Monday, December 28, 2009

Rams Fall to Arizona

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

GLENDALE, Ariz. – On numerous occasions this season, it’s been evident from a glance at the scoreboard that the Rams have been a play or two away from pulling out a victory.

In fact, entering Sunday’s game against Arizona, the Rams had played eight games that the margin of victory was within one possession. They had won just one of those games.

And in each of those situations, the Rams knew that one play here or one bounce there going in their direction could have significantly altered the outcome.

But sometimes, even when the score isn’t that close, a play or two made earlier in the game can change the way a game plays out, if not the result.

Such was the case in Sunday’s 31-10 loss to Arizona. While the final tally isn’t necessarily misleading in relation to the final statistics, it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story.

“There was a swing there where it really could have been a tight battle if we had held on to a possible interception and we don’t turn the ball over there with a fumble,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Two plays don’t make the game, don’t get me wrong. I think the momentum was headed that way.”

The result was a three-touchdown defeat to the NFC West Division champion Cardinals, who improved to 10-5 with the win. The loss drops the Rams to 1-14 on the season.

Once again, though, that record could have gotten a boost in the other direction were it not for some missed opportunities to make the plays that can change a game.

Coming out of the locker room at halftime trailing 17-0, the Rams came out with their usual high energy effort.

On the fourth play of the half, defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey burst through the middle of Arizona’s line and sacked quarterback Kurt Warner, jarring the ball loose. End Victor Adeyanju recovered at Arizona’s 35 and suddenly the Rams had at least a modicum of momentum in their favor.

Five plays later, on third-and-7, quarterback Keith Null floated a deep pass to the left corner of the end zone. The pass appeared to be overthrown but receiver Brandon Gibson adjusted, leaped and hauled in a spectacular catch with his knee landing in the end zone and possession of the ball.

The catch was ruled incomplete but Spagnuolo challenged and the Rams got it overturned.
“(That was) very nice,” Spagnuolo said. “I give credit to the coaches upstairs too. They saw it was a foot and a knee and he came up with it. It was nice to see Brandon get that.”

Gibson’s first career touchdown catch cut the deficit to 17-7 and now there was much more than just a glimmer of momentum in the Rams’ favor.

Arizona began its next possession at its 32. As Warner dropped back to pass, he quickly fired to his right toward receiver Steve Breaston.

Young cornerback Danny Gorrer, playing in just his second NFL regular season game and learning on the fly, read the three-step drop and jumped the route clean with nothing but about 38 yards of green grass and his first NFL touchdown in front of him.

In a matter of moments, the Rams were poised to shave 14 points off a 17-point deficit. One problem, though, as Gorrer forgot to come up with the catch.

“I was reading the three step and when I saw it I just shot it and I thought I had the interception and took my eyes straight to the end zone and I dropped it,” Gorrer said. “That’s exactly what I was doing. As a rookie, I can’t do that. That could have been a turning point of the game. I have to go back to work and just correct my mistakes.”

Still, the Rams defense got the job done, forcing a three-and-out that would give the offense a chance to shave into the lead.

Danny Amendola has been Mr. Reliable all season and nearly cut the lead down himself as he broke a 34-yard return down the left sideline.

As he attempted to juke punter Ben Graham, he collided with two Cardinals and lost the ball. Arizona recovered the fumble and turns it into a 2-yard touchdown run by Tim Hightower that made it 24-7 and effectively turned momentum back to the Cardinals.

The Rams added a field goal from Josh Brown and Arizona got a 3-yard touchdown run from Chris Wells for the final margin.

“That was kind of a 14-point swing,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s the way the game is. You have got to rebound from that and we really didn’t.”

Of course, matters might have been different for the banged-up Rams had they been unable to get untracked in the first half.

Playing without star running back Steven Jackson for the first time this season, the Rams came out battling, playing the Cardinals to a 0-0 draw in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, though, Arizona got untracked. The Cardinals rattled off 17 consecutive points, buoyed by a pair of Warner touchdown passes and Mike Nugent’s 19-yard field goal.

Falling behind made things difficult on the Rams, especially so without Jackson. Jackson has been the constant all year for the Rams and rushed for over 100 yards in the first meeting but he simply wasn’t able to get past his continued back issues and some leg pain in pregame warm-ups.

“He works through it all week,” Spagnuolo said. “He went out there today and just didn’t feel like he would be able to go out there and play at the level he is used to playing and I respect him for that. He never wants to hurt the football team. So we made the decision to put him down.”

With Jackson out, the already shorthanded Rams were about as shorthanded as they can get. Although Kenneth Darby and rookie Chris Ogbonnaya filled in admirably by combining to rush 20 times for 85 yards, the lack of Jackson’s presence allowed Arizona to put even more pressure on rookie quarterback Keith Null with a variety of blitzes.

Despite all of that, the Rams still found themselves within a couple of plays of giving the division champions all they could handle on their home field.

“I don’t want to put that on two players or two plays, I think it’s more than that but the bottom line is that is a playoff football team and there was a moment in the game where we were battling a playoff football team and one turn or two here, we are in the game,” Spagnuolo said. “Going forward, I think that’s important, even undermanned as we were, I think it’s important the players realize that.”

Unfortunately, in this 2009 season, it’s a feeling the Rams know all too well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rams Fall Short Against Texans

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

In a week in which the Rams were coming off a big defeat, lost two starting offensive linemen and canceled a practice because of illness, the deck was decidedly stacked against them heading into Sunday’s game against Houston.

It would have been the easy thing for them to simply pack it in and allow the Texans to do something similar to what happened in Tennessee last week.

