Tweaked ankle and all, Rams’ Cooper Kupp set for a Raymond James Stadium encore

TAMPA — These days, it seems the Bucs can’t even catch a break with the opponent’s injury report.

Shortly after getting his right ankle contorted by 49ers linebacker Fred Warner in the waning moments of Sunday’s 31-14 loss to San Francisco, Rams route-running extraordinaire Cooper Kupp told reporters that the initial prognosis had him “dodging a bullet.”

Making him probable — if not likely — to return this weekend to the same field where he left shards of shrapnel behind from his most recent visit. Exactly no one riddled the Bucs secondary last season like Kupp, who in fairness, exploited many secondaries.

“He’s one of those rare players that comes around every couple of years,” Bucs coach Todd Bowles said.

Kupp was held out of Wednesday’s practice, though coach Sean McVay reaffirmed the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year suffered no structural damage and is expected to play Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. Based on the Bucs’ own smorgasbord of injuries and second-half lapses, a partially diminished Kupp might prove daunting.

“He’s a great player, one of the best guys in the league,” Bucs safety Mike Edwards said. “Just watching him on film, he stands out, the volume of balls he gets — they feed him a lot. He runs some crazy routes that you’ve got to try to stop to guard.”

Still one of the great draft coups in Rams history (third round, Eastern Washington, 2017), Kupp became only the fourth player since the AFL-NFL merger to lead the league in catches (145), yards (1,947) and touchdown receptions (16) in the regular season in 2021. As an encore, he caught 33 passes for 478 yards and six TDs in the playoffs, earning Super Bowl 56 MVP honors.

It seemed half of those totals — regular season and postseason — were amassed against Bowles’ unit.

Moved like a chess rook by McVay (slot, flank, backfield) in any given game, Kupp had nine catches for 96 yards — including two short scoring receptions — in a 34-24 win against the Bucs in Week 3.

It was a middling effort compared to his second act, capped by a pair of plays Rams fans regard as indelible and Bucs fans deem inexcusable.

Tied with the Bucs and bereft of timeouts in the final minutes of an NFC division-round game, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford found Kupp open — after cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting stumbled — and connected with him near the left sideline for a 20-yard gain with 27 seconds to go.

The Bucs brought pressure and went Cover-Zero the ensuing play, allowing Stafford to hit Kupp for a 44-yard gain, setting up a 30-yard field goal on the final play for a 30-27 triumph.

Kupp’s final numbers: nine catches, 183 yards, one 70-yard touchdown (on third-and-20).

“It’s not in the back of our heads,” cornerback Carlton Davis said Wednesday. “It’s last year.”

If Kupp’s not in the back of their collective cerebrum, it’s only because he’s likely occupying the front. By far the most consistent weapon at McVay’s disposal these days, Kupp ranks second in the league in catches (64), fifth in yards (686), and is tied for fourth in touchdown catches (five).

The total package remains, albeit possibly without a fifth gear Sunday.

“He blocks, he runs routes, he’s outside, he’s inside, he’s in the backfield, he’s on the line of scrimmage, he’s in motion,” Bowles said. “He throws passes, he catches the ball. He’s a very intelligent player, he has a lot of savvy; a very athletic player as well.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls

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