Finally, Austin gives Rams a game-changer
ST. LOUIS (AP) — After waving teammates away from the ball, Tavon Austin stayed close. He was worried the Indianapolis Colts might down it near the goal line.
The next few seconds were a blur of fearless decision-making, instincts and raw speed as the NFL rookie had his long-awaited breakout day.
A 98-yard punt return brought the St. Louis Rams’ draft-day gadget pick to life last Sunday, the play lasting approximately the same amount of time as his reasoning for taking the risk.
“I knew the ball was bouncing my way,” Austin said this week. “So, something told me to grab it, and I did. I had a couple of blocks and I made a play.”
He’s just the third player in NFL history to score three touchdowns on plays of 50 or more yards in a game.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who typically skimps on the compliments, ranked Austin’s show as “close to the top” in all of his years in the NFL.
The kid caught the Colts flat-footed for three consecutive scores, treating them like a garden variety opponent in a surprising 38-8 road blowout of the AFC South leaders. Thus emboldened, Austin then attempted to outrun his previously pedestrian NFL output this season.
“Confidence is the No. 1 thing,” Austin said. “My confidence never went down. My coaches and my family kept telling me to be patient, and when my time comes it’s going to come.”
The Rams, at 4-6, traded up eight spots to grab one of the fastest players of the draft with the eighth overall pick. Then, they waited.
Most memorable in the early going, perhaps, were the big plays that didn’t count. There were enough punt returns called back by penalties that Fisher applauded him for special teams contributions that did not stick, whether or not the illegal block in question was directly responsible.
Austin avoided post-game questions following a victory over Jacksonville at home and fled the locker room without removing eye black. He had four punt returns for 15 yards that game, another 72 yards wiped out.
Austin couldn’t have been high in the Colts’ defensive game plan, much less a candidate for the infinitely more difficult NFL version of a hat trick: Three consecutive touchdowns. Not with NFL-low averages of 6.7 yards per catch and 4.7 yards per punt return.
Even after Sunday’s display helped the Rams end a three-game losing streak, there’s plenty to tap. Austin has dropped seven passes, tied for the league high according to STATS.
Austin kept telling himself, “I can do it.
“Me, coming out, I put pressure on myself just knowing how competitive I am. I wanted to help the team. But overall, you’ve just got to go out and have fun.”
Austin scored 17 touchdowns in his senior season at West Virginia University. He holds school records for all-purpose yards and receptions and though he’s just 5-foot-8 (1.73 meters), Austin hasn’t missed a game in high school, college or the pros.
“Working with him every day in practice makes it a lot easier for me because there are not too many Tavon Austins out there,” Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson said. “I’ve watched the tape from West Virginia, when he scored every time he touched the ball.”