But the easy thing has been far from the choice for the Rams all year. And with everything seemingly working against them, they put up another valiant effort before falling 16-13 to Houston on Sunday.

To say that there are no moral victories in the NFL might be a familiar refrain and once again the Rams are taking no solace in the fact that they kept it close, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be proud of the effort they put in once again Sunday.

“This is a tough one,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I am very disappointed but very, very proud. After everything we went through this week and being a little short handed with injuries, the guys were out there battling. I just asked them to play each play for each other and I thought they did that.”

The Rams drop to 1-13 on the season with two games to play while Houston improved to 7-7 with the victory and at least put themselves in the middle of a muddled AFC playoff picture.

For the Rams, perhaps the most disappointing thing is that once again they came up just short of getting a win.

Seven times this season, the Rams have been within one possession (eight points or less) of their opponent going into the closing moments of a game. Only the one time against Detroit were they able to make the play or two necessary to get a victory.

“As a team, we have to learn how to put these close ones away,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We have to grow and mature in that area. But for us to come out and fight like this, there is something to look at and take away from it.”

Indeed, the Rams again found themselves with possession of the ball and the chance to get it done late in the game.

Tied at 13 with 4:36 to go, the Rams had it at their 23. On first down, quarterback Keith Null dropped off a screen pass to Jackson that went 25 yards to St. Louis’ 48.

That left the Rams needing only about 20 yards to get into field goal position for a chance to tie it up. And, of course, a touchdown was reasonable from that distance as well for a possible win.

But the next three plays netted zero yards and Spagnuolo faced a decision on fourth-and-10. With two timeouts and the two-minute warning, he opted for the punt.

“At that point we just needed a field goal to tie it and get it to overtime and punt it down in there,” Spagnuolo said. “We would have been able to get the ball back in decent field position and work our way for a field goal…so that’s why I went with that.”

Although the defense had stopped the run well all day, it was unable to do so when it needed to the most. The Texans ran three times, picked up a first down and were able to run out the clock for the win.

“You feel comfortable with the run defense,” Spagnuolo said. “You knew they had to run it; they forced us to use our timeouts.”

Speaking of feeling comfortable, it was clear that Null was much more settled in this week after taking all of the repetitions in practice.

Null was again poised and made good decisions with the ball all day save for a costly interception in Houston territory that could have resulted in points.

Aside from that play, Null finished with 173 yards on 18-of-27 passing, including the team’s only touchdown of the day, a 2-yard strike to Danny Amendola in the second quarter.

“It was a lot different,” Null said. “It seemed like things slowed down for me a little bit. It was a great opportunity to get out there and play again.”

Meanwhile, even with John Greco and Mark Setterstrom stepping in at guard, Jackson was again able to find holes and create yardage.

Jackson missed time this week with flu-like symptoms and continued issues with his back. By Saturday, he was able to participate in the team’s walk through and suit up to play again against Houston.

Once again, Jackson put out another dogged effort despite his ailments. He finished with 82 yards on 20 carries, adding 41 yards on four receptions.

Perhaps more than any of his teammates, it would again have been easy for Jackson simply to shut it down for the season.

That thought isn’t anywhere near Jackson’s mind, though. When asked why he continues to play, Jackson’s response was simple.
“Because I love football and I love this team,” Jackson said.

While there’s no doubting that the Rams’ record isn’t good, they have left no question about the effort they are willing to put forth even when the odds are long.

With two games left to go in the season, that isn’t likely to change.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” end Chris Long said. “We came out here and played hard. That’s our job. But we have got to win, too. We have got to stick together. Nobody is going to pack it in. That’s not what this team is about. We have got to stick together the next two weeks and try to win a ball game or two.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rams offense completely inept, lose 17-9 to Bears

December 6, 10:46 PMSt. Louis Rams ExaminerTim Klutsarits

The St. Louis Rams had nine possessions in the Chicago Bears end of the field and had exactly nine points. Nine times, nine points. In a word, ridiculous. The Rams continued their season long ineptness on offense to cost the team a win as the Chicago Bears beat the Rams 17-9 at Soldier Field. A game that was begging to be won from the Bears was handed right back to them. In a season that has one low moment after another this one takes the cake. Not only did the Rams lose to a bad team but they would not even stand up and take the win that was all but being handed to them. This should be a wakeup call to Steve Spagnuolo to not only blow up the entire offense but blow up the entire offensive coaching staff at the end of the season. Here is the long list of sins today for the Rams.

Offensive Coaching: The NFL is not a league that is built on patience and it is time for Steve Spagnuolo to realize that Pat Shurmur is not going to be able to get it done as an offensive coordinator or it is going to eventually lead to the demise of the head coach. The playcalling and offensive gameplan could arguably be called the worst in St. Louis Rams history and that is including some horrible efforts through the years. How can you explain having that many chances in Bears territory and not have any results? The offense is not getting better as the season is going along, it is regressing.

The most damning part of today for Shurmur was in the 4th quarter, with the Rams down 17-6, they faced a 3rd and 11 from the Chicago 32.. The Rams need two scores and specifically a touchdown. It is possible 4 down territory if you get a chunk of that yardage back. The Rams call a draw play to Steven Jackson that goes for nothing. Instead of picking up 8 or 9 on a pass, or anything else, the Rams wind up having to kick a 50 yard field goal. On the Fox broadcast you can even see Steve Spagnuolo walk over to Shurmur and question the call. It was just one of many curious calls this afternoon, but certainly the most baffling.

What is worse is that the Rams do nothing to try and get the ball down the field. The Rams quarterback never throws deep or tries to get something that is designed to pick up 15-25 yards. Not only do they not go deep but there is no imagination in the plays that are drawn up. When you don't have the talent you have to trick defenses. Football 101. You better be doing lots of play action and using trick plays when appropriate to try and make something happen.

