Cooper Kupp's big day sends Rams to NFC title game as he strives for 'crown that will last forever'

When Los Angeles held a 27-3 lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers late in the third quarter of Sunday’s NFC divisional-round game, not many would have predicted that the Rams would need a miraculous last-minute 44-yard bomb from quarterback Matthew Stafford to wide receiver Cooper Kupp to win.

But that’s just what happened.

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The No. 2-seeded Buccaneers, led by seven-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady, climbed all the way back with two touchdowns in the final three minutes to tie the game at 27 with 42 seconds remaining. As it turns out, it was just enough time for Kupp and the Rams (No. 4 seed).

The final drive started inauspiciously with a sack, but Stafford found Kupp for a quick 20-yard reception on the next play. That would set the stage for Kupp’s heroics. He found a hole down the middle and got behind the Bucs’ defense for an astonishing 44-yard gain down to the 12-yard line. The Rams spiked the ball with six seconds remaining, creating a chip-shot 30-yard field goal for kicker Matt Gay to send the Rams to the conference championship game.

“The route that I ran, we call it a ‘love-of-the-game’ route because you’re really just trying to draw coverage. But [Stafford] was able to read my body language and put the ball in the right spot for us,” Kupp said in his postgame press conference.

As he spoke, he sported a hat from his own apparel line. On one side of the hat it says, “Do it to get a crown that will last forever.” The phrase comes from the Bible verse 1 Corinthians 9:25, which says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

That final reception was part of a huge day from Kupp, who had already scored a touchdown on a 70-yard pass to give Los Angeles a 17-3 lead in the second quarter. On the day, he finished with nine receptions for 183 yards and the touchdown.

Sunday’s game was simply the latest in a historic season for Kupp. A third-round pick for the Rams in 2017 out of Eastern Washington, he led the entire NFL in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16), one of only four players to accomplish such a feat since 1970. Kupp’s incredible season performance fell just 18 yards shy of Calvin Johnson’s record for most receiving yards in a single season, but it was still good enough for second on the list (although the NFL now has a 17-game regular season).

This season is the first in Kupp’s five-year career that he’s been named to the Pro Bowl. After a strong showing in his first two games of the year, Kupp referenced Proverbs 16:9 when asked if he’s underappreciated by the rest of the league. “The verse that was on my mind was, ‘The heart of man chooses his path but the Lord establishes his steps,'” Kupp answered. “It just gave me so much freedom to go out there and play free, give everything I had [and] know the results rested in Him.”

Kupp, who also mentions 1 Corinthians 9:24 in his Twitter bio, was on his way to his first ever 1,000-yard receiving season in 2018. However, a torn ACL in Week 10 ended his season prematurely. As Kupp rehabbed his left knee, he was left to watch his teammates advance to Super Bowl LIII before falling 13-3 to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

“I needed God. I needed to trust in what my faith was,” Kupp said about that season in a 2019 interview with Christian Broadcasting Network. “Just having my wife and son to be able to push me through this, my teammates, the coaching staff, the training staff, the strength staff I just had a team around me that encouraged me and really showed me how important it was to have people around me that God’s really placed in my life.”

Now, Kupp will seek to continue to rely on the Lord as he and the Rams are on the doorstep of another trip to the Super Bowl. First, however, they must get past the division-rival San Francisco 49ers (No. 6 seed) in the NFC championship game. L.A. will host the 49ers on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

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