Two knee surgeries in six months. Sidelined for nearly all of training camp. Unable to play the first six games.
Not the season Rams receiver Van Jefferson envisioned.
But last week, the third-year pro put disappointment behind him when he caught a game-winning touchdown pass against the Las Vegas Raiders.
With 10 seconds left, Jefferson beat press coverage and grabbed a pass from quarterback Baker Mayfield to finish a 98-yard scoring drive that helped end the Rams’ six-game losing streak.
It was the biggest play of the season by Jefferson, one of several made by a group of receivers that has seized opportunity in the wake of season-ending injuries suffered by star Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson.
Jefferson, Ben Skowronek and Tutu Atwell had key catches in the 17-16 victory over the Raiders that could give the Rams momentum going into Monday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
“We just took it upon ourselves to up our game and do whatever we can to make plays and do whatever we can to help the quarterback,” Jefferson said.
Receiver Brandon Powell also made significant contributions in the last few games.
“Big-time opportunity to step up,” offensive coordinator Liam Coen said of the receivers, “and they have.”
Said coach Sean McVay: “You’re seeing that growth take place right in front of your eyes.”
The Rams’ Ben Skowronek (18) makes a key reception late in the game against Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs (39).
(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
Last season, Jefferson played through a left knee issue and caught 50 passes, six for touchdowns. He emerged as a deep-ball threat and averaged 16 yards per catch.
After the Rams won Super Bowl LVI, Jefferson had surgery with the goal of returning for training camp and joining Kupp and Robinson as starters. But after a few days of practice at UC Irvine, Jefferson underwent another procedure on the same knee.
Jefferson did not return until an Oct. 30 games against the San Francisco 49ers — and he got no targets. The next week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was wide open over the middle, but a pass embarrassingly bounced off his chest.
That is what made the game-winning touchdown catch against the Raiders so sweet.
“Everything I’ve been through, everything that’s transpired till now, it was a tough process,” he said. “Knowing I can do this and I can play — it’s an awesome feeling.”
Atwell and Skowronek also had receptions during the game-winning drive.
Atwell’s eight-yard catch on the second play moved the ball to the 10-yard line. It was a career-best fifth reception of the game for the 2021 second-round pick, who had no catches as a rookie and only six this season before his breakout against the Raiders.
“It’s awesome to watch his growth and maturation,” McVay said, “and his comfort and confidence and his play swagger.”
Nothing new, Atwell said.
“I just needed an opportunity to do my best and show people what I can do,” he said.
The Rams’ Baker Mayfield (17), Tutu Atwell and Brian Allen (55) celebrate during their game against the Raiders.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)
After two penalties against the Raiders — one that nullified an interception — Skowronek outleaped a defender and caught a pass for a 32-yard gain.
It was the biggest play of the season for Skowronek, a 2021 seventh-round pick who has been utilized this season as a receiver, fullback, and in other hybrid roles.
Skowronek, 6 feet 3 and 224 pounds, said he prided himself throughout his high school and college careers on his ability to use his frame and strength to make contested catches in the air.
“I had a couple opportunities last year that didn’t necessarily go my way,” he said. “I think that was one of my first this year to be able to go up in a 50-50 situation and come down with it.”
Skowronek added an eight-yard catch — his career-best seventh reception of the game and 38th of the season — before Mayfield spiked the ball to stop the clock.
On the next play, Mayfield connected with Jefferson for a touchdown.
Jefferson and the other receivers reveled in the victory, but they are looking ahead to playing against the Packers and aim to build on their performance against the Raiders.
“It was one play that happened on a Thursday,” Jefferson said of his game-winning catch. “Now we’ve got another game on Monday.
“Go make plays on Monday.”
Linebacker Ernest Jones (wrist) was a full participant at practice and will play Sunday, according to the Rams injury report. Edge rusher Leonard Floyd (illness) did not practice but is expected to play. Center Brian Allen (knee) is questionable. Defensive linemen Aaron Donald (ankle) and Marquise Copeland (ankle), linebacker Travin Howard (hip), cornerback David Long (groin) and quarterback John Wolford (neck) are out.
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