Steve Spagnuolo has made a mistake with his offensive coordinator. There is no question the Rams don't have much offensive talent, outside of Steven Jackson, but what is happening to this team on offense is inexcusable. The Rams should be shopping for an offensive coordinator this offseason along with some new offensive talent.

Kyle Boller: There is no question that the Rams don't have much in the way of wide receivers and they don't have a great offensive mind calling plays but Kyle Boller was awful today. It is further proof that the Rams should be getting Keith Null ready to start the final two games of the regular season. They have nothing to lose and if Null cannot perform better then Boller at this point then not only do the Rams have to look for a starting quarterback and a backup next season they need to find three quarterbacks. It is time to empty the bench and see what everyone has.

Alex Barron: The Bears defensive line was running circles around Alex Barron today. There are only 4 games left in the Alex Barron era in St. Louis. I hope he doesn't get Steven Jackson or a quarterback killed before we can get #70 out of here.

Defensive Backs: I am very certain that Steve Spagnuolo does not teach his defensive backs to run wildly down the field covering wide receivers without knowing where the ball is. If he did Spagnuolo would not be in the NFL. So why in the world were James Butler, Quincy Butler and Ron Bartell all guilty of that at various times today? They weren't taught that I know. This isn't the preseason. They have all been in the league for awhile. How can that happen in Week 13 of the NFL season? Inexcusable.

There are two things that I did want to mention today that should be highlighted for the Rams.

#1 Steven Jackson is a man. His back is killing him. It is a cold day in Chicago and he still managed to put up 112 yards rushing. He is the heart and soul of this team and if there were just 5 more Steven Jackson's on offense the Rams would be a playoff team. Unfortunately one player cannot carry an entire franchise. Jackson, and center Jason Brown, were the only starters on the field today for the Rams that I would not consider trying to move or upgrade at that position during the offseason.

#2 I said in an article last week that one of the goals the Rams should have in the final 5 games is to hold two of the remaining team's running backs under 100 yards rushing. I didn't believe that today was going to be that day but the Rams did accomplish that keeping Matt Forte at 91 yards. Maybe that is something that can be built upoin heading into Tennessee next week.

The losing is getting real old for myself and for Rams fans. I can only imagine how old it is getting out at Rams Park. I am still waiting to see someone say enough is enough of this garbage, but we sit here in Week 13 and see the same mistakes over and over again. I thought Steve Spagnuolo would have imprinted his style and what he wants out of his team by now. It is not happening. It is not to say that is won't ever happen but there are going to have to be bigger changes in the offseason then just a couple positional changes. It should be known that everyone's job is on the line during these final four games. Then let's see who can the Rams build with and who needs to get out of Earth City.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Loss is disturbing in many ways


From the moment Steve Spagnuolo was hired as the Rams' head coach to partner with new general manager Billy Devaney, I've preached patience. The new leaders were put in charge of cleaning up the NFL equivalent of a toxic spill. And it would take a lot of time, hard work and smart decisions to get it done.

Those who thought the Rams had a chance to win between seven and nine games this season and contend for the playoffs were more delusional than optimistic.

I didn't expect much, and I'm not asking for much.

All I wanted to see, really, were signs of progress in 2009. And shouldn't this team be getting better, even if the gains are incremental and modest? Instead, the Rams are getting worse. Is there any justification for that?

With Sunday's 27-17 loss to the visiting Seattle Seahawks, the Rams became the first St. Louis NFL team to post a 1-10 record after 11 games in a season. That covers 43 seasons of St. Louis NFL football, 28 with the Cardinals and 15 with the Rams.

This was a winnable game. It was sitting there at 7-7 in the second quarter, and the Rams were only down by seven late in the third quarter. The Seahawks came into The Ed with a 3-7 record and didn't appear to be highly motivated. But as most opponents do, the Seahawks pounced on the Rams' mistakes and sloppy play and bullied the Rams with a physical rushing attack. Taking over, Seattle opened a 17-point lead before the Rams scored a so-what TD with 44 seconds remaining.

The Rams had shown improvement by losing in overtime at Jacksonville, winning at Detroit, and taking the undefeated New Orleans Saints down to the wire with a chance to win. But the Rams didn't build on that brief spell of not-so-hideous football.

Instead, they're regressing.

And I don't think that's acceptable.

"This game was a big step backward," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "I think we've got a long way to go, so we can't afford to take these steps backward."

Agreed. After the game, I asked Spagnuolo if he thought his Rams were slipping and getting worse. After saying he wouldn't cite injuries as an excuse, Spagnuolo sort of did just that.

"The one thing we've got to remember, and I'm not going to use this as an excuse, so bear with me here," Spagnuolo said. "But we have gelled. Since the first time we played Seattle (in the season opener) until now, I believe it's a different football team.

"But we're fighting some injuries right now at some key positions. So the dynamics of working together and getting better and better at certain things, maybe it takes a step back. But this is professional football and guys got to go in there and play. So we'll expect the guys that have to go in there and play when guys get hurt to do the same thing as the guys who were in there."

Look, I realize the Rams are in a tough spot. The bad-luck blitz of injuries continues. The Rams have lost more wide receivers than I can remember. Center Jason Brown left in Sunday's second quarter with a sprained knee. Right offensive tackle Jason Smith, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, didn't play Sunday because of a concussion. There are too many injuries to list. It has affected continuity and cut into the already thin depth. Now the offensive line is getting chopped up.

I do have some sympathy.

