On Saturday, the Rams finally returned to Los Angeles, as the NFL's exhibition season got underway for LA's football team after a two-decade long wait. Unfortunately for the home team, the first play of the new Rams era was a 101-yard kick-off return by Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Lucky Whitehead.
The Cowboys offered a high profile opponent with a huge fan base, so their fans clearly contributed to the atmosphere inside and outside the stadium. However, the crowd consisting officially of 89,140 NFL football fans was decidedly in favor of the home team.
Fans from all around Southern California arrived by car, foot and train, as the LA Metro ran trains every six minutes to help transport fans choosing to pay $1.75, rather than spending upwards of $80 on parking at the arena.
"The crowd is amazing, big turnout," Rams linebacker Cameron Lynch said. "This is great. You definitely can't complain."
Usually, Saturdays at the LA Coliseum are reserved for the USC Trojans, but the Rams practiced at their new home a week earlier in front of nearly 30,000 fans and will play their final preseason home game on Saturday, Aug. 20 against the Kansas City Chiefs at the home of the 1984 Olympics.
When the regular season rolls around in September, though, the Rams will take over the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sundays and Mondays only.
Against the Cowboys on Saturday, the Rams' starters struggled to get going beyond the kickoff return touchdown to start the game. The offense went three and out in his first series, as quarterback Case Keenum could gave the ball to the visitors immediately.
In their first offensive possession, the Cowboys rode quarterback Dak Prescott to a touchdown. Prescott, who is a rookie, targeted star wide receiver Dez Bryant, and the physical receiver caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to put the Cowboys up 14-0. Prescott finished 10/12 for 139 yards and two touchdowns in an impressive outing.
While the Rams had not exactly gotten off to the ideal start, Keenum led his offense on an eight-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 14-yard Benny Cunningham rushing touchdown on his second drive.
"It was a great feeling," Cunningham said about scoring the Rams' first touchdown at the Coliseum in a generation. "The O-line did a good job."
NFL Preseason football is effectively a practice game, so coaches work hard to get in backups and try to set the depth chart. As such, the second quarter featured the debut of the no. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
Just like the Rams, Goff got off to a horrendous start. The rookie quarterback's first pass was incomplete. Then, Goff took a hit as he attempted his second pass, and the former Cal quarterback's pass attempt floated in the air and found the arms of Cowboys linebacker Mark Nzeocha. Goff's first drive featured an incomplete pass and an interception in two pass attempts.
However, the rookie recovered and found a favorite target in rookie tight-end Tyler Higbee. No coincidence, Higbee is also Goff's roommate. Goff played for the bulk of the second quarter and finished 4/7 with 38 yards and one interception, meaning he improved and went 4/5 for 38 yards following that original shaky drive.
Fisher says Goff would have played 2 or 3 more series if Goff hadn't hurt his shoulder. — Shahan Ahmed (@shahanLA) August 14, 2016
Rams coach Jeff Fisher opted to put in quarterback Sean Mannion at the start of the second half. Mannion, who is in his second season, stayed in the game for the fourth quarter and showed promise with a couple impressive drives and three touchdowns. Mannion also had one interception.
The final score hardly matters in preseason, but thanks to Mannion's efforts, the Rams made it a competitive game and took their first lead with 1:54 to play in the contest. At that point, the Rams took a 28-24 lead, which would be the final score. Mannion finished 18/25 with 147 Yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception.
Yes, the Rams celebrated a return to the LA Coliseum with a win and nearly 90,000 football fans experienced the event live.
Quote of the night
"They stayed until the fourth quarter of a preseason game and were on their feet for the whole fourth quarter, so you can tell right there what it means to them." - Goff talking about the 89,140 fans that packed the LA Coliseum on Saturday night.