INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP)Stetson Bennett has been playing under brighter spotlights in games with much higher stakes than a quiet NFL preseason contest.
The former Georgia star’s first pro game still gave him a new kind of thrill, and his solid outing should boost the Los Angeles Rams’ confidence in his ability to thrive at the next level.
Bennett passed for 191 yards and a touchdown for the Rams in the stadium where he led the Bulldogs to his second national championship seven months ago, getting his first NFL action in a 34-17 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night.
“It was fun to finally get out there and honestly get hit,” Bennett said. “I’m not going to win many of those, but it’s good to feel like a football player again. It’s fun to get out there and compete.”
Bennett entered the game early in the second quarter and immediately led a 16-play, 75-yard drive that included three near-interceptions and a sharp 11-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Puka Nacua.
Bennett led two more scoring drives after halftime, finishing 17 for 29 with no interceptions. He made mistakes, but he also showed coach Sean McVay how he’ll attempt to overcome them if he’s ever needed to play in place of Matthew Stafford in games that count.
“It’s the first NFL game you’re playing in, and you’re going to be a little nervous and try to make a play when sometimes plays aren’t there,” Bennett said. “But then as it started to groove, we started calling plays and started to settle in.”
Former TCU quarterback Max Duggan passed for 19 yards and rushed for 20 yards in his own debut for the Chargers at SoFi Stadium, where Bennett’s Bulldogs routed Duggan’s Horned Frogs 65-7 in the College Football Playoff title game.
Both quarterbacks are vying for backup jobs with Los Angeles’ two NFL teams, but Bennett’s debut was much busier.
Bennett took over after new veteran backup Brett Rypien ran the Rams’ first three offensive series and completed only three passes. Bennett’s first three throws were shaky – two near-interceptions dropped by Chargers defenders and an incompletion erased by a penalty – before he found Nacua for a 17-yard slant.
Bennett’s pass was nearly picked again at the goal line, but after the drive was extended by a Chargers penalty, he expertly hit Nacua in traffic for his first score.
Bennett then led a 74-yard TD drive in the third quarter, making three straight impressive completions before veteran running back Royce Freeman carried it in.
“I thought he did a nice job,” McVay said. “There were some tough situations. You could see the athleticism where he escaped.”
While Duggan threw only three passes and mostly handed off, a couple of his former-and-current teammates made big plays for the Chargers.
Former TCU star Derius Davis returned a second-quarter punt 81 yards for a touchdown, cruising down the sideline at his new home stadium where the Horned Frogs took their crushing loss.
“When I got drafted by the Chargers, the first thing I said was, ‘I have unfinished business here,’” Davis said. “Just to have that moment to come in here and get the W and score a touchdown is nothing short of a blessing.”
Quentin Johnston, his fellow ex-Horned Frog, caught an 8-yard TD pass right before halftime.
“Obviously, had a sour taste in my mouth from the last time I played here,” said Johnston, the Bolts’ first-round pick. “It was good to come back and come away with a win.”
Elijah Dotson, an undrafted rookie from Northern Colorado, had 37- and 40-yard TD runs in the fourth quarter for the Chargers.
Easton Stick, who took two snaps in his first four seasons as the Chargers’ third-string quarterback, passed for 109 yards in the first half. The Bolts scored just one offensive touchdown in the first three quarters of new coordinator Kellen Moore’s first game at the controls of the offense, but nearly every key starter didn’t play.
“I think you see the playmaking ability, which is why (Stick) was such an outstanding college player,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “He’s got good instincts in the pocket. He can feel when to slide and move and then ‘Hey, I’ve got to run.’”
MORE CFP VETS
Ex-TCU guard Steve Avila started for the Rams, who picked him in the second round. Ex-Georgia lineman Warren McClendon played in the second half for the Rams, who chose him in the fifth round. Tre Tomlinson, the touted TCU cornerback who went by Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson in school, started in the Rams’ defensive backfield.
Chargers: Host Saints on Sunday, Aug. 20.
Rams: Host Raiders on Saturday, Aug. 19.
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