing yards, and his nine receptions nearly one-third of Stafford's 28 completions. The duo also connected for another explosive play earlier in the contest when Stafford hit Kupp for a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown that put Los Angeles up 17-3 early in the second quarter; prior to the play, Kupp had managed just one catch for 17 yards in the first quarter.
In the regular season, that rapport contributed greatly to Stafford tying Kurt Warner's franchise single-season record with 41 passing touchdowns and Kupp becoming the NFL's fourth receiving triple crown winner since 1970, which included breaking Isaac Bruce's franchise single-season receiving yards record.
On Sunday, it delivered in the biggest moment of the season yet.