ST. LOUIS — While the nifty footwork to keep his feet inbounds was impressive, Tavon Austin’s first NFL touchdown reception was more notable for another reason.
When the official raised his arms, Austin simply put down the ball, stood up and made his way back to the sideline. No big deal. No choreographed histrionics, no chest thumping, no leaping into a teammate’s arms.
In a refreshing and increasingly unusual display of humbleness, the Rams rookie receiver acted like he had done this touchdown thing before. He was just as nonchalant after he scored a second time in the following quarter. Of course, Austin has had plenty of practice visiting end zones after scoring 40 touchdowns in his four years at West Virginia.
Perhaps if Austin’s scores had beaten the Falcons or even given the Rams a lead, he might have shown a little more excitement. But he saw no cause for celebration in merely cutting a 21-point deficit to two or even one touchdown.
Quite the opposite, in fact. Those who saw Austin in the locker room following the 31-24 defeat said he was downright distraught, his head down and his words even more soft spoken than usual.
Clearly, the 23-year-old does not take lightly to losing. When asked about his performance after the game, he talked more about his shortcomings than his scores. “Rookie or no rookie, I think I could’ve (made) some bigger plays so I kind of blame the game on myself a little bit,” he told reporters.
While there was little need for Austin to pin the loss on himself, the fact he took the setback so hard should encourage Rams’ fans who have grown all too used to losing in recent years.
There also were reasons for Austin to be down about his performance. Though he caught six passes, he should have caught at least three more. He also wasn’t in the right place to pick up the blitz on at least two plays and did little with his three punt returns, learning a blink of indecisiveness is difficult to overcome at this level.
“He was OK,” said coach Jeff Fisher when asked how Austin graded out against Atlanta. One does not need to have been around Fisher much to know that “OK” is coach-speak for not OK.
“He had some good plays and he had some plays where he needs to improve,” added the coach.
Having to sit through film sessions with his teammates has not been a lot of fun this week, Austin admitted.
“When everybody sees it, it makes me feel like I’m letting my team down,” he said. “You have to toughen up and learn from it.”
What about when they show the scoring plays?
“They pretty much don’t show the touchdowns,” he said.
That, he added, is fine with him.
“I’m the type of person who is hard on myself,” Austin said. “I don’t need to see the good stuff but what I need to do to get better. I want to be perfect in everything I do.”
His coaches appreciate such an outlook.
“It’s a good thing, a positive for him,” Fisher said. “He bounces right back but he was disappointed. He has high expectations for himself and wants to help the football team.”
Austin has enough perspective to have not allowed his frustrations to completely overshadow the occasion. After all, you can only score your first touchdown one time.
“I want the ball, for sure,” he told me Wednesday.
When I asked him Friday, he said — with a hint of concern — he still had not received it. He need not worry. The Rams say it takes time for the ball to be authenticated and properly boxed for display.
Austin said he’s not sure how many of his touchdown footballs he will keep. The one from his second TD? Nope. The ones after a long catch? Likely. The ones after a punt return? Very likely.
How about any that win a game? He just smiled.
Heck, he might even thump his chest after those.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.