Monday, December 1, 2008

Hopes of upset dashed

It wasn't a blowout. It wasn't an embarrassment. But for the sixth Sunday in a
row, it was a loss.

Any hope of a Rams upset victory Sunday vanished when wide receiver Derek
Stanley couldn't catch up with Marc Bulger's deep ball. Dolphins cornerback
Andre' Goodman could, however. Goodman's interception at the Miami 10 with 35
seconds to go preserved a 16-12 victory for Miami (7-5) at the Edward Jones

As a result, the Rams (2-10) "clinched" their sixth season of double-digit
losses in 14 seasons in St. Louis — and the third in the past four years.

This was a day when the Rams did a lot of things right. In one of its best
performances of the season, the defense yielded only one touchdown, forcing
three Dan Carpenter field goals by the Dolphins.

The maligned Rams offensive line allowed no sacks for the first time this
season, keeping NFL sack leader Joey Porter quiet. On the ground, they blocked
their way to 129 yards rushing, the

third-best total this season.

And that was with center Brett Romberg making just his second start of 2008,
left tackle Orlando Pace gutting it out on a bad right knee and rookie John
Greco playing most of the second half at right guard because of lightheadedness
by Richie Incognito.

The offense received a big boost from the return of running back Steven
Jackson, who rushed for 94 yards on 21 carries and had a 16-yard reception.

But the improved execution brought the same old result. Bulger threw three
interceptions in the final 17½ minutes of the game. And once again, the Rams
couldn't get anything done in the red zone.

There was a little bit of controversy as well, with Jackson getting only one
carry in the fourth quarter. And some questionable strategy, with coach Jim
Haslett opting not to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the St. Louis 40 with 4:43
to go.

"He was gassed, and his leg had started bothering him," Haslett said of
Jackson's late-game disappearing act. "We told him before the game — 'Go as far
as you can go. We'll play these other guys.' That's basically what happened."

Afterward, Jackson begged to differ.

"No, I wasn't gassed," Jackson said. "I had 21 carries, and I felt great. So it
wasn't my conditioning. I wish he would stop saying that."

The Dolphins controlled the ball for almost nine minutes in the final quarter,
and the Rams were in their 2-minute offense on their final two possessions,
situations where they planned to use Kenneth Darby going into the game. Still,
it might have been tempting to use Jackson on that fourth-and-1 play — except
Haslett wasn't tempted.

"No, because we had the three timeouts," Haslett said. "I thought we could get
the ball back. That's basically why we (punted). We felt we could stop 'em; we
were playing good enough on defense that we could get the ball back."

But by the time the Rams got the ball back, Miami had gained two first downs,
the Rams had expended all their timeouts and only 1:50 remained on the clock.
Taking over on their 25, the Rams managed one first down and reached their 47
before Bulger's deep ball was intercepted by Goodman. Stanley was maybe a step
and a half away from making a legitimate play on the ball.

"I couldn't feel exactly where their defender was," Stanley said. "I knew he
was close to me, but I felt like I was going to lay out and dive for that ball
and maybe catch it. But he had better position than me, and he made a great
play. … So for that, I feel like I kind of let (the team) down a little bit,
not making that play."

In terms of letdowns, the same could be said for Bulger's first two

"The first one, I didn't see (the defender)," Bulger said. "The second one, I
was throwing to Anthony (Becht); I just didn't get enough on the ball."

The sequence surrounding the first interception was a microcosm of the Rams'
season. St. Louis had a nice drive going in the third quarter when Bulger
completed a 17-yard pass to Torry Holt to the Miami 14.

Much to Holt's chagrin, he was called for offensive pass interference, for
allegedly pushing off on the defender.

"I was just trying to get his hands off me," a frustrated Holt said.
(Television replays didn't show what happened.)

On the next play, Bulger's pass over the middle was intercepted by linebacker
Akin Ayodele, who jammed a receiver on the play, then peeled off to intercept
the pass intended for Jackson.

Two possessions later, with the Rams trailing 13-12, safety Renaldo Hill jammed
tight end Joe Klopfenstein over the middle, then peeled off to intercept the
pass intended for Becht.

The Dolphins converted that turnover into Carpenter's third field goal of the
day and a 16-12 lead, a key three points because it meant the Rams would have
to score a touchdown to win.

"The picks didn't really hurt us," Haslett said, unconvincingly. "The defense
did a great job. … But obviously, three interceptions are three interceptions.
Our problem is, we've got to score touchdowns."

Despite advancing to the Miami 5, 15 and 20 on separate drives, the Rams
managed only four Josh Brown field goals.

"You're not going to win kicking field goals in this league," Haslett said.

No comments: