In duel of CFP QBs, Bennett takes ‘step in the right direction’


INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Stetson Bennett passed for 191 yards and a touchdown for the Los Angeles Rams in the stadium where he led Georgia to his second national championship seven months ago, notching his first NFL action in a 34-17 preseason loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night.

Former TCU quarterback Max Duggan passed for 19 yards and rushed for 20 yards for the Chargers as both quarterbacks had their first NFL action 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.

“I thought he did a nice job,” Rams coach Sean McVay said of Bennett. “There were some tough situations there, and you could see the athleticism where he escaped.”

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.

“In that scoring drive, he was able to get into a rhythm,” McVay said. “I thought he did a nice job of being able to exhaust some of his progressions. … You could see that it was a step in the right direction.”

Bennett concurred.

“I got more comfortable as the game went on,” Bennett said. “I started to play football. … There’s some things to fix, but there’s some things we can be proud of, too.”

Bennett led two more scoring drives after halftime, finishing 17-for-29 with no interceptions.

“You live and you learn,” Bennett said. “And I thought we executed well in some situations, and others, we didn’t.”

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. Quentin Johnston, the Chargers’ first-round pick out of TCU, caught an 8-yard TD pass right before halftime.

“Obviously, had a sour taste in my mouth from the last time I played here,” Johnston said. “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.

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.

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, including a scoring pass to Johnson.

“I think Easton’s experience really showed in the two-minute drill,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “He really managed the clock well, he made a couple of big plays with his legs.”

The Chargers 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.

Former TCU guard Steve Avila, a second-round pick, started for the Rams. And ex-Georgia lineman Warren McClendon, a fifth-rounder, played for the Rams in the second half. Both played in the CFP title game, as well.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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