Monday, December 31, 2007

Jackson again reaches 1,000 yards


GLENDALE, Ariz. — A thousand-yard rushing season might not mean as much as it did in the days of 12- and 14-game schedules. Yet as the Rams' Steven Jackson pointed out, "It's still definitely the standard" for a running back in the NFL.

Jackson reached that standard Sunday for the third consecutive year, since he succeeded Marshall Faulk as the club's primary ball carrier. It was a more formidable hurdle to clear this time.

Only 9 minutes 37 seconds remained in the season when Jackson churned off left tackle for a 2-yard gain against Arizona that put him at 1,000 exactly. He added another 2-yarder later, then gave way to rookie Brian Leonard for the Rams' final series in a 48-19 spanking by the Cardinals.

After getting 1,046 yards in 2005 and 1,528 last year, Jackson wound up with 1,002 despite missing four games and most of another with groin and back injuries.

"Any team getting a thousand yards or more is a huge accomplishment, (even with) a 16-game schedule," Jackson said. "I never thought that it'd be to the wire, to make sure that we got the thousand yards. … Those games that I missed, I do wish that I could get them back."

Individual milestones were hard to come by in this 3-13 season, but the Rams reached several Sunday. In addition to Jackson's quadruple-figure finish:

— Isaac Bruce had two receptions, giving him 942 for his career and pushing him past Art Monk for sixth place on the league's career log.

— With seven catches, fellow wideout Torry Holt surpassed the 800 mark. Only five active receivers have more than Holt's 802.

— Kicker Jeff Wilkins' lone extra point was his 371st in a row without a miss, tying him with Denver's Jason Elam (1993-2002) for the NFL record.

— Donnie Jones broke the franchise record for gross punting average. Jones' three punts traveled 158 yards, and he finished with a 47.2-yard average. Danny Villanueva had held the previous mark (45.5) since 1962.

Holt, who ended with 93 catches, 1,189 yards and a seventh Pro Bowl invitation despite a balky right knee, isn't figuring on lowering his standards as he looks toward his 10th season and beyond.

"Yeah, I'm thinking I have maybe, what, another 800 in me?" he said, laughing. "The knee deal didn't help. But I'm just going to keep playing and keep catching."

Wilkins was noncommittal as to whether he planned to keep kicking after wrapping up his 14th season. "We'll see; I've got some issues with some health things that I'm trying to get fixed up," he said. "It's been a rough season. I'm going to contemplate the next couple of weeks and hopefully things will work out and we'll go from there."

The record-tying kick came early in the third quarter, following a 36-yard touchdown pass from Marc Bulger to tight end Joe Klopfenstein. After safety Oshiomogho Atogwe took his eighth interception of the season 52 yards to the end zone later in the period, Wilkins was heading back onto the field.

But with the score 31-19, coach Scott Linehan ordered a two-point attempt (which failed).

In his first year with the Rams, and fourth in the NFL, Jones topped his previous high average by almost 4 yards per punt.

"It's definitely an accomplishment," Jones said. "I just try to do my best to help our team win, and ultimately football is a game of field position. … By far this has been my best season. It was a great group of guys to work with, and it starts with (Chris) Massey. He's awesome, just a great snapper."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holt's tirade against Linehan is cause for great concern

So now on top of everything else that has made this the ultimate season from hell, we have this shocking indignity. The always reserved, completely laid back, 24-7 politically correct superstar wide receiver is caught on camera in a very public, nationally televised, expletive-filled, up-close-and-personal tirade against the embattled head coach that might even make Terrell Owens blush.

Torry Holt never lets you see him sweat. Holt never lets you inside his closely guarded emotional shell. He never drops his guard when the cameras are rolling or quietly whispers his displeasure in strategic off-the-record asides when the lights are dimmed. But on Thursday night with the Rams in the final moments of a 41-24 flameout against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers, Holt blew his top and lost his cool , and the NFL Network cameras caught him unleashing a vulgar tirade against Scott Linehan.

"It's not a big deal to me," Linehan said.

Linehan has to be the only one who doesn't see it that way. Even when viewed as an isolated incident, the sight of the seven-time Pro Bowl future Hall of Fame receiver publicly going off on his coach is a serious cause for alarm, because Holt is not a showy, T.O. kind of guy. He's full of Southern manners and Midwestern respect for authority.

For Holt to go off on an obscenity-laced rant on Linehan after a failed fourth-and-10 play resulted in a 51-yard interception return for Pittsburgh's final score must be considered one of the surest barometers that this two-year-old experiment with Linehan as an NFL head coach deserves a failing grade.

Yet when taken in the context of this being the third Rams superstar this season to be caught on live television railing against Linehan during a game must be seen as a very loud, very urgent, very serious Code Red alert on his tenuous job security.

This must be the surest sign of all that de facto team owner John Shaw needs to seriously rethink that vote of confidence he issued two weeks ago.

First it was the Steven Jackson tantrum. Then it was the Marc Bulger eye roll. Now it's Holt's X-rated rebuke. What does it say about Linehan's ability to lead this team out of the wilderness when three of his four biggest superstars (Isaac Bruce not included) have shown a complete disregard for his authority as the head coach in such a public manner?

Amazing. Disturbing. Alarming.

"And that's only the third that's been caught on camera," cracked one locker-room wise guy.

This is why midseason votes of confidence are so worthless, and why Shaw's public show of faith in his coach gets trumped by the three public lack of confidence votes by Holt, Bulger and Jackson.

This is now officially a disaster, as if it wasn't already.

Long before that fourth-quarter rebuke by Holt against Linehan, it was another night of cold, hard marketing research inside the Edward Jones Dome, another night when the football-buying public in St. Louis was trying to send a message to Rams management that it has rebuked the franchise's product.

Last Sunday afternoon, fans spoke loudly by selling their tickets to 30,000 Green Bay Packers fans who traveled from Wisconsin's frozen tundra to witness Brett Favre set an NFL record. And now here they were again Thursday night sending another unavoidable message, this one in the form of a stadium full of Pittsburgh Steelers fans waving bright, yellow Terrible Towels from the lower bowl of the building to the dome's upper reaches.

The biggest noise and the best real emotion the scattered Rams fans showed was when Shaw and his right-hand man, Jay Zygmunt, were introduced during Marshall Faulk's halftime retirement ceremony and were roundly booed.

Shaw stubbornly maintains the organization will stay on this same rocky course no matter what. But there are signs (actually very teeny tiny ones) that Shaw might be finally getting the message. Privately, he is starting to ask the right questions, and inching toward the right conclusion, which is that the way the Rams do business is not working.

This, of course, is a lot like listening to the man who begrudgingly admits he's just a tad bit warm after someone points out that his pants have been on fire for more than an hour.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Unlevel Playing Ffield: Field position, fan support help Packers


For nearly three quarters, the St. Louis game plan worked effectively and the Rams stuck with it. They established Steven Jackson and the running game early, and took their shots with Marc Bulger in the passing game.

Through three quarters, the Rams had a 2-to-1 edge in possession time and had outgained Brett Favre and the potent Green Bay offense by nearly 100 yards. Yet, when the Rams looked up at the scoreboard at the Edward Jones Dome — aka Lambeau Field South — they trailed by two touchdowns.

How did this happen?

Well, some gridiron historians refer to football as the "100-yard war." On Sunday, it became more like a "50-yard skirmish" for the Packers. Thanks in large part to lousy special teams play, the average starting point for the Packers' drives was their 48-yard line.

Of Green Bay's 12 offensive series, six started in St. Louis territory. Three others started at the Packers' 40, 44 and 48-yard lines.

"I just know when we're on offense and we hit the 50, it's kind of like you're going downhill," Bulger said.

The Packers were going downhill all afternoon, like a sled on the snow at Art Hill. Of the 53 offensive plays by Green Bay, 41 began in St. Louis territory.

"You're not going to beat a good football team like (Green Bay) doing that," coach Scott Linehan said.

Given such a lopsided edge in field position, it's almost surprising that the final score wasn't more lopsided than Green Bay 33, Rams 14.

"They have only two losses for a reason," Bulger said. "They're a good team. They made us play with that field position."

And made them pay because of that field position. Green Bay's victory coupled with Seattle's loss to Carolina clinched a first-round playoff bye for the Packers (12-2).

On a day when Favre eclipsed Dan Marino's NFL record for career passing yards, it seemed as if all of Green Bay was on hand. With Rams fans continuing to bail on their 3-11 team, thousands of "lower bowl" tickets belonging to Rams season-ticket holders ended up in the hands of Packers fans.

