Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rams get sidetracked, but not derailed


The Rams didn’t extend their winning streak Sunday afternoon, but they continued their transformation.

They are becoming a much, much better football team. The Rams showed this by taking 3-0, 10-7 and 16-13 leads over the Patriots in New England.

Running back Steven Jackson sat out the game with his thigh injury. Defensive end Leonard Little and cornerback Ron Bartell departed with injuries.

But Jim Haslett kept his team on the attack. With a cleaner performance -– fewer penalties, better special teams play, more third-down conversions on offense -– this Rams team could have pulled the upset.

“We need to clean up some things, obviously,” Haslett told the Rams Radio Network after the game. “We can’t do some of the things we did today and win.

“The game boiled down to field position. The whole second half -– and some of the second quarter, too -– the offense had long fields and the defense had short fields.”

There were lots of positive signs, however:

• Rookie receiver Donnie Avery starred, catching six passes for 163 yards and a touchdown. His speed forced the Patriots defense to back off the line of scrimmage.

• Safety O.J. Atogwe and cornerback Fakhir Brown intercepted Matt Cassel passes.

• Rookie defensive end Chris Long delivered two fourth-quarter sacks, including one that snuffed out another Patriots possession.

• Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan broke through the line to make a huge fourth-and-one tackle, turning the ball back to the offense.

• Defensive end Eric Moore, filling in for Little as a pass rusher, delivered a big fourth-quarter sack.

• Fill-in running back Antonio Pittman performed well in Jackson’s absence, gained 105 yards rushing and receiving. This was his first game back since recovering from his broken leg.

Dante Hall, who had just seven catches all season, caught four passes for 47 yards. Suddenly he had a place in this offense.

Marc Bulger threw the longest TD pass of his career, 69 yards, to Avery and passed for 301 yards.

On the down side:

• Bulger suffered four sacks, struggled in third-down situations and threw the late interception that doomed this team.

• The Rams were flagged for nine penalties for 63 yards and had other penalties declined.

• Rams coverage teams allowed 151 return yards.

For the first time this season, this team ACTUALLY SCORED FIRST. They came out on the road, marched downfield and converted with a 20-yard Josh Brown field goal.

Faced with a fourth-and-one situation deep in their own zone, the Rams got the green light from Haslett. Pittman barged for a first down and the gamble paid off.

That aggressive coaching decision set the tone for a good fight Sunday afternoon. Later, Haslett signed off on a successful onside kick to start the second half.

The Rams did not come to New England to play a competitive game and keep the score close. They came to win.

“We felt we could come up here and win this game, to be honest with you,” Haslett said.

A month ago, that would not have been the case.

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