Jared Goff didn’t think it would work out.
“I threw it,” Goff said, “and right away I thought that might be too much.”
Sammy Watkins wasn’t all that confident, either.
“I didn’t know I was going to get there,” he said. “I literally was just running for my life.”
Goff, the Los Angeles Rams’ second-year quarterback, and Watkins, their celebrated late-summer acquisition, had tried and failed on several deep balls through the first seven games, connecting on just one of seven passes that traveled at least 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Late in Sunday’s first quarter, in the early stages of a 51-17 dismantling of the lowly New York Giants, they failed again, with Goff overthrowing Watkins after he beat Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie off the line of scrimmage.
Nine minutes later, they finally connected, on an attempt neither of them thought would work out.
Goff faked a handoff to Todd Gurley, started what looked like a bootleg, stopped, looked upfield and saw Watkins about five yards behind Giants safety Landon Collins after separating on a double move he had never run before. Goff uncorked a 60-yard pass. Watkins, seeing the ball sailing beyond his reach, hit another gear, stretched out his hands and caught the football with his fingertips, turning in what was officially ruled a 67-yard touchdown reception.
“Great catch and a great throw,” Watkins called it.
“We’ve been talking about that for a long time,” Goff said. “We feel like we’ve been trying to hit that for a long time. First of hopefully many with him. He does a really good job separating down the field. It made my job easy just laying it out there for him.”
Watkins’ 67-yard catch ended up being his only reception of the game. Rather than celebrate it as a sign of things to come, he enjoyed it as a transient moment worth savoring. The more this season progresses, the more Watkins realizes that he will not be the focal point of the Rams’ offense, simply because nobody — outside of Gurley — will be.
The day Watkins caught the longest touchdown pass of Goff’s career, he was one of five Rams players who finished with at least 40 receiving yards. His longtime teammate, Robert Woods, outshined him with a team-leading 70 yards and hauled in his first two touchdown catches.
“That’s the good thing about this offense,” Rams wide receiver-turned-running back Tavon Austin said, “that it’s not just one person.”
The Rams plan to keep it that way. Gurley has 190 touches, third-most in the NFL, but it’s a weekly guessing game as to who else on the Rams’ offense will be featured, which is just the way coach Sean McVay likes it. In eight games, the Rams have had five different leading receivers. Woods — the top guy in half of them — leads the team in targets, receptions and receiving yards, but not by much.
The Rams have four players — Woods, Watkins, Gurley and Cooper Kupp — on pace for at least 600 receiving yards. Five players — Woods, Watkins, Gurley, Kupp and second-year tight end Tyler Higbee — have been targeted more than 25 times.
“This offense has so many weapons,” Woods said. “A lot of people are touching the ball.”
Woods leads the Rams with 451 receiving yards and is followed, respectively, by Kupp (370), Gurley (338) and Watkins (331). Higbee has drawn nearly twice the amount of targets as his rookie counterpart, Gerald Everett, but has 11 fewer receiving yards. So nobody has really separated himself at tight end, either.
Watkins has spent his time focusing on the little things. On running every route full speed, on finishing his blocks, on staying engaged and on controlling what’s directly in front of him, a prime example being his blocking on the bubble screen that Woods turned into a 52-yard touchdown.
“He’s really done an excellent job of being a big contributor, even though you only see the one catch for the touchdown [on Sunday],” McVay told the media from the team facility on Monday. “He’s making a lot of things happen without the ball in his hands. It sounds cliché, but it’s true.”
Frustration got to Watkins after a Week 5 loss to the Seattle Seahawks when he and Goff were out of sync on a handful of deep shots, so McVay went through every play with him.
“You see that there’s no perfect play,” Woods said of what he gleaned from that session. “A lot of stuff goes on within the play.”
It helped him appreciate Sunday’s hookup with Goff.
“Football is hard, first of all,” Watkins said. “We run at different speeds; you’re throwing at a guy who’s going at different speeds. He’s thrown at so many guys, and to gain that connection is hard. For the last six weeks, we’ve been running all those deep balls in practice. We’ve been hitting some, and some we haven’t been hitting. Just to put it together in a game is great. Hopefully we can continue to build off that.”