Green and gold were the colors of the day. Cheeseheads everywhere. Dozens of pro-Packers signs throughout the stadium. There was no way to know officially, but it looked as if there were more Packers fans than Rams fans in attendance.

"It was a joke," Jackson said. "It's as simple as that. The whole (lower) level was Green Bay Packers. We allowed them to put up signs. It's a joke."

"That was the worst, as far as the other team's fans," center Andy McCollum said. "There was way too much green in there if you ask me. But what are you going to do?

"If we win some more ballgames, it'd probably be a different story. So we've got to take control of that and make sure that kind of thing doesn't happen. It was almost like Lambeau."

The Rams may have felt like visitors, but they were playing well enough to make it a game and threaten an upset midway through the third quarter.

En route to a season-high 143 yards rushing, Jackson already had 103 yards by halftime, including a 46-yard touchdown run in which the Rams caught Green Bay in a blitz. All told, the Packers' ninth-ranked defense yielded a season-high 173 yards rushing.

Bulger, back in the lineup after missing the past two games with a concussion, threw a first-quarter touchdown pass to Torry Holt, who beat Packers cornerback Al Harris badly on the play.

It remained a one-score game as the third quarter wound down — even with the Rams' kickoff coverage unit and punting team springing major leaks. And even with wide receiver Drew Bennett letting what would have been a first-down pass from Bulger deep in Packers territory go right through his hands for an interception.

But the back breaker came with 6 minutes remaining in the third quarter. On third and 10 from the St. Louis 44, the Rams' defense went after Favre with an all-out blitz. There was just one problem: No one bothered to cover Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings. With the blitz bearing down on him, Favre lobbed a pop fly to Jennings. He was so open, he might have had time to run into the stands, grab a Cheesehead hat, come back on the field and still catch the football.

As it was, Jennings hauled in a 44-yard touchdown pass from Favre, giving Green Bay a 27-14 lead with 5 minutes, 58 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

"We were in 'zero' coverage, man coverage," Linehan said. "I think we had just a miscommunication between a couple of players, on who was taking the vertical and who had the underneath coverage. Obviously, you can't do that."

Cornerback Ron Bartell and Oshiomogho Atogwe both jumped the underneath route, a crossing pattern by Donald Driver. That left Jennings, running a "streak" route straight down the field, uncovered.

"It was just a mix-up in coverage," Atogwe said. "It was a bad decision on some of the guys' parts. It just happens like that. It's one of those plays you'd like to get back. But you just learn from it."

Welcome to Rams football, 2007.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rams' Linehan won't get fired for 3-10 record

By R.B. FALLSTROM, AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Coach Scott Linehan won't lose his job because of the St. Louis Rams' 3-10 record.

Team president John Shaw told Linehan on Monday it would be unfair to judge his performance this season, given the team's lengthy injury list. Later in the day, Linehan said he was looking forward to an end-of-season meeting in early January.

"It's important to know you've got support and those things," Linehan said. "But at this point it's really not my issue. My issue is trying to get our fourth win."

The Rams were 8-8 in Linehan's first season and were perceived as a contender in the NFC West in the preseason. But they began the year with eight straight losses, mitigated by numerous injuries.

St. Louis has 11 players on injured reserve, seven of them starters. The two feature players on offense, quarterback Marc Bulger and running back Steven Jackson, both have missed significant time because of injuries.

"I felt the last month or so that the obstacles were somewhat insurmountable for him," Shaw said in a telephone interview. "From the first game the offensive line was a mess, and then Marc and Steven got hurt.

"From Day 1, it was almost impossible to evaluate him."

Shaw said the last couple of weeks he's emphasized that Linehan just keep trying, and believes it's clear that players still believe in him.

"I felt all along I was kind of telling him that myself and ownership felt it was very hard to evaluate him just on this year's performance," Shaw said. "I told Scott today and he kind of sensed it was coming."

Bulger has missed the past two games because of a concussion and his availability remains a question mark for next week's game against the Packers. The Rams promoted Brock Berlin off the practice squad and he made his NFL debut Sunday. Berlin was 17-for-28 for 153 yards and an interception against the Bengals.

Offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Bulger was feeling better on Monday, a day off for players. Bulger practiced last Wednesday and Thursday after passing a neurological exam, but began experiencing concussion symptoms in meetings Thursday afternoon and was not active for the Bengals game.

"We're optimistic about that," Olson said. "He said he's ready to give it a try again on Wednesday."

Shaw continues to be based in Los Angeles, where the team had been located before moving to St. Louis in 1995, and doesn't attend every road game. But Linehan said the two speak every week, and on Monday they communicated by telephone.

"He's very supportive and he understands," Linehan said. "I also understand this isn't where we wanted to be.

"It's not the record we intended on having, but the focus is to improve at season's end and continue to get better in certain areas."

Linehan said Shaw has told him to be prepared for a comprehensive meeting after the season.

"He wants me thinking about some of the things we want to get done," Linehan said. "He definitely wants my mind in that direction.

"I'm sure we'll talk about pretty much everything."

The Rams have had three home games blacked out on local television because they've failed to sell out, after only one blackout in the first 12 seasons in St. Louis. Shaw said a winning team will address the apathy.

"If I didn't think the fans would support an NFL team, we wouldn't have moved there," Shaw said. "All sports are cyclical and obviously we've had a down year, and I understand the fans' frustration when the team isn't winning.

"All we can do is attempt to improve the product and hope the fans come back."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Jackson's dash is exclamation point


For much of the afternoon, Rams running back Steven Jackson was a marked man. Atlanta regularly stacked the box — the area between the tackles — with eight defenders to "try to make us beat them with the pass," quarterback Gus Frerotte said.

Jackson's first 19 carries netted only 46 yards. But No. 20 was a doozy.

With the Rams clinging to a five-point lead, Jackson barged up the middle, then bounced out to the left side. Once he turned the corner, "all I had to do was outrun them," he said.

The 50-yard dash with 1 minute 17 seconds to go nailed down a 28-16 victory at the Edward Jones Dome. "I think we caught them being overly aggressive," Jackson said. "Most of the time they had a guy watching for the back-side cut. He got a little greedy and we were able to take advantage."

Jackson also caught four passes for 71 yards, giving him a season-high 167 total yards.

PLAY OF THE DAY: Less than 2 minutes remained when Falcons quarterback Chris Redman lofted a ball down the left side, aiming for wideout Michael Jenkins. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe swooped in for the interception, then raced 27 yards to the 50-yard line.

"I just try to focus on the point of the ball, make sure I catch it first, and then see what happens afterward," said Atogwe, who has a pick in each of the last four games and a team-high five for the year.

GAME BALLS: Rams — WR Torry Holt (6 catches, 135 yards, 1 TD). Falcons — WR Roddy White (10 catches, 146 yards, 1 TD).

WHAT WAS HE THINKING? Two key decisions by coach Bobby Petrino were dubious. He went for two points, and failed, after the Falcons closed to 21-9. An extra-point kick still would have left them a touchdown (plus a 2-pointer) and a field goal shy. Now, they needed two touchdowns. And he went for the TD, and failed, on fourth-and-7 from the Rams 9-yard line at 21-16 with 2:14 left. Kick the short field goal to make it 21-19, then use your three timeouts and the two-minute warning to get the ball back needing only a field goal to win it.

MORE FOR MOORE: Defensive end Eric Moore's first career start was a bit of a surprise. Adam Carriker was introduced as the starter at end opposite Victor Adeyanju, but on Atlanta's opening series, Carriker and La'Roi Glover were at tackle, with Moore on the outside. "It was a last-minute thing," said Moore, a third-year pro. "We look at the formation and see how they line up."

Moore, who has spent most of the season on the practice squad, was credited with two tackles and a team-high three quarterback hurries in the unofficial press-box starts.

HE SAID IT: "There's a closeness that really helped us get through all those tough times. I've definitely been on teams where, had we had as much adversity as we had through those first eight games, we would've been turning on each other." — linebacker Chris Draft.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bulger Down and Out With a Concussion

Sports Illustrated

St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger suffered a concussion in Sunday's 24-19 loss to Seattle, and coach Scott Linehan said it was too early to know if he'll be available for next week's game against Atlanta.

Bulger left after making a shovel pass midway through the first quarter. He was hit by several players, but threw a pass that was intercepted by defensive end Patrick Kerney. But coach Scott Linehan said Bulger was initially hurt on the Rams' first possession on a blindside sack by linebacker Leroy Hill.

"He didn't seem quite right on the sidelines," Linehan said. "We talked a little bit, and I could tell by looking at him right when he walked off that something was different.