But I also have a few questions:

— Why do other bad teams manage to pull off unexpected wins? Kansas City beat Pittsburgh. Oakland took down Philadelphia and Cincinnati. Tampa Bay upset Green Bay. And bad teams have a knack of jumping on falling teams; Detroit and Kansas City took down the dysfunctional Washington Redskins — something the Rams could not do.

— Didn't Spagnuolo earn his reputation on defense? Shouldn't a defensive personality be forming by now?

— Is there any acceptable rationalization for the Rams' pitiful run defense? Over the last six games, the Rams have allowed 1,005 yards rushing at an average of 5.3 yards a carry. During that time, they've given up seven rushing touchdowns and 31 runs of 10 yards or more. If you can't control the likes of Tim Hightower and Justin Forsett, you're not doing your job.

— Spagnuolo continues to defend his team's effort. "I believe in the fight of this team," he said after Sunday's loss. But coach also attributed the collapsing run defense to poor tackling. Isn't the tackling an example of will and determination? If you have a runner in your grasp and let him go, then you aren't physically finishing the tackle. Or you aren't concentrating on executing the proper tackling technique.

Yes, I know the Rams have talent deficiencies at defensive tackle and outside linebacker. But you can't convince me that lousy tackling is unrelated to effort.

After another Sunday bloody Sunday the Rams are 3-24 since the start of last season, and 6-37 since the beginning of 2007. For all of our patience and understanding, at some point we want to see evidence of genuine improvement.

And it's getting tiresome to have Spagnuolo appear after every loss to praise his team for playing hard.

And I don't know if it's even true, that they're playing hard. Many of them are, yes.

But I do know that playing hard isn't enough.

You win games by playing better.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Warner’s fast start leads Cards past Rams 21-13

By R.B. FALLSTROM, AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP)—A blow to the head turned Kurt Warner(notes) into a spectator in the second half, still in uniform but shut down for the day.

The Arizona Cardinals quarterback said it was just a precaution for what the team termed concussion-related symptoms. In any case, he’d already done enough to make it three straight victories over his former team in the stadium where he rose to stardom.

Warner threw for 203 yards and two touchdowns while building a 21-3 cushion, and the NFC West leaders hung on late, remaining unbeaten on the road with a 21-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. Arizona had a season-high 183 yards rushing, including 110 on 14 carries by Tim Hightower(notes) for the Cardinals’ first 100-yard game of the season.

“I felt pretty good coming out right after halftime, but I just wanted to be smart,” Warner said. “It was one of those situations where I didn’t feel perfect.”

Warner doesn’t recall having a concussion since 2003, when he was hurt in the Rams’ opener. That also was his final start with St. Louis.

“I’ve had a couple of minor concussions, very minor, nothing that’s been prolonged,” Warner said. “So not a state of panic. I feel good. I think I’m going to be just fine, but we’ll take it day by day and we’ll see.”

The Rams drove to the 7 late in the game needing a TD and a 2-point conversion to tie. Marc Bulger(notes) threw incomplete for Donnie Avery(notes) in the end zone on fourth-and-4 after some jostling from Arizona’s Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie(notes).

“We’ll just go with the ref’s call and hopefully next time it’ll go our way,” Bulger said.

The Cardinals (7-3) have won six of seven.

“We were hitting on all cylinders. We were making some big plays, and I think we had them off-balance a little bit,” Warner said. “When we’re clicking and in rhythm, that’s how we can play.”

Steven Jackson became the first Rams player to post five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, gaining 116 yards on 24 carries with a fourth-quarter touchdown that capitalized on tight end Anthony Becht’s(notes) lost fumble, cutting the deficit to eight points. It’s also the fourth straight 100-yard game for Jackson.

The Rams (1-9) showed life in the second half after a miserable start, but are 0-4 at home after losing to the Cardinals for the sixth straight time. Earlier this season they became the first team in NFL history to face three straight unbeaten teams at home, losing to the Vikings, Colts and Saints, and management purchased more than 4,000 tickets to sell out the game and avoid a local TV blackout.

“We just came out really flat,” Jackson said. “Against a team like Arizona, it’s really hard to overcome that.”

Warner was 15 for 19 and usually had plenty of time in the pocket. The four incompletions came on two balls he threw away, a third that was batted down and a fourth on a left-handed attempt while in the grasp of defensive end Chris Long(notes).

It appeared Warner was hurt by safety O.J. Atogwe’s high hit on a blitz that drove the quarterback’s head into the turf. Warner lay on the field for a few seconds before getting up and stayed in the game for the last six plays of a 90-yard drive capped by Beanie Wells’(notes) 1-yard run.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt was unaware of Warner’s past concussion history, adding, “He’s started over 30 games for us and he hasn’t missed much.”

“What you don’t want to do,” Whisenhunt added, “is jeopardize games down the road.”

Matt Leinart(notes) took over after a late turnover at the end of the half, and Arizona mostly sat on the lead. That was enough to make Warner 5-2 against the Rams, with whom he became a storybook star while leading the team to two Super Bowls in three years from 1999-2001. He’s 26-4 at the Edward Jones Dome, including 4-0 in the playoffs, with 67 touchdown passes and 34 interceptions.

The Cardinals stumbled early when Warner and Wells missed connections on a pitchout for a lost fumble at the Arizona 25, leading to a Rams field goal. The rest of the half was all Arizona, with Hightower gaining 91 yards on eight carries, Anquan Boldin(notes) catching seven passes for 96 yards and his first TD since Week 3, and Larry Fitzgerald(notes) catching six passes for 71 yards and a score.

