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.