"He mentioned that he didn't feel good, and that is a big concern. He said he was starting to feel nauseous."

Bulger, who missed two games earlier this season with broken ribs, walked on his own to the locker room. He was replaced by Gus Frerotte.

The starting QB has taken a beating behind an offensive line decimated by injuries this season. Bulger, who was 3-for-5 for 32 yards and the one interception, has been sacked 30 times this season.

Bulger has completed 61 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and nine interceptions in what has been a disappointing season after he signed a six-year, $65 million contract extension on the first day of training camp. That deal made him the highest-paid player in franchise history. The contract included $27 million in guaranteed money and put him in a group of six quarterbacks making $10 million annually.

St. Louis' problems on the offensive line began in Week 1 when left tackle Orlando Pace was lost for the season with a torn triceps, the first of several linemen to be hurt. The Rams have used 15 line combinations this season.

Bulger was among several players hurt Sunday.

Center Brett Romberg also left in the first quarter with an ankle injury and did not return. He missed three games earlier this season with injuries to both ankles. His status for next week was not known.

Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa left in the third quarter with a sprained left knee and will have an MRI Monday.

Seattle wide receiver D.J. Hackett hurt his right ankle in the third quarter. Coach Mike Holmgren wasn't sure when he would return.

Hackett suffered a high right ankle sprain in the season-opener against Tampa Bay and missed six games. He entered Sunday's game questionable with a knee injury.

Hackett had four catches for 41 yards against St. Louis. He had a career-best nine catches for 136 yards and a touchdown last week against the Bears.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Rams' late stand holds off 49ers

By Greg Beacham

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Though the St. Louis Rams still have problems, they're nothing compared to the San Francisco 49ers' historic woes.

Marc Bulger shook off another beating to pass for 155 yards and an early touchdown to Torry Holt, and the St. Louis defense was solid until the final seconds Sunday in a 13-9 victory over the 49ers, who lost their eighth straight.

Bulger was sacked six times by the 49ers, who also sacked him six times in the clubs' first meeting. The Rams (2-8) couldn't score a touchdown after their opening drive and managed just 38 yards of offense in the second half, but the defense had little trouble with San Francisco's league-worst offense until two desperate fourth-quarter drives.

After floundering all afternoon, the 49ers (2-8) drove 68 yards in the final 1:28 to the St. Louis 21. But with 3 seconds to play, Trent Dilfer's final pass was intercepted at the goal line by Oshiomogho Atogwe.

After the longest winless start in the franchise's 70-year history, the Rams have won both outings with Steven Jackson back in good health. The star running back had 92 persistent yards in his second full game after missing four weeks with a torn groin muscle and most of another game with a bulging disk in his back.

Dilfer passed for 231 yards -- 141 in the fourth quarter -- while filling in for Alex Smith as the 49ers slid into their longest losing streak since 1999. San Francisco hasn't won since its trip to St. Louis in mid-September, and hasn't scored a touchdown since the opening drive of its loss in Atlanta two weeks ago.

San Francisco had a chance to tie it late, but tight end Vernon Davis and Darrell Jackson dropped tough potential touchdown catches on consecutive plays leading up to the 2-minute warning. Coach Mike Nolan settled for Joe Nedney's third field goal.

Dilfer was 20-of-42 with an interception in his latest chance to fill in for Alex Smith, who sat out with a sore throwing arm that caused plenty of drama in San Francisco over the past week. Smith wore his helmet while watching on the sideline, but didn't play.

After performing poorly in the 49ers' last three losses, Smith complained his arm wasn't as healthy as he or Nolan claimed, exposing a lack of communication between the coaching staff and its franchise quarterback.

Until the final minutes, Dilfer couldn't spark an offense that managed 96 yards in the first three quarters before finishing with 244. The Rams' defense had its way with the San Francisco offensive line, repeatedly stopping Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore at the scrimmage line.

Holt's 3-yard TD catch capped a 79-yard march on St. Louis' opening drive. Both defenses stiffened after that, particularly after halftime. Both teams combined for 29 net yards and one first down in the third quarter.

The 49ers didn't gain 100 total yards until Dilfer's shovel pass to Gore with 10:10 to play, and Nedney's 38-yard field goal cut St. Louis' lead to seven points.

The Niners made another solid drive to the Rams 28, but Davis couldn't haul in a heavily defended catch over the middle. Then a solid throw to Jackson bounced off the veteran receiver's hands.

San Francisco harassed Bulger in its last victory, a 17-16 squeaker in which St. Louis muffed a punt and missed a field goal in the final minutes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Rams surprise New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Marc Bulger's most meaningful handoff of the season didn't take
place on the field Sunday. Minutes after the Rams' startling 37-29 victory over
heavily favored New Orleans, Bulger turned in the visitors' locker room and
handed a game ball to. ...

Scott Linehan.

In a season of offensive crises and eight straight losses — as well as the
"infamous" rolling of the eyes in Seattle — it was a nice gesture by Bulger.
Bulger said he didn't act on his own in handing the game ball to the Rams'
beleaguered head coach.

"I asked a couple of guys and they all agreed," Bulger said. "It was for
sticking with us. It's not like he's been punishing us (for the losses). He
gave us our time off and treated us like men.

"I think he's the reason why we came out with some energy (Sunday). It wasn't
by accident. Obviously, he wasn't going to give himself the game ball and take
credit. But I think it was important for him to be acknowledged for the job he

Bulger's work Sunday wasn't bad, either. His assorted injuries doing better
from the bye week, Bulger put together his best performance of the season. His
completion percentage of 81.8 percent (on 27-of-33 passing) was a career high.
His passer rating of 125.0 was his best since the Washington game last
Christmas Eve.

But he got plenty of help Sunday. Bulger's numbers were all the more impressive
considering he was working behind his 25th different starting combination on
the offensive line as a Ram. Four of the six offensive linemen who played
Sunday weren't even on the Rams' roster at the start of training camp.

Running back Steven Jackson's bulging disc held up well enough to get 27
touches, including 22 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown. Jackson also threw
a touchdown pass on a trick play, his first TD toss since his days at Eldorado
High in Las Vegas.

Wide receiver Torry Holt didn't score but topped 100 yards receiving for the
second game in a row, with 124 yards on eight catches. All told, the Rams piled
up a season-high 409 yards, albeit against a Saints defense that was missing
three injured starters.

As for the St. Louis defense, coordinator Jim Haslett's aggressive blitzing
schemes kept one of the league's hottest offenses and hottest quarterbacks
(Drew Brees) off-balance for three quarters. With a 34-7 lead early in the
fourth quarter, Haslett basically stopped blitzing.

The Saints nearly made the Rams pay for that change in strategy by scoring
three fourth-quarter touchdowns. But Dane Looker's recovery of an onside kick
with 29 seconds remaining ended any hope for a miracle comeback by the Saints

Instead, it was Bulger kneeling in the "victory" formation to end the game. It
was that football — from the final play of the game — that Bulger handed to
Linehan in the locker room. This came after Linehan had handed game balls to
Haslett, linebackers coach Rick Venturi and secondary coach Willy Robinson —
all former Saints coaches.

"I'm very proud of our football team," Linehan said. "I'm certain not many
people gave this football team much of a chance going on the road, with the way
we'd started our year. For obvious reasons, I don't blame them."

After enduring the stress of an 0-8 start that led to questions about his job
security, Linehan said he'll never take winning for granted.

"You've got to enjoy them all," he said. "It's hard to win in this league — and
we proved that this year. You can get in a downward spiral, and it's hard to
come out of."

In the days leading up to the game, and even on game day, the Rams did
everything in their power to break out of that spiral.

Bulger said the Rams practice the victory formation every week. "And every week
we've lost, so we actually switched the direction we do it in our indoor
facility," he said. "Maybe that's what it was."

Or maybe it was the Saturday night speech by safety Corey Chavous in the team
hotel, imploring his teammates to play with more energy. Tight end Randy
McMichael said Chavous told the team to "just go back to playing football like
you played it when you were a little kid. Not for the money. Just go out there
and have fun."

Haslett addressed the team before the game and at halftime.

Members of the Rams' equipment staff even visited a voodoo "queen" in New
Orleans on Saturday in search of a way to break out of the 0-8 hex.

Somehow it worked. The karma changed. And despite being double-digit underdogs,
the Rams won a regular-season game for the first time since Dec. 31, 2006 in

"Hopefully, it's kind of contagious and rolls over to next week," center Andy
McCollum said. "You've got to play like you're having fun out there. Even when
you lose, it's a fun game. But it's a heck of a lot more fun when you win."