NOTES: St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols was on the field for the coin toss and wore a Rams cap and jersey while watching from the sideline. … Cardinals CB Bryant McFadden(notes) (right knee bruise) was sidelined in the second quarter. … Eric Dickerson had four straight 1,000-yard seasons for the Rams from 1983-86. … Hightower’s 50-yard carry in the first half was the longest of his career. The previous best was a 30-yarder last November in St. Louis. … The Cardinals entered the game averaging 84 yards rushing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rams Open Up, But Fall Short

The Rams knew they had to score points Sunday to hang with the explosive Saints. They knew they had to come out of their offensive shell to have any chance to hang with New Orleans.

And they did.

The Rams rallied from 7-0 and 14-7 deficits to tie the game 14-14 at the half. Then they rallied from a 28-17 fourth quarter deficit, scoring one touchdown and bidding for a second before finally running out of time.

The moribund Rams offense outscored the Saints offense 23-21.The Rams outgained New Orleans, too, 434-420.

But the difference in the Rams’ 28-23 loss came on special teams. Saints return specialist Courtney Roby opened the second half with a 97-yard TD return – and try as they might, the Rams could never quite overcome that big play.

They had the ball at the end with a chance to win the game, but their final drive made only halting progress down the field.

“The only thing that matters in this league is results,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I’m having trouble with the result.

“But there was progress.”

Here were the signs of that:

Running back Steven Jackson bowled through the Saints as a rusher and a receiver. He rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown and caught nine passes for 45 more yards.

Quarterback Marc Bulger threw the ball downfield for a change. He connected on a 29-yard and 19-yard touchdown passes to Donnie Avery and spread the ball around to most of his targets, throwing for 298 yards.

Receiver Brandon Gibson caught seven passes for 93 yards, demonstrating why the Rams traded linebacker Will Witherspoon to the Eagles to get him and a draft pick.

On the defensive side, safety O.J. Atogwe picked off a pass and forced a goal line fumble that saved the Rams six points. Fellow safety James Butler also had an interception.

Considering that all this happened against one of the NFL’s powerhouse teams, it certainly looked like the Rams were getting better.

Does Spags agree?

“Based on what happened out there today, I’d say yeah,” he said.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rams Win in a Rush

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

DETROIT – For all 53 men in the Rams locker room and every member of the coaching staff and all of the people that follow the team on a weekly basis, the sight of running back Steven Jackson racing off right tackle for a game-winning 25-yard touchdown Sunday against Detroit was the culmination of weeks and months of blood sweat and tears.

It was what coach Steve Spagnuolo has waited for since he was named the team’s coach in January. It was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for a team that has poured its guts into a full offseason of work and a grueling training camp.

And though he was basking in the glow of his first win as an NFL head coach, Spagnuolo couldn’t help but divert the bulk of his own happiness to the players he has long since wanted to see rewarded for their efforts.

“Obviously I am very happy about the win,” Spagnuolo said. “I thought the guys played their guts out. I am just so proud and happy that they now have a reward. It’s just one reward. This isn’t more than that. I prayed for them to have a reward for all the work they put in and finally they got that.”

Jackson’s touchdown scamper gave the Rams a stirring 17-10 lead and after a final defensive stop, the first victory of the Spagnuolo era by that same score. With the win, the Rams improve to 1-7 heading into their bye week. The Lions dropped to 1-6 with the loss.

In a wild game that featured contributions from all three phases, it was only fitting that Jackson was the man to put the exclamation point on the victory.

For every moment of every game and every carry he has had this season, Jackson has run as hard as possible. And his grit and determination has carried over into the locker room where he has evolved into the team’s unquestioned leader.

Still, for all of that work, Jackson had not yet been rewarded with even a touchdown, let alone a win. Until Sunday.

“That was especially special because it was him and the way he did it,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s Steven but just the way he was running, breaking all those tackles and busting out in the open. He was determined to get in the end zone. That’s what he’s all about.”

What Jackson was all about on Sunday was punishing every Lions defender that got in his way. Nobody was safe as Jackson even delivered a blow to umpire Bill Schuster when he found himself on the tracks when the train was coming through late in the fourth quarter.

When all was said and done, Jackson had rolled up 149 yards on 22 carries with the deciding score, adding three catches for 17 yards along the way. That total was about 46 percent of the team’s total offensive production for the day. And many of those yards came after contact as Jackson repeatedly ran through arm tackles and over potential road blocks.

But none were sweeter than the touchdown run that was Jackson’s first of the season and gave his team its first victory.

“That run felt really good,” Jackson said. “At that point of the game we felt like we had to close the game out. We knew that pretty much whoever had the ball last was going to have a pretty good chance of driving the ball and putting the game away. We as an offensive unit really felt like it was our time to take over the game. The offensive line, the fullback, everyone believed in what we were doing and it really showed. That last run was an exclamation point for the way the game went for us.”

While Jackson was busy fulfilling his role as offensive leader and overall tour de force, the Rams were getting plenty of other contributions from the other two phases.

Perhaps no play was bigger to momentum and the end result than a 36-yard touchdown pass from kicker Josh Brown to tight end Daniel Fells on a fake field goal just before the end of the first half.

With 1:03 to go in the second quarter, quarterback Marc Bulger and the offense came to the line for what appeared to be an effort to go for it on fourth-and-8 at Detroit’s 36.

When the Rams broke the huddle, Bulger had an uneasy feeling and opted to call a timeout.

“We got to the line a little late, Danny (Fells) wasn’t quite sure on his route,” Bulger said. “There was a bunch of things going on. I didn’t feel comfortable. I thought it was an important part of the game. Coach Spags and Coach Curl, really hate to waste timeouts or use them at all. I was willing to go over and take the fall for it because I thought it was an important part.”

