Monday, November 17, 2008

St. Louis Rams lose to San Francisco 49ers after another bad first half

AWFUL FIRST CHAPTER • San Francisco puts the Rams in a 32-point hole after the
first half.
A PREDICTABLE ENDING • The Rams experienced similar troubles while losing to
the Jets last week.

* * * * * * *

SAN FRANCISCO — Costly turnovers on offense, missed tackles on defense, and a
huge halftime deficit.

"It was terrible," coach Jim Haslett said. "You turn the ball over three times
in the first half … and then we do nothing on defense to stop 'em. They scored
every time they touched the ball except for the turnover in the first half."

Sound familiar? It should.

At least the Rams showed marked improvement over the first half of last week's
Meltdown in the Meadowlands, a 47-3 loss to the New York Jets. They trailed by
40 points in that one at the half.

In Sunday's 35-16 loss to San Francisco, the Rams trailed by a mere 32 at
halftime in the Collapse at Candlestick.

"The first halves have been devastating to us as a football team, and it's
tough," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "It's tough to recover, when you go in
at half with a team up 40, up 35, on you."

Last week in the Meadowlands, the Jets scored on all seven of their first-half

Sunday at Candlestick Park, the 49ers scored on only five of their six
first-half possessions. (Only a fumble by 49ers running back Frank Gore deep in
St. Louis territory prevented it from being six for six.)

"Coach (Haslett) emphasized all week to come out strong," quarterback Marc
Bulger said. "And he said it again (Saturday) during our walkthrough that we
need to come out fast. We can't have a little adversity hurt us. That was our
(problem) earlier in the year and it seems to have crept back a little bit."

A little bit?

The Rams did manage a couple of first downs off the opening kickoff, advancing
to the San Francisco 30. But then, Josh Brown missed a 48-yard field goal, his
first miss inside 50 yards in 12 such attempts this season.

"That's really not the way you want to start," Haslett said. "Move the ball
down and miss the field goal. And then it led to disaster after that. It just

San Francisco's first possession ended when Gore had the ball poked out from
behind by safety Oshiomogho Atogwe at the end of a 37-yard run. Cornerback
Jason Craft snatched the ball in the air just before stepping out of bounds for
the Rams' first takeaway since the Oct. 26 New England game.

But starting from their 13, the Rams went three-and-out. A short and low punt
by Donnie Jones was returned 29 yards by Allen Rossum, allowing San Francisco
to take over at the St. Louis 34. Four plays and one pass interception penalty
later, the 49ers were in the end zone. (The flag was against Craft, who was
trying to cover longtime Ram Isaac Bruce.)

Gore scored untouched on a 5-yard touchdown run. Two Rams defensive linemen
were knocked down on the play.

Begin snowball effect.

After a St. Louis field goal, a 42-yard pass play from Shaun Hill to Bryant
Johnson set up San Francisco's second TD. (Cornerback Fakhir Brown fell down in
coverage on the play.) The score became 14-3 San Francisco on Hill's 2-yard TD
pass to Vernon Davis, who was strangely open in the middle of the end zone —
where were the Rams' linebackers and safeties?

Now the avalanche began in earnest. Bulger was involved in turnovers on the
Rams' next three possessions — first on a botched center exchange with Nick
Leckey, and then throwing two interceptions.

The St. Louis defense did absolutely nothing to stem the momentum, yielding
touchdowns after each of those three turnovers. A frequent sight was Rams
defenders falling to the ground as one attempted arm tackle after another went

"You can't explain it, you can't make excuses for it," defensive tackle Clifton
Ryan said. "That's what we get paid to do on defense — to tackle the ball

And don't be fooled by San Francisco's relatively modest total of 334 yards
offense. The game was lost in the first half, when the Rams' defense coughed up
259 yards — a pace that would have yielded 518 yards at game's end.

Gore (106 yards) became the sixth opposing running back to top 100 yards
against St. Louis this season. Hill, making just his fourth career start,
became the sixth opposing quarterback to have a 100-plus passer rating (142.3).

So it was more than just the Bulger turnovers that led to another disastrous
first half. Even so, Bulger now has eight turnovers in the last three games:
five interceptions and three lost fumbles.

He was uncharacteristically terse when it came to discussing the botched
exchange with Leckey.

"Those things happen," Bulger said. "It's up to me and him to make it work. And
I'll just leave it at that."

Similarly, Haslett wasn't very expansive when asked about a possible
quarterback change. Last week, Haslett pulled Bulger out of a 40-0 game, later
saying he did so because the contest was over at halftime. Why not this week,
trailing 35-3 at the half?

"I just felt that Marc needed to go in there and try to score some points,"
Haslett said.

Did he think about switching to Trent Green against the 49ers?

"No, not at all," Haslett replied.

Will he switch to Green next week against Chicago?

"Well, we'll see," Haslett replied.

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