For the first time this year, the Rams know that's the case.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Briefly, Jackson shows why he’s one of NFL’s best

By Bill Coats
10/28/2007 7:15 pm

The absurd notion by some Rams observers that Steven Jackson is something less than an elite NFL running back should have learned their lesson during Sunday’s 27-20 loss the Browns.

With Jackson back in the lineup after missing a month with a torn groin muscle, the Rams were an offensive juggernaut that rolled to a 14-0 lead in the first 10 minutes. They finally were showing off the attack that so many expected before this train wreck of a season began.

Jackson pounded out 41 yards on eight carries, caught two passes for 9 yards, and was on pace for a 200-plus yard day when his back went into spasms late in the opening period. The Rams also locked up, mustering only 27 rushing yards and two field goals over the final 45 minutes with Jackson on the sideline.

Rookie Brian Leonard is a solid back, but he can’t come close to matching the speed, strength and electricity Jackson provides. Nor can many other backs in the league.

“When he’s in there, you can see we’re explosive,” quarterback Marc Bulger said. “When he got hurt, it changed our team, plain and simple.”


The Rams have a bye next Sunday, although coach Scott Linehan hasn’t called recess just yet. He’s scheduled practices for Tuesday and Wednesday at Rams Park before dismissing the troops.


The timing of the bye was debated in the locker room Sunday. Some players said that at 0-8, the team might be better served by sticking to the routine and plowing forward. More, however, felt that the break was badly needed.

“It comes at a great time,” Jackson said. “I think we need this bye for guys to get away for a while and collect their thoughts, the coaches do the same thing, and hopefully we come back strong.”

Added guard Richie Incognito: “It’s 50-50 on the bye week; we can keep pushing or take a week to reflect. Either way, we’ve just got to play better.”


Notes & quotes:

>>Browns WR Braylon Edwards made some eye-popping grabs to overcome generally tight coverage by CB Fakhir Brown. “I felt like I was there, but I didn’t make any plays on the ball,” Brown said.

>>Needing 6 inches on fourth down against the NFL’s worst defense to keep their hopes alive late in the final two minutes, the Rams failed. RB Brian Leonard was stuffed by SS Sean Jones for no gain. “I had his leg and wouldn’t let go,” Jones said.

>>WR Drew Bennett, finally healthy after thigh and hamstring injuries, had his best day with the Rams, catching six passes for 63 yards.

>>Nick Leckey performed adequately at RG after Incognito left in the first quarter with a sprained right knee. Leckey, normally a center, never had played guard in the NFL, although he was a LG for three years at Kansas State.

>>The Rams held a 170-47 yardage edge after the first period. The Browns had a 321-223 advantage the rest of the way.

>>Unlike the Dolphins, the Rams are winless on only one continent.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Seattle Sacks Rams

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer
SEATTLE– While the Rams’ patchwork offensive line couldn’t keep quarterback Marc Bulger protected all day Sunday, it also couldn’t protect the Rams from the worst start in franchise history.
With leaks springing all across the line, the Seahawks feasted on Bulger and the Rams anemic offense on their way to a convincing and thorough 33-6 win at Qwest Field on Sunday.
The loss drops the Rams to 0-7 for the first time in franchise history. Seattle took control of the NFC West Division with the win as it improved to 4-3.
Seattle sacked Bulger seven times, came up with four takeaways and hurried or hit Bulger on countless other plays.
Leading the way was defensive end Darryl Tapp, who made a case for the Pro Bowl with four sacks and a forced fumble.
The Rams offense continued its struggles, finishing with just 202 yards of total offense.
Fourth Quarter
The Rams had another opportunity go by the wayside as Wilkins missed from 44 yards.
Things didn’t get much better in the final quarter as the Rams continued to struggle to protect Bulger. He was sacked and coughed up another fumble early in the final period, giving the ball back to Seattle at the Rams’ 44 with 9:06 to play.
Seattle didn’t muster much offensively, but it was enough for Brown to kick his fourth field goal, this time from43 yards out to make it 26-6 with 7:02 to play.
Julian Peterson intercepted Bulger and Seattle scored two plays later when Hasselbeck hit Heller again this time from 11 yards out to give Seattle a 33-6 lead.
Third Quarter
The second half started in the worst way possible for the Rams. An improving special teams unit got burned on the opening kickoff as Nate Burleson had his second return for a touchdown in as many games against the Rams.
Burleson raced 91 yards among some missed tackles for the score, giving Seattle a 17-3 lead with 14:47 to go in the quarter.
The Rams offense put together its best drive of the day as Bulger used Torry Holt for the first time all day. Holt went to work to the tune of four catches for 53 yards, but dropped a potential 17-yard touchdown. That drop helped kill the drive deep in Seattle territory and the Rams settled for a 29-yard field goal from Wilkins. With 10:33 to go in the quarter, Seattle is up 17-6.
Seattle answered again, driving in to St. Louis territory to set up a 48-yard field goal from Brown. That kick gave Seattle a 20-6 lead with about six and half minutes to go.
The Rams gave it right back on the ensuing possession as defensive end Darryl Tapp came up with his fourth sack of the game, causing a fumble that was recovered by Jordan Babineaux at the Rams’ 21.
The defense held Seattle to a field goal again, as Brown converted from 45 yards out to make it 23-6 Seahawks at the end of the quarter.
Second Quarter
Seattle opened the second quarter with another long drive, but the Rams tightened up in the red zone and held the Seahawks to a 38-yard field goal from Josh Brown. That kick made it 10-3 Seattle with 10:15 to go in the half.
The Rams defense kept them in the game as they bent, but did not break. Cornerback Ron Bartell came up with an interception to thwart another Seattle drive.
But the offense continues to struggle as Bulger has had little time to throw and when he has had a little, he has been unable to get rid of it. On the bright side, the Rams aren’t getting beaten in field position because of the continued excellence of punter Donnie Jones.
Jones booted an 80-yard punt late in the quarter, the third longest in the history of the Rams.
At the half, Seattle leads 10-3.
First Quarter
After winning the toss, the Rams took the ball, but immediately went three and out, giving the ball to Seattle at its 29.
The Seahawks wasted no time marching down the field, going 71 yards on 11 plays for a 1-yard touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck to tight end Will Heller. The extra point gave Seattle a 7-0 lead with 7:40 to go in the opening quarter.
After another drive ended quickly, the Rams defense came up with a big stop on fourth-and-inches to take over at Seattle ’s 48.
Marc Bulger hit Isaac Bruce on third-and-9, but Bruce slipped on what would have been a touchdown. The 31-yard gain gave the Rams a shot in the red zone and a 12-yard gain from Brian Leonard set up first-and-goal from the 4. But the Rams went backward on a sack by Julian Peterson and had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins.
That kick made it 7-3 Seattle with 1:02 to go in the first.
Pregame Notes
Greetings from one of the best places to watch football in the NFL, Qwest Stadium. The Seahawks have found a way to build a great game day atmosphere and the stadium itself is a wonderful place.
Here’s a shocker, it’s probably going to rain sometime today in Seattle . The Rams practiced in rainy and windy conditions earlier in the week so nothing should take them by surprise.
The Rams have almost completely returned to health and that makes the inactive decisions a little more difficult.
Running back Steven Jackson (groin) and returner Dante Hall (ankle) are inactive today. Jackson is expected to return next week and Hall won’t likely be back until after the bye week.
Receivers Dane Looker (thigh) and Drew Bennett (hamstring) are also inactive. They showed signs of recovery during the week but neither will play today. That means newly signed Travis Taylor will be involved in the offense with Marques Hagans serving as the third receiver behind Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
Tight end Dominique Byrd, safety Bhawoh Jue, defensive end Trevor Johnson and center Nick Leckey are also inactive.
Notables out for the Seahawks include receivers Deion Branch and D.J. Hackett and tight end Marcus Pollard.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Magic can't save Rams season, but problems shouldn't linger

It’s been a tough Sunday here in cyberspace. Duty forced your correspondent to
watch the entire Rams game, which was an uncommonly painful experience.

Then duty required a lengthy chat session with disgruntled and disgusted fans.
About 100 replies later, I’d like to make two overriding points.

The local NFL souvenir shops don’t sell magic wands. The Rams are 0-6 and
riddled with injuries. Coach Scott Linehan hasn’t found many answers, but
hiring an ex-coach from the broadcast booth isn’t feasible in October.
Improvement during this season will have to come within the current group, one
way or another. The current coaches must coach better and the surviving players
must play better.

