Pro Football

Good start, but now the 49ers

THE NINERS have dominated the Rams for years. They meet again this Sunday (Rams file photo).

By Greg Beacham/AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Rams’ commanding victory at Seattle in their season opener was unexpected to just about everybody outside Los Angeles` locker room.

The prolific performances of rookie receiver Puka Nacua and underused Tutu Atwell were even bigger surprises.

And the sturdy, aggressive game from Los Angeles’ maligned offensive line might have been the biggest shocker of all.

“I was most pleased with the way we played as a team, because football is a team sport,” coach Sean McVay said Monday.

McVay got about 24 hours to bask in a 30-13 victory that suggested the Rams are not the rebuilding pushovers many observers suspected they might be this season.

At the very least, the Rams proved they have an offense that can score and control the ball when healthy. Matthew Stafford was outstanding while getting plenty of time to work from his offensive line, and he fed Nacua and Atwell repeatedly in a pair of breakout performances.

Nacua, the 20th receiver taken in this year`s draft, caught 10 passes for 119 yards. Atwell, the second-round pick in 2021 who never got significant playing time from McVay until late last season, made six catches for another 119 yards – both career highs.

“Matthew did an excellent job of getting a handful of players involved,” McVay said. “Our offense is at its best when you get everybody involved and make them defend the full width and depth of the field. … We talk about playing complementary football all the time. I thought that was really on display yesterday.”

The Seahawks managed only two quarterback hits and never sacked Stafford, who shined in his first game back after missing the second half of last season with injuries from the cumulative effect of getting battered by pass rushers. Keeping the 35-year-old quarterback upright is of primary importance this season, and an offensive line with just one addition – rookie left guard Steve Avila, who played well – looked up to the challenge early.

The offense helped out its defense tremendously by managing nearly 39 1/2 minutes of possession, another obvious factor in the Rams` ability to stop the Seahawks. Those successes are difficult to replicate weekly for any team, but Los Angeles` second half in Seattle was remarkably encouraging.

“There’s a whole lot of factors, but I think it’s the defense getting off the grass, offense being able to sustain possessions and convert,” McVay said. “It was truly a reflection of good team football, and it’s what we want to see going forward.”

Those positives might be enough to keep Los Angeles competitive in the NFC West this season, even if this Sunday’s visit from San Francisco is another chapter in the 49ers’ recent dominance over the Rams.

The Rams have lost eight consecutive regular-season meetings with the 49ers, although they also squeaked out a victory in the NFC championship game during that stretch. Kyle Shanahan`s dominance over McVay must irk Los Angeles` competitive coach, but the Niners are a daunting challenge this early in McVay`s quest to build a sustainable winner.

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