Given the time to reconsider going for it, the Rams looked to something special teams coach Tom McMahon had noticed on Detroit’s film from earlier in the week. When the Lions want to come for a field goal block, they have a tendency to come extra hard off the edge for the block, especially on long attempts as Brown’s 54-yarder would have been.

In theory, that would make the Lions vulnerable on the outside. Sure enough, Detroit pushed from the edges as the snap went to punter Donnie Jones. Jones flipped the ball back to Brown who rolled to his left, fought off his natural urge to just run it and lobbed a pass across his body to a wide open Fells.

“I’m not worried about how the pass looks,” Brown said. “That has to be the best thing ever to not worry about how pretty it is. The thing is, it has to be effective and it was. Lob it up, let the big guy get it and then just run. That’s all you can do.”

His part done, Brown could only watch as Fells hauled it in and raced down the left sideline. Fells fought off a would-be tackler and crossed the goal line for his team-leading third touchdown.

“I didn’t want to be denied on that,” Fells said. “It was such a great call, it was like ‘OK, everyone checks my speed and wants to see how fast I am,’ so I couldn’t let anybody catch me on this one.”

That touchdown gave the Rams a 10-2 lead going into halftime, a lead that Detroit would erase with a 4-yard touchdown run from quarterback Matthew Stafford.

But aside from that scoring drive, the Rams defense performed its job of keeping the Lions out of the end zone all day.

For most of the first half, the Lions had some success running the ball and hurt the Rams with screen passes and dump offs to the flat. More often than not, that was the result of catching the Rams in blitzes.

At halftime, defensive coordinator Ken Flajole and Co. made the necessary adjustments, lying back a little more.

“We went back to our base defense and when we played our base defense we were able to stop them,” defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. “We are young; we are starting to jell a little bit.”

The defense held Detroit to 289 yards of total offense and came up huge late in the game by forcing a series of three and outs, including the final four and out to wrap up the win.

As the clock wound down and his team stood in victory formation for the first time in his short tenure, Spagnuolo received a shower from his team.

“It was kind of nice,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s special. I know I will remember it for a long time. What makes it most special is the people that it happened with. It’s a special group of guys. They have been through a lot, they never quit, they bought in, and they stayed with it, never leaning the other way.”

And for one day at least, that patience and work was rewarded with a win.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Colts blow out Rams 42-6

October 25, 10:31 PMSt. Louis Rams ExaminerTim Klutsarits
This afternoon at the Dome it was a tale of two teams going in two obviously different directions. The Indianapolis Colts defeated the St. Louis Rams 42-6 but that is not indicative of how far apart these two teams are from each other. The Rams have so far to go to even become competitive with a team like the Colts that it truly makes you wonder how many years of rebuilding are left before they get to that point? The mirages are what happened in Jacksonville last weekend. The reality is what happened at the Dome this Sunday to the Colts.

To me what happened at the Dome is a stark reminder to everyone with an objective viewpoint at Rams Park that the gap is not close but is very wide between where the Rams are and where they need to be. There will be people who want to blast Steve Spagnuolo for being too Pollyanna-ish this season with his players. The truth is no matter how much the public might want to see him flog his players in public it is not going to make this team play at the Colts level. It is simply not possible at this point and that was very clear today.

There will be lots of debate at a later date as to where the franchise goes from here. Clearly there is going to have to be a huge turnover on this roster and it has begun. What today does do is prove to some of the unrealistic public that the Rams aren't one or two moves away from being back in the playoff hunt. It also makes certain that the Rams front office and coaching staff is not fooled into believing that same myth. It is going to be a long road back to respectability, much less winning football games. Bigger changes are still needed and have to come. Today proved that.

Here are some other thoughts about this afternoon's Rams game....

Steven Jackson: I don't know what else he can possibly do to win a game for the Rams. He ran as hard as any running back I have ever witnessed in a St. Louis uniform, including Marshall Faulk and Ottis Anderson. I have said this before and I will say it again, he is most likely wasting his career in St. Louis. He is one of the few players on the roster that deserves to be here when it turns around. I hope that he will see that day. It is tough to pick on someone who rushed for 134 yards this afternoon but if there is a knock that I have on Jackson today, and I don't know what the answer to this, but I question why he was not on the field in the 3rd quarter when it was 21-3. He rattled off runs of 12, 11 and 13 in successive snaps. After that he was on the sidelines as the Rams offense stalled out on the next 2 plays. I don't know which thought is worse. I don't think Jackson was injured. I hope it wasn't some bizarre offensive package or Jackson being gassed after running three long plays. Either of those causes has to make you raise an eyebrow. In the scheme of things it isn't the difference in the game but I do think if the Rams get it to 21-10 in that situation it at least makes the Colts think a little more in the second half instead of the layup drill that game turned into.

Marc Bulger: I know that he gets a lot of the blame for why the Rams are bad, and I am not one of those guys who thinks he is the worst quarterback to ever play in the NFL, but he was awful today. His mechanics were bad. His decisions were poor and he has got to do a better job. I know his receivers are the worst in the league and the play calling is suspect at times but he can't be as bad as he looked today. This is probably it for Bulger in St. Louis so he better be showing off his talents over the final 9 games for whichever NFL team is going to pick him up for 2010.

Jason Smith: Everyone in the world saw Smith get crushed by Dwight Freeney and while that is embarrassing I consider that a good sign. He needs to be in there against the best, at LEFT TACKLE, and learn. The future of the Rams offensive line resides in #77 and it is time for the learning curve to increase. Freeney took him to the woodshed today but it is going to be a good learning experience. Put Smith at left tackle and stop messing with Alex Barron over there.

Chris Long: This one is starting to look like more and more of a bust every day. My thought at the beginning of the year was that Chris Long was going to make a big leap forward in year two and become a force. As the year has progressed I lowered my expectations and thought he was going to develop into a decent defensive end in 2009. Now I am wondering if he is ever going to develop into a useful player in the league. He has created nothing this year and is not a force. I don't know what is going to change and that is the scary part. The scheme isn't going to change over the next 3 years with Spagnuolo. The talent around him theoretically might but when you are second overall pick you should be the one making players better around you. Clearly that is not happening with Long.

Tim Carter: I never understood the signing of Carter to begin with. I didn't get the resigning of Carter after camp and I don't get why he is still on the field. The Rams traded for a wide receiver this week and when you are 0-7 and have wide receivers who have been here making mistakes there is no reason not to have Brandon Gibson on the field on Sunday in Detroit.

Peyton Manning: It was awesome seeing someone as good as Manning work the field on Sunday. He was in total control of what was going on in the game and he is one of the best to ever play the position. I hope the Rams compare the measurables that Manning has and apply that to whichever quarterback of the future they are going to find in the offseason.

The Rams fall to 0-7 and have now lost a ridiculous 17 in a row. They will have a chance next Sunday in Detroit to break that streak. Hope is not lost but reality smacked the Rams in the face today. The goal is not to become better then the Jaguars or the Lions. The goal is to become like the Colts. Lesson hopefully learned.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Scobee’s field goal in OT gives Jags 23-20 win

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Torry Holt(notes) got a number of wins with the St. Louis Rams. Now he has one against them.

Holt had 101 yards receiving in his first game against his former team, Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns and the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Rams 23-20 in overtime Sunday.

Josh Scobee(notes) provided the winner, a 36-yard field goal with 8 minutes to play in the extra frame.

St. Louis (0-6) extended the NFL’s longest current losing streak to 16 games. The Rams had two shots at snapping the skid. They took a 17-13 lead with 4:36 remaining on Leonard Little’s(notes) 36-yard interception return for a score, but couldn’t stop the Jaguars (3-3) on the ensuing drive.

St. Louis got near the goal line in the final seconds, but settled for a tying field goal. The Jaguars won the toss, made a few plays and got Scobee in position for the winner.

Holt rushed the field to celebrate with teammates, then found himself surrounded by Rams players and coaches. He exchanged countless handshakes and hugs before eventually walking off the field with longtime friends.

Jones-Drew, though, earned the game ball from coach Jack Del Rio.

Just days after complaining about play-calling and the team’s lack of offensive identity, Jones-Drew carried a career-high 33 times. Maybe he spoke up at halftime, too. He had just eight carries for 11 yards at the break, but ran for 122 in the second half and overtime.

His effort helped Jacksonville rebound from its worst loss in Del Rio’s seven seasons. Seattle thumped the Jaguars 41-0 last week.

The Jaguars were much sharper Sunday, albeit against the Rams.

David Garrard(notes) completed 30 of 43 passes for 335 yards. He also ran for 31 yards. But he threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.

Mike Sims-Walker(notes), a week after getting benched for violating curfew, caught nine passes for 120 yards.

Marc Bulger(notes), back in the starting lineup after missing two games because of a bruised shoulder, completed 22 of 30 passes for 213 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Steven Jackson had 50 yards rushing and 78 receiving.

Jackson’s biggest play came late in regulation.

The Rams trailed 20-17 and had just one timeout, but Bulger found Jackson open in the flat for a 38-yard gain. A few passes later, and St. Louis had first-and-goal at the 9.

Bulger spiked the ball to stop the clock and threw it away on second down. With 7 seconds left—maybe enough time for one more throw to the end zone— coach Steve Spagnuolo turned to Josh Brown(notes). He kicked a 27-yard field goal with 4 seconds remaining.

Jacksonville safety Reggie Nelson(notes) bobbled the ensuing kickoff, then fell on it as time expired.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Practice squad carousel: Rams sign 2, cut 2

St. Louis Post-Dispatch The St. Louis Rams didn’t wait until Tuesday to tweak their roster this week. On Monday, the team added defensive tackle Chris Bradwell and linebacker K.C. Asiodu to the practice squad.

Bradwell signed with Tampa Bay in 2008 as an undrafted free agent out of Troy, and spent part of ‘08 on the Buccaneers’ practice squad. He’s 6-5, 280.

Asiodu was with the Rams in training camp and the preseason, and was on the practice squad for the first week of the ‘09 regular season.

To make room for Asiodu and Bradwell, the Rams released linebacker Lamar Myles and nose tackle Adrian Grady from the practice squad. Grady and Myles lasted just one week in St. Louis.

The Rams also had wide receiver Jordan Kent, a former Seattle Seahawks draft pick, in for a visit.

Spagnuolo makes it clear: Bulger is the No. 1 quarterback

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Coach Steve Spagnuolo made it crystal clear Monday: There will be no quarterback controversy at Rams Park. At least not this week.

Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller are both a little banged-up. Bulger is recovering from the shoulder injury he suffered Sept. 27 vs. the Packers and Boller sustained what Spagnuolo termed a “mild concussion” in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 38-10 home loss to the Vikings.

But even if both show up for practice Wednesday in the pink of health, there will be no competition for the starting job. “Marc’s the quarterback,” Spagnuolo said unequivocally.

Boller started the last two games after Bulger went down. On Sunday, he guided the offense on three drives deep into Vikings territory, but each was scuttled by a turnover. He also lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and threw an interception in the end zone.

