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Rams WR Puka Nacua sets rookie records for yards and catches

By JOSH DUBOW
AP Pro Football Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Puka Nacua couldn’t have scripted a much better ending to his first regular season in the NFL than what played out on Sunday.

A touchdown catch. Two NFL records. A celebration with mom. And a win for the Los Angeles Rams.

Nacua caught a touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game and then had to wait until the third quarter until his task was complete, having set the NFL rookie records for catches and yards receiving in a 21-20 win over San Francisco on Sunday.

That allowed him to leave a game with little at stake for good and rush over to the sideline where he was able to exchange a long embrace with his mother, who was wearing his No. 17 jersey. He gave her his game ball after the game.

“That was super sweet,” Nacua said. “I saw my mom at the beginning of the game and we were able to have a moment. It was cool for her to be here in this environment. … I’m glad my family was to be here to experience it with me.”

Nacua had four catches for 41 yards in the first 34 minutes of the game before being pulled for good.

That gave him 105 catches and 1,486 yards on the season.

That breaks the record of 104 catches set by Miami’s Jaylen Waddle in 2021 and 1,473 yards set by Bill Groman for the Houston Oilers in 1960.

“For him to be able to break both of those records, it’s such a credit to this team and also his consistency and his body of work over a 17-game season,” coach Sean McVay said. “I’m really happy for him.”

Nacua tied the record for yards when he caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Carson Wentz in the first quarter on a play he initially believed was the record-setter.

“I thought it was the record, but then nobody was celebrating with me and I was wondering what happened,” he said. “I was so lost at that moment that I was on the floor. I slipped a little bit but to catch that touchdown, it was sweet too. It was a nice little cherry on top.”

Then it took until the opening drive of the third quarter for him to break them as the Niners tried their best to delay it in what coach Kyle Shanahan called a “small victory.”

“Our goal was to keep him going the whole game,” Shanahan said. “It was going to be tough. He needed just one more catch, one more yard but we were trying our hardest.”

He caught a 7-yard pass to break Groman’s 63-year-old record and then started to head to the sideline to end his game. But he stayed on for one more play and caught a 6-yard pass to break Waddle’s record.

“It was so exciting to just still be part of the game and the flow and just trying to find that,” Nacua said. “The other guys on the team were aware too. Just to find it in the flow of the game, it was sweet. And the Rams won again.”

McVay rested several starters for the season finale after the Rams had already clinched a playoff berth, but played Nacua to give him a chance to set those records.

It’s been a remarkable rookie season for Nacua, who developed into one of the NFL’s most productive receivers despite being drafted in the fifth round in April. He has seven games this season with at least 100 yards receiving, including three games with at least 150.

That performance has him made one of the leading contenders to win the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

But regardless of how that turns out, Nacua will have his records.

“It was fun to see that, and just kind of feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders, it was a big responsibility on me to help him get that record,” Wentz said. “So, pretty impressive kid, pretty impressive record.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Article Topic Follows: ap-california-news

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