Turning around the Rams after this season shouldn’t be a long-term project.
Dramatic reversals of form are the norm in the Not For Long league. Green Bay
is 5-1 this season and Tampa Bay is 4-2. Conversely, the Saints went to Seattle
winless and the explosive Bengals lost four of their first five games. Things
change in a hurry in the NFL.

Believe it or not, the Rams do have some young players to build around. Clifton
Ryan and Adam Carriker were forceful in the middle of the defensive line the
last two weeks. Tye Hill, Jonathan Wade, O.J. Atogwe, Victor Adeyanju, Mark
Setterstrom, Richie Incognito, Brian Leonard -– these kids all have some value.

This is a different offense when Steven Jackson, Orlando Pace, Marc Bulger,
Isaac Bruce, Drew Bennett and Dante Hall are all healthy. We never saw that
scenario this season and we never will.

Defensive veterans Leonard Little, James Hall, Fakhir Brown and Will
Witherspoon are worthy players, although Witherspoon would be more forceful
playing outside linebacker.

Before players began to fall, I believed the Rams would start this season by
winning four of their first six games. Instead, they lost all six as their
casualties mounted.

The difference between 4-2 and 0-6 isn’t as great as you would think. Better
health, better coaching, better effort and better luck could have kept these
same players in contention.

But this season, Linehan reminds us, “is what it is.” The Rams failure is, as
Linehan says, “humbling.”

(“Embarrassing” is another word for it, but Linehan objected to that adjective
at his news conference last Monday.)

In the near term, Linehan and his assistants must coach every day as if it is
their last. They must try new strategies and different motivational tactics.

They must turn Rams Park upside down. Business as usual won’t cut it anymore.
This is an emergency. Players should feel the sense of urgency when they walk
in the door Monday -– and they should feel it every day through the end of the

If urgency brings a few volcanic eruptions along the way, then so be it.
Composure is an overrated quality on 0-6 teams. Just ask the Vikings, who
knocked off the Bears after an, um, exciting week of preparations.

In the longer term, the Rams should heed Bernie Miklasz’s advice. The current
way of running this football operation does not work. John Shaw and Jay Zygmunt
really want to win -– and that’s great -– but their operating method has failed.

This franchise must hire the most capable football man it can woo to chart its
future course. That could come in the form of a team president, general
manager, head coach -– or some combination of all those jobs. The Rams need
stronger leadership at the top.

We all know there is a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL. The
talent is evenly spread. Over the long haul, teams with better management and
better coaching prevail.

Injuries and luck are unhappy X-factors, but well-run teams have a much better
chance to plow through those variables. The Rams are NOT a well-run team.

The Rams are NOT giving themselves their best chance to win with the players
left standing.

In the near term, the current coaches and players need to try everything to
salvage some good things from this season. They owe that to themselves, their
employer and the fans. In many cases, their careers are on the line.

For the long term, Georgia Frontiere, Stan Kroenke, Shaw and Zygmunt must come
up with new and better ways of doing things. Hiring Dick Vermeil turned out to
be a masterstroke -– and now this far-flung leadership team needs another one.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Frerotte's start filled with lows and highs

As he watched Arizona cornerback Roderick Hood streak toward the end zone with
a football that only seconds earlier had been in his hands, Rams quarterback
Gus Frerotte had one desperate thought.

"I just hoped that somebody could catch him," he said. But he knew better.

After stepping in front of tight end Randy McMichael and intercepting
Frerotte's pass early in the fourth quarter, Hood had clear sailing. His
68-yard touchdown — on his second interception — put the momentum firmly in
Arizona's camp, and the Cardinals went on to a 34-31 victory Sunday that
dropped the Rams to 0-5.

Frerotte, who started for banged-up Marc Bulger, was furious with himself for
that throw. "That was a back-breaker," he said. "I was getting some pressure
and I was just trying to get it out of my hand and not take a sack. ... I'm
smarter than that, I've played long enough that I can't make a throw like that
that basically gives them the game."

Making his first start in two years — the 80th of his 14-year NFL career —
Frerotte, 36, had a full day replete with devastating lows and exhilarating

On the negative side, he was intercepted three times — all in the second half —
and those errors cost the Rams 14 points: Hood's score, and another TD later
after a pick by safety Adrian Wilson that give Arizona possession on the Rams'
39-yard line.

"Right now, where we are offensively, we have to be really ball-secure,"
Frerotte said. "Every game we've lost, we've had turnovers on offense, and
those are going to kill you every time."

On the plus side, Frerotte passed for 262 yards and three touchdowns —
exceeding by one the offense's total production in the first four outings. The
Rams piled up 375 total yards; their average had been 262.5. yards.

"We played hard, we put points on the board, we moved the ball even with guys
being out" with injuries, Frerotte noted. "I think there are going to be a lot
of good things to watch on the film."

Rookie running back Brian Leonard should like what he sees. Subbing a second
consecutive week for Steven Jackson (groin), Leonard carried 18 times for 102
yards and caught five passes for 33 yards.

"I think the O-linemen and me, we did a good job," Leonard said. "Our goal is
to rush over 4 yards per carry and over 100 yards. And we did it, so we
accomplished our running game."

The passing game ran smoothly, too — with some glaring exceptions. "Gus did a
great job," center Brett Romberg said. "No mix-ups, no funky audibles, nothing."

Frerotte's first scoring pass, a 16-yard strike to wide receiver Drew Bennett
on the first play of the second quarter, ended the Rams' streak of possessions
without a touchdown at 32. "That was exciting," Romberg said. "I think all 11
of us were in the end zone congratulating Bennett."

Later, Frerotte hooked up with wideout Torry Holt for an 11-yard score and
found McMichael with a 24-yard toss with 13 seconds remaining. Frerotte hit
Holt for a 2-point conversion, but the Cardinals recovered the ensuing onside

"We were in a great groove," McMichael said. "We moved the ball up and down the
field, made some big plays, and were aggressive in the red zone. That's why we

The glitch in the attack came with the Rams leading 20-17 midway through the
third quarter. It started with Hood's first interception. In the Rams'
subsequent five possessions, Frerotte misfired on seven of 10 passes, including
his two other interceptions. With 3:11 to go, the Cardinals had surged to a
34-23 edge, rendering the Rams' late rally moot.

"Regardless of what we did offensively, we still lost," Frerotte said. "And
that's the bottom line."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Rams Deal With Injuries

By Nick Wagoner

Senior Writer

IRVING , Tex. – While coach Scott Linehan and Co. are quick to dismiss injuries as a reason for the team’s early season struggles, it’s hard to look past what has seemingly been an unprecedented run of bad luck that has led to one of the lengthiest injury lists in the NFL.

Entering Sunday’s game against the Cowboys, the Rams were already without running back Steven Jackson (groin), cornerback Tye Hill (back), guard Richie Incognito (ankle), left tackle Orlando Pace (shoulder), guard Mark Setterstrom (knee) and that was just the starters.

One would think things could only get better in terms of injuries considering the length of that list, but somehow they seemed to get worse for a Rams team that could use as much help as possible.

“We are the walking wounded right now,” defensive end Leonard Little said. “We have a lot of guys injured but that’s why you are NFL players. Second team guys have to step up and make plays. We have a lot of guys injured right now, but hopefully guys will come back and play next week and we can try to get our first win.”

Even Little wasn’t immune Sunday, though. Little suffered a right knee strain late in the game. Little stayed in the game, but said he will have an MRI on Monday to see if there is any severe damage to the knee.

“I went back out there and played, but I don’t know,” Little said. “I am ready to go whenever they call me to play no matter what. I am going to get it checked out tomorrow. It should be fine.”

Early indications are that Little was actually one of the lucky ones. Right tackle Adam Goldberg suffered what Linehan called a left knee sprain. But in the locker room after the game, Goldberg indicated he thought there might be a tear and there’s a chance he could miss an extended period.

Brandon Gorin replaced Goldberg at right tackle and it appears yet another line combination will take its place in front of Bulger next week one way or another.

Linebacker Raonall Smith suffered an injury similar to Goldberg’s, only it was his right knee. He left the game after a special teams play and did not return.

Strong safety Corey Chavous suffered a pectoral injury that is being called a strain but could be worse and cause him to miss time as well.

Receiver Isaac Bruce suffered a left hamstring strain. It didn’t appear to be as serious as the others, but he will be evaluated Monday as well.

The most serious injuries belong to Smith, Goldberg and Chavous. All three will likely miss extended time with the possibility of season ending ailments.

Dane Looker, meanwhile, suffered maybe the scariest of the injuries as he has swelling in his leg that could cut off circulation. He stayed behind to spend the night at the Baylor University medical center as a precautionary measure.

All told, it would be hard to find a team in the league with more injuries to more important players. And though Linehan still won’t use it as an excuse, it’s easy to see why the Rams are struggling to find their first win.

“"I'’m sick and tired of losing,”" Linehan said. “"I think everybody else in our locker room would tell you the same. Injuries seem to be a part of the game that we have had our share of but we have got to find ways to win football games."

“"If you guys had about five hours, I could give you a whole bunch of excuses, but we are not going to go there. We have to find a solution to the problem.”"

DONNIE’S DAY: If there’s one area the Rams don’t need to find a solution to a problem it is at the punter position for it appears they have finally found the leg for the long term they have needed since arrival in St. Louis.

Donnie Jones has quietly pieced together an excellent season, but just how good he has been was not on full display until Sunday’s game.

With the offense struggling, Jones got plenty of chances to showcase his talent.

“"Each week I go to practice and work game situations,”" Jones said. “"Ultimately Sunday is a test and you go out and just execute. Punting the ball is about field position. You try to give your team the best possible field position to work with.”"

Jones finished the game with eight attempts for 442 yards, an average of 55.3 per attempt with a net average of 44.6. He pinned the Cowboys inside the 20 on four occasions (one of which started at the Dallas 1 and another that was dead at the Dallas 2) and had a long of 66 yards.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Rookie running back Brian Leonard made his starting debut as an NFL back Sunday with mixed results.

By all accounts, Leonard ran well and ran hard on his way to a 58-yard performance on 16 carries. He added a catch for a yard.

Linehan praised Leonard’s effort in the game’s aftermath, but Leonard was his own biggest critic.

"“I made some rookie mistakes,"” Leonard said. "“I have to go back and look at film and get coached up on it. As a whole, I think I did all right, but it wasn’t good enough to win so it’s nothing.”"

RAM BITS: Inactives for the Rams on Sunday were Hill, Jackson, Incognito, linebacker Tim McGarigle, offensive lineman Jeremy Parquet, defensive tackle Louis Leonard, tight end Dominique Byrd and third quarterback Marques Hagans

Dante Hall’s 85-yard punt return for a touchdown was the first by a Ram since Dre Bly on Dec. 15, 2002 and the first return of any kind for a score since Chris Johnson brought a kickoff back against Seattle in 2005

Kicker Jeff Wilkins’ missed from 28 yards out in the first half was his first miss inside 30 yards since the season finale on Jan. 1, 2006 (the last game of the 2005 season).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rams not on the same page

Alex Marvez,

TAMPA - St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger throws into the end zone thinking his wide receiver will cut the sideline route short and use a seven-inch height advantage in single coverage to snare the football.

Drew Bennett instead runs a fade directly toward the back pylon, allowing mismatched Tampa Bay cornerback Phillip Buchanon to intercept what becomes an under-thrown pass.
This was supposed to be the second coming of the "Greatest Show on Turf?"

Of the NFL's winless teams, only New Orleans is more disappointing than the Rams. The Saints, though, can avoid dropping to 0-3 by winning Monday night against Tennessee.

St. Louis is already there after Sunday's 24-3 road loss to Tampa Bay.

"We seemed to have a lot of those (mistakes)," said Bulger, who tried to take the blame for the miscommunication with Bennett. "I don't want to be standing here next week playing the 'What if?' game because we're digging a big, big hole right now."

More surprising than the size of that pit is how it was created. St. Louis has some of the NFL's top skill-position talent in Bulger, running back Steven Jackson and two wide receivers (Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt) with Hall of Fame-caliber statistics. The defense was the biggest area of concern entering the season.

Yet it's a punchless St. Louis offense that is proving a liability. The Rams' inability to score touchdowns after halftime or when reaching the red zone proved costly again Sunday as Tampa Bay (2-1) extended a 10-3 lead in the fourth quarter. Previous losses to Carolina and San Francisco followed a similar script.

"We had every chance to put all these teams away," Rams wide receiver Dante Hall said. "This is extremely frustrating."

Bulger had as many turnovers as the Rams had points, but he isn't completely responsible for Sunday's mess. There were more botched routes, dropped passes, suspect play calls and a three-of-12 success rate on third downs. Plus, the offense received little help from sloppy special teams play that included Jeff Wilkins missing field goals of 42 and 43 yards.

Jackson rushed for 115 yards on 30 carries but the Bucs never changed a cover-two scheme that deployed their safeties deep to prevent big plays. Of his 17 completions, Bulger's longest pass covered just 18 yards.

"Something needs to be corrected," Bulger said. "Trying only gets you so far. Maybe in high school and grade school it works. But in the NFL, nobody wants to hear about that."

Still, fixing the problems won't be easy. Three of the Rams' next four games are on the road against Dallas, Seattle and Baltimore.

By the end of that stretch, Bulger might not still be standing. An offensive line already without All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace (shoulder/injured reserve) lost another starter Sunday when left guard Mark Setterstrom suffered a season-ending knee injury. Fittingly, Setterstrom was hurt blocking on a field goal attempt after a fourth-quarter Rams drive stalled at the Tampa Bay 7-yard line.

"I'm losing my offensive linemen every week it seems like," Jackson said. "Now it's getting to the point where I'm not concerned about my production. These are my friends as well."

Unlike last Sunday against San Francisco, Jackson didn't throw a sideline tirade late in the fourth quarter as the Rams unraveled. This week, it was tight end Randy McMichael who lost his cool.

After Bulger's ill-timed throw to Bennett was intercepted in the third quarter, McMichael began waving his hands and screaming "I'm open!" to a Rams assistant coach while leaving the field. He kept repeating the same message for several minutes while sitting on the bench.

When Bucs third-string running back Earnest Graham scored the first of his two fourth-quarter touchdown runs, McMichael bounced his helmet off the ground in frustration as shell-shocked teammates in the vicinity showed no emotion at all.

"Everybody is in a funk," McMichael said. "We're really out of sync. If we didn't have the talent, you could understand why stuff like this happens. But we have so much talent, especially on the offensive side, and our defense is fighting their butts off.

"The craziest thing about this is it's so many little things. The little things are getting us beat."

Monday, September 17, 2007

Rams, 0-2 at Home, Have History Against Them

By Bill Coats

Research done by colleague Bernie Miklasz makes this much crystal clear about the Rams: Statistically, their chances of making the playoffs are almost nil.

As Miklasz wrote earlier in the week, “Over the last five seasons, since the divisional realignment went into place, of the 60 NFL teams to have qualified for the playoffs, only four made it there after starting off 0-2. And of the four of the 60 who survived, only one, the 2003 Philadelphia Eagles, reached the postseason after opening the regular season with two consecutive home losses.”

That exactly where the Rams stand after stumbling at the Edward Jones Dame against Carolina last week and then San Francisco 17-16 on Sunday. The Rams last started 0-2 at home in 1998; they finished 4-12.

“It’s a hole,” kicker Jeff Wilkins said just moments after his 56-yard field goal try with 1:04 left fell short. “But it’s a long season.”

That was the mantra in the locker room as the players tried to apply some positive spin to a highly disappointing start.

“It’s a big loss as far as the (NFC West) division goes,” linebacker Will Witherspoon said. “There’s a long road ahead of us. You can’t just say, ‘Well, we started 0-2 and let’s just ride in from here.’ You can’t just shut it down.”

Dante Hall, whose fumbled punt with about 5½ minutes left, set up Frisco’s game-winning field goal, was perhaps the most adamant in defending the Rams’ hopes of achieving a major turnaround.

“We went 4-1 last year and didn’t make the playoffs, so it’s not in any way a season-ending loss for us,” Hall said. “It hurts, but in no way, shape, form or fashion is this season over.”

It resumes next week at Tampa Bay.


Wilkins, who nailed a 53-yarder earlier in the game, is one of the most accurate long-range kickers in the league. Still, he knew after pregame warmups that 56 yards was probably out of his range.

“I give (coach Scott Linehan) a distance, and last week and this week I was saying the 35-yard line, which would be a 53″- yard try,” Wilkins said. “But then when it comes down to something like that . . . that’s where I rely on adrenaline maybe to get me a couple of more yards. I hit it and . . . that was pretty much (all) I had.”


Notes & quotes:

>>QB Marc Bulger, sacked six times and hit hard on perhaps half of his 41 pass attempts, reported soreness in his ribs and knee after the game. Since Bulger became the team’s primary QB in 2002, he’s only been sacked more often twice – seven times, by Carolina last year and Frisco in ’05.