After Boller was hurt, Bulger hit on all seven of his passes, including a 27-yard TD to WR Donnie Avery. Granted, Bulger was going against Minny’s defensive reserves.

“We have the luxury of two guys who know how to manage the game, two guys that the offense has confidence in,” Spagnuolo said. But make no mistake: If he’s ready, Bulger will start Sunday in Jacksonville.

Notes & quotes:

*DT Gary Gibson is done for the season after breaking his left ankle Sunday.

*The other injuries were minor: DE Chris Long (chest), TE Daniel Fells (neck), CB Justin King (bruised knee).

*Spagnuolo said S James Butler (knee) and T Jason Smith (knee) will be day-to-day. Smith dressed Sunday but didn’t play.

*In one of his best games, LT Alex Barron held Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen without a sack or a quarterback hit.

*Without Gibson, Spagnuolo indicated that the Rams might go with a three-man rotation up front, or retain their four-man rotation by adding someone, perhaps fourth-round draftee Darell Scott.

*WR Donnie Avery said he apologized to the team for his ill-timed, fourth-quarter end-zone dance following his TD catch. The Rams were trailing by 21 points at the time. “I wasn’t real fond of it,” Spagnuolo said.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rams fall to San Francisco 49ers

SAN FRANCISCO — The formula for victory couldn't have been more clear-cut for
the Rams entering Sunday's game at Candlestick Park. Against a San Francisco
squad that featured a snarling defense, but a pedestrian offense, the surest
path to an upset victory was to minimize mistakes, take care of the football
and don't give up anything cheap.

Alas, the Rams did just the opposite. On a day when the defense played spirited
football and Steven Jackson ran as hard as humanly possible, the Rams
gift-wrapped three touchdowns for the 49ers and seemingly made more mistakes
than humanly possible.

The result was another sobering dose of humiliation, a 35-0 shellacking that
left the Rams at 0-4 this season and extended their franchise-record losing
streak to 14 games. The Rams have been outscored by an astounding 108-24 this
season. They are as painful to watch as ever. Yes, the defense is more
competitive, but that's more than negated by an offense that isn't — Jackson's
work notwithstanding.

There was no fire and brimstone from coach Steve Spagnuolo after the loss. No
calling out of players. Just lots of disappointment.

"I am disappointed in the loss," Spagnuolo said. "I'm disappointed in how it
happened. I'm disappointed that we weren't able to play a better football game
— that the score was what it was. I'm not discouraged, just disappointed in the
way it went."

Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan, who has played some of his best football the
past two weeks, made an unusual postgame plea.

"I'm asking our fans to be patient," Ryan said. "I'm asking you guys in the
media to be patient. We can't turn it around overnight. It's going to be a work
in progress.

"When the Rams first got here they won the Super Bowl and went to two Super
Bowls — a lot of success in their first 10 years. I think our fans and the
media got real spoiled.

"But we're going to get it back because we've got a lot of young guys dedicated
to getting this show back on the road, and getting this franchise back to being
one of the top franchises in this league."

As sincere as Ryan's comments were, patience is in short supply in Rams Nation.
This franchise has lost 31 of its past 36 games, and despite an offseason in
which the mantra seemingly was blow it all up, things don't seem to be getting
any better at the quarter pole of the 2009 season.

"It hurts me, and it hurts all these guys to lose 14 straight," Ryan said.
"Because we work real hard and we take pride in the product we put on the
field. I don't want you guys to think that this is not important to us. It's
very important to us. We're hurting inside.

"We deserve so much more, as a team, as a city, and as a franchise. Because we
put a lot of hard work and dedication into playing each and every Sunday."

But it takes more than hard work and dedication to win in the NFL, where the
difference between winning and losing usually is paper thin. It takes
execution. It takes focus. It takes playmakers. So far the Rams have been
totally lacking in those areas.

Mistake after mistake after mistake continues to kill the team.

For starters, Danny Amendola returned the opening kickoff 92 yards to the San
Francisco 3. "I was pretty pumped," Amendola said. "It put us in good field

But the play was negated on a holding call on Anthony Smith, the former Green
Bay Packer playing in his first game for the Rams.

Misfortune turned to disaster late in the second quarter of a scoreless game
when San Francisco punter Andy Lee sent a short punt deep into Rams territory.
The ball bounced off Quincy Butler, who was blocking on the play with his back
to the ball, and caromed past return man Amendola into the end zone.

"I felt the ball hit me, it hit me in the back of my leg," Butler said. "I
tried to run and go get it. But things didn't turn out my way."

Butler compounded the problem by trying to scoop the ball up in the end zone
instead of falling on it. He failed to field it cleanly, and 49ers linebacker
Scott McKillop fell on the ball for a touchdown and a 7-0 San Francisco lead
with 5 minutes, 27 seconds left in the half.

"I thought about falling on it," Butler said. "But my first reaction was just
to pick it up and try to kick it out of the end zone or something."

But there was no need to do so. By league rule, since the original contact was
inadvertent, the play would've been merely a touchback — and not a safety — had
Butler merely fallen on the ball in the end zone.

The St. Louis mistakes weren't just limited to special teams. Four penalties
against the offense kept the Rams from getting on track despite 49 first-half
rushing yards from Jackson.

One of those penalties, an illegal formation penalty against left tackle Alex
Barron, wiped out a 19-yard reception by Amendola to the San Francisco 17 with
1:21 to play in the first half. The penalty backed the Rams up to the 41,
ending that scoring threat — and ending Barron's day. He was benched in favor
of John Greco.

"I just felt it was something we needed to do at that particular point,"
Spagnuolo said.

The floodgates opened in the third quarter