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Special teams turnovers dig Rams an early hole in season-ending loss to Falcons

By in Press Enterprise on January 7, 2018

By Jack Wang

LOS ANGELES — For the past several months, the Rams had themselves an elite special teams unit. They had punter Johnny Hekker, a four-time Pro Bowler. They had kicker Greg Zuerlein, who was on a record-setting scoring pace before a season-ending back injury.

And they had Pharoh Cooper.

Cooper was a revelation for the Rams this season as a returner, earning one of the team’s six All-Pro nods. After a forgettable rookie season, the South Carolina product racked up 932 yards and a touchdown on kickoff returns, and added another 399 yards on punt returns. The 5-foot-11, 207-pound was an X-factor, a player who could break open a game.

In a way, he did.

Cooper played a part in two crucial turnovers at the Coliseum, both of which led to early points for the Falcons in what turned out to be a season-ending 26-13 loss. No, those plays didn’t single-handedly doom the Rams, who managed to enter halftime facing only a three-point deficit.

But they certainly didn’t help either.

“Any time you lose the turnover battle,” Coach Sean McVay said, “you’re going to make it very hard on yourself.”

Saturday night’s wild-card matchup featured teams that led the league in scoring in 2016 and 2017, but it opened with four consecutive three-and-outs. That streak finally broke six minutes in, thanks to wayward punt.

Atlanta punter Matt Bosher sailed the ball just past midfield. But before it hit the Coliseum grass, it tipped off the foot of Rams safety Blake Countess, who would be credited with the muffed punt. From there, it ricocheted off Cooper’s arm, skittering to Los Angeles’ 17-yard line. Several players dove for the ball, but linebacker LaRoy Reynolds secured it.

The Falcons didn’t exactly capitalize, settling for a 29-yard field goal by Matt Bryant. But a lead was a lead, especially in a road […]    

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