>>RG Claude Terrell left briefly with a bruised right thigh, Adam Goldberg stepping in for him. “I got leg-whipped pretty good,” Terrell said.

>>WR Isaac Bruce’s 145 yards (on eight catches) marked his most prolific outing since he totaled 170 vs. Green Bay in 2004.

>>The Rams did a decent job on RB Frank Gore, the NFC’s top rusher last year. Gore’s 20 carries netted 81 yards, but 43 of them came on a tackle-busting 43-yard touchdown jaunt. He averaged only 2.0 yards on his 19 other carries.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Rams facing more time without Pace

The sight of Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace dropping to one knee in pain as he tried to walk off the field after injuring his right shoulder in the second quarter Sunday had to make the hearts of St. Louis Rams fans slump.

Pace will undergo an MRI on his shoulder today, and his teammates are bracing for the possibility of another long period without the anchor to their offensive line.

"We played a while without him last year, so unfortunately we do have some experience with it," Rams quarterback Marc Bulger said of Pace, who missed the final six games of the 2006 season with a torn triceps muscle in his left arm.

Pace was injured pass blocking with 1:45 left in the second quarter.

Rams coach Scott Linehan said the initial diagnosis for Pace is a sprained shoulder.

Adam Goldberg, who has played mostly guard in his previous four seasons in the NFL, replaced Pace at left tackle.

"That's kind of the life of a backup offensive linemen," Goldberg said of being ready to play anywhere if needed. "Due to the rules in this league, you can't carry a backup at every position. I went into this game knowing that if any of the four (offensive linemen) other than the center got hurt, I was going in there."

Goldberg said he felt better prepared to play left tackle than they did last season after replacing Pace in the second quarter against Seattle in Game 10.

"It's never fortunate when somebody like Orlando -- a Hall of Famer -- goes down, but given that circumstance, I was fortunate that for the last three weeks I've been playing left tackle," he said.

The Rams were already thin at tackle after Todd Steussie suffered a broken foot in the preseason.

It's unknown if the Rams will stick with Goldberg at left tackle or move Alex Barron from the right side to the left side if Pace is sidelined for an extended period.

In other injury news, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa suffered a sprained right foot on a 7-yard run by DeAngelo Williams with 10:38 left in the fourth quarter. Tinoisamoa returned for a couple of plays, but then retired to the bench.

What Brown can do for you

Millford Brown was somewhat of a surprise starter at right guard in place of Richie Incognito, who has a high ankle sprain.

Claude Terrell also had worked at right guard in practice.

"They have been very close, and it was going to have to be one of the two," Linehan said.

Brown said he knew he would be starting already last Thursday, even though he was never told directly.

"The way the rotation was going in practice, and they kept telling me, 'You need to have a good one this week,"' Brown said.

Brown said he felt he performed well.

"I obviously did pretty good in the run game," Brown said. "But, we lost the game."

Quick hits

The Rams' inactives included wide receiver Drew Bennett, who has been bothered by a tight thigh muscle for the last week, and defensive end Victor Adeyanju, who sustained a sprained knee in practice last week.

Also inactive were Terrell, running back Antonio Pittman, linebacker Quinton Culberson and defensive end Eric Moore.

The Rams are 8-5 in season openers since coming to St. Louis in 1995.

The Rams had four tight ends in uniform for the game, but none of them caught a pass until Randy McMichael hauled in an 8-yard reception with 5:49 left in the game.

McMichael finished with two catches for 24 yards.

The Panthers had one sack, while the Rams went sackless in the game.

The Panthers had a huge advantage in time of possession in the second half as they had the ball for 19 minutes, 59 seconds compared to 10:01for the Rams.

According to the press box statistics, the Rams' leading tackler was free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe with 10.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Fitz traded to Bengals

The Rams were minus one quarterback Saturday morning when they took the field
for practice at Rams Park, and sent another packing a few hours later when they
sent their final roster cuts into the NFL office.

The day began with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick traded to Cincinnati for a
seventh-round draft pick in the 2008 draft. It’s believed to be a conditional
pick, with Fitzpatrick needing to be on the Bengals roster a certain number of
games in order for the Rams to receive the seventh-rounder.

Later in the day, the Rams placed No. 4 quarterback Brock Berlin on waivers.
That leaves the Rams with only two quarterbacks on their active roster, a
growing trend in the NFL.

"I think there were six or seven (teams) last year (with two quarterbacks), and
I think there could be more including ourselves this year," Scott Linehan said.
"Either way you’re giving up something, so we’ll have to have a contingency
plan for a third. We’ve got a couple ex-quarterbacks on our roster. We’ll
figure out what kind of plays we’d have to run with those fellows."

That would be wide receivers Drew Bennett and Marques Hagans, who were both
quarterbacks in college. In the meantime, the Rams plan to sign Berlin to the
practice squad if he clears waivers by Sunday afternoon.

The Rams made several other moves to get down to Saturday afternoon’s roster
limit of 53 players. Offensive lineman Todd Steussie, who underwent surgery for
a broken foot Friday, has been placed on the injured reserve list, ending his
season. Cornerback Fakhir Brown’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL
substance abuse policy began Saturday afternoon, meaning he does not count
against the 53-man roster.

Besides Berlin, the Rams released seven other players -- according to league
sources -- to reach the 53-man limit: wide receivers Derek Stanley and
Dominique Thompson; offensive linemen Dustin Fry and Jeremy Parquet; linebacker
Jon Alston; defensive tackle Keith Jackson; and cornerback Darius Vinnett.

As of late Saturday afternoon, the Rams had not confirmed those cuts or made an
announcement on released players.

The biggest surprise in the group was Alston, a third-round pick in 2006, who
although raw and unpolished, had seemed to make substantial progress over the
course of training camp and the preseason. But it appears that rookie free
agent Quinton Culberson has won Alston’s roster spot. Fry (fifth round),
Stanley (seventh round), and Jackson (seventh round) were ’07 draft picks.

Even with Saturday’s roster moves, there could be more moves forthcoming before
the roster settles in. The Rams still have nine defensive linemen -- one more
than usual -- with ends Trevor Johnson and Eric Moore both on the roster as of
Saturday afternoon. The release of Vinnett left them with only eight defensive
backs -- one fewer than usual.

In addition, all four tight ends -- Dominique Byrd, Joe Klopfenstein, Randy
McMichael, and Aaron Walker -- remained on the roster as did fullback Madison

Monday, August 27, 2007

Linehan Confident in Offense

By Brett Grassmuck

Three of four preseason games are in the books, and although the Rams’ offensive first unit has yet to score a touchdown, coach Scott Linehan remains confident that his offense is better than it was at this point last season.

“I can tell you this: I’m one-hundred percent more comfortable with where we are on offense, believe it or not, than where we were a year ago,” Linehan said. ‘I think our depth is better. If you were to fast-forward and say this is going to be our roster, these are the guys that are going to step in if something happened to the starters, I’d feel much more comfortable with whom we’d be able to put in there and how effective they’d be.”

The Rams’ first-team offense has not been able to find the end zone, but it has had success moving the ball against three of the NFL’s top defensive teams. Against Oakland, a batted ball and an illegal procedure penalty in the red zone limited the first team offense to only a field goal.

“I’m not concerned about (not scoring),” Linehan said. “I’d be more concerned if we couldn’t move the football – if we couldn’t get a first down or we couldn’t drive the ball against the three defenses we’ve played.”

The Rams’ first team offense did not find the end zone in the 2006 preseason, and it led to a slow start, although a season-opening victory against Denver on the strength of six Jeff Wilkins field goals.

“I recognize that, and we recognize as a coaching staff that we didn’t score last year in the preseason, and we started slowly,” offensive coordinator Greg Olsen said. “I just think it’s a totally different set of circumstances as to why we haven’t scored this season as opposed to last season. We’ll continue to work on the problems that we have identified, and I’m confident that we’ll get them fixed for the first game.”

Penalty Kill : The Rams’ defense showed some positive signs on Friday, coming up with their first two turnovers against the Raiders, but five pass interference penalties lead to scoring drives and eventually a victory for the Raiders.

“They were all close plays,” Linehan said. “You can sit here and argue all day that it’s incidental bumping or maybe both guys are in contact. To me, if you’re playing tight coverage and playing man coverage, you really have to be right with your technique.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he was unsure of a few of the judgment calls by the officials, but stressed that the Rams have not had a problem with pass interference, even with their aggressive defensive style.

“We had a few last year, and you’re going to get that, but we haven’t had a problem with it,” Haslett said. “If there’s a receiver running by our corners, or we’re panicking on a ball, then you’re nervous, but you didn’t see that in this game.”

Roster Battles Rage On : Linehan said the battle for the center position between Andy McCollum and Brett Romberg is still too close to call, but a decision will be made on the starter before Thursday’s preseason contest against the Chiefs.

With guard Richie Incognito out with an ankle injury, guards Claude Terrell and Milford Brown are battling for the backup position. Terrell started against Oakland, but Brown received his share of snaps.

“The strong part of our team right now is our depth inside at the center and the two guards,” Olsen said. “There’s competition still going on at that position. A lot of people like to talk about Romberg and McCollum, but you’ve got some guys at guard that are battling as well on a daily and weekly basis and trying to find what their role is going to be. We’re happy with the competition inside.”

On the defensive side, two converted linebackers are vying for the eighth spot on the defensive line. Defensive ends Trevor Johnson and Eric Moore have been impressive during the preseason and both would add depth to the Rams’ pass rush.

Injury Update : Wide Receiver Dominique Thompson and Linebacker Tim McGarigle, who have both been sidelined by injuries for the first part of the preseason, will return to action on Thursday against the Chiefs.

“This is kind of like the bottom of the ninth for (McGarigle), and a lot of guys come up with big hits in the bottom of the ninth,” Haslett said. “We know what Timmy is and what kind of player he is. It’ll be good to see him in action this week. He’ll get a lot of playing time this week, and we’ll get to judge him on that.”

Rams Trim Roster : With the Rams roster needing to be trimmed to 75 players by Tuesday, the Rams released 10 players following Friday night’s contest at Oakland: wide receivers Rasheed Marshall, Nate Morton and Markee White, running back Kay-Jay Harris, fullback Brad Lau, punter Fred Capshaw, defensive end Alton Pettway, linebacker Larry Edwards and defensive backs Jeffery Dukes and Harrison Smith.

The roster currently sits at 76 players, so one more cut will have to be made before Tuesday’s deadline.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Rams' Offense Remains Ineffective


Those looking for positive signs from the Rams didn't have much to hang their helmets on in Saturday night's exhibition game against San Diego.

The first-team offense, albeit minus running back Steven Jackson, was held off the scoreboard. The first-team defense was so-so at best against the potent Chargers running game. And special teams sprang several leaks, including one tidal wave: an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown by Darren Sproles.

It all added up to a 30-13 loss to the Chargers that must have left the Rams' coaching staff thankful that it's still only August.

"There's not a whole lot of positives in the loss," coach Scott Linehan said. "I'm sure when we watch the film ... there's going to be some things we're going to look at and say, 'That wasn't so bad.' But right now, it's hard to put a lot of positive spin on it."

With their starting offenses on the field, San Diego and the Rams both advanced the ball twice into enemy territory in three possessions.

The difference? San Diego converted its first such possession into a touchdown. The Rams, meanwhile, lost the ball on turnovers on both of their possessions. And that pretty much was the difference in Saturday's exhibition contest played in a half-empty Edward Jones Dome — that, and San Diego's punt return for a touchdown.

Keep in mind that neither team's Pro Bowl running back touched the football Saturday. The Rams' Steven Jackson, who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage a year ago, was in for only one snap. The Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, who finished No. 2 in yards from scrimmage last season, was not in uniform.

The Rams nickeled and dimed their way downfield after taking the opening kickoff. Despite no play gaining more than 9 yards, the Rams advanced the ball to the Chargers 26, where they had a first down with just over 8 minutes to go in the opening quarter. But after taking a short pass from Marc Bulger, Madison Hedgecock had the ball stripped by San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips. Shawne Merriman recovered the fumble for the Chargers.

Linehan looked at the replay not once, but twice, on the big scoreboard screen in the dome before tossing his red flag. But Linehan's replay challenge was unsuccessful.

In any event, San Diego made the most of the turnover, marching 71 yards for a touchdown. Tomlinson's understudy, Michael Turner, had gains of 17 and 9 yards on the drive, with linebacker Will Witherspoon and cornerback Tye Hill missing tackles that could have shortened each gain considerably.

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson scored the touchdown on a 5-yard reception from Philip Rivers with 1:48 left in the first quarter. Jackson came down with only one foot in bounds, but members of referee Larry Nemmers' officiating crew ruled that Jackson was pushed out of bounds by Rams defenders.

The Rams took the ensuing kickoff and advanced quickly into Chargers territory. On first and 10 from the San Diego 25, Bulger went to the end zone, but his pass intended for Torry Holt was picked off by Chargers safety Clinton Hart with 11:49 left in the second quarter.

"They stayed true to their coverage," Bulger said. "I probably should have put it on (Holt) more, put it on his body more. I led him a little too much."

Bulger and the starters played one more series before giving way to the backups, but went three-and-out. So in five series with the starting offense this preseason, albeit most of them with rookie Brian Leonard as the feature back, the Rams haven't scored a point, much less a touchdown.

"You want to always come out and do your best," Bulger said. "But we're not going to panic. We definitely want to come out and score more touchdowns and finish drives. We're really good at making adjustments during the game. ... It's a little difficult to do that now, because you don't want to show things."

In three of those first-team possessions this preseason, the series has ended with a turnover — two interceptions by Bulger and the Hedgecock fumble. Together, the Rams are minus six in two exhibition games. They have committed six turnovers, but their defense hasn't come up with a takeaway.

"It starts with the head coach, making sure we continue to work on it," Linehan said. "We emphasize it. We talk a lot about (turnover margin). But we have not executed that in preseason. ... And that's got to change."

Monday, August 13, 2007

Leonard Passes First Running Test

Granted, it's just the preseason. But Brian Leonard's first NFL touchdown didn't even bring a perfunctory spike from the Rutgers running back.

In fact, Leonard handed the ball to the referee so quickly that the official was still signaling "touchdown."

"I think the ref was surprised," Leonard said. "He had to reach down to grab it."

Leave it to Rams teammate Steven Jackson to recognize the significance of Leonard's 10-yard touchdown run Friday night against Minnesota.

"He said, 'You've got to get the ball, man,'" Leonard recalled. "'That's your first NFL touchdown.' So Steven was actually running around looking for it. That's just the kind of guy he is."

Jackson apparently found the football Friday in the Metrodome, because equipment manager Todd Hewitt has the ball and will send it out to be "painted" in commemorative fashion.

So chalk up one for the Leonard trophy case. The Rams hope it's the first of many for Leonard, although Jackson obviously is the main man in the St. Louis backfield. The Rams drafted Leonard in the second round in April to spell Jackson, serve as a third-down back and use his size (6 feet 1, 226 pounds) to pass block. So far, so good.

"Just in the first preseason game, he met all of those expectations that we had of him," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said. "He caught the ball very well. I thought when he had the chance to run the football, he made the most out of his opportunities. ... And he showed some intelligence in the protection part of the game."

Leonard conceded that he was nervous at the start, resulting in a couple of missed holes.

"First couple carries, I was just running," Leonard said. "I wasn't reading my blocks too well. After I settled down, got a few plays in me, I was all right. I think I read the blocks better and had a couple nice runs."

Sure enough, the more he played, the better he looked. By game's end he had more yards rushing (36 to 33) than Minnesota's heralded running back, Adrian Peterson, the No. 7 overall pick in this year's draft.

After a while, it became just football for Leonard. Once he settled in against the Vikings, he displayed a knack for knowing when to put his head down and steam toward a first down, and when to try some shake-and-bake to try to make a defender miss.

"That's the first thing you notice about him as a runner," coach Scott Linehan said. "He just has great instincts. He sees the hole. He gets it done a different way than Steven Jackson. But that's not unusual. He's a guy that understands how to utilize what he does best — which is great vision and run downhill. He makes the decision, and he very rarely takes lost yards."

Although he's less than a year older than Leonard, Jackson, 24, does have three years in the NFL and is serving as a mentor of sorts. Leonard already has grown to admire Jackson's practice habits. And he has taken mental notes on Jackson's running style.

"He's had a huge impact on me," Leonard said. "When Steven hits that hole, he bursts through that hole, and lowers his shoulders, too."

As a result, Leonard has tried to lower his pad level before contact on runs.

"In college, you can get away with it a little bit," Leonard said. "You can play with a high pad level and you can break the arm tackles. But at this level, you've got to lower your shoulders to break those arm tackles."

Jackson already has advised Leonard to try using a little "wiggle" from time to time as a runner.

"Steven told me: 'It's a long season, buddy. You better try to make some of them miss sometime,'" Leonard said.

Those may be words to heed, because Leonard came out of the Minnesota game with sore ribs — although it didn't prevent him from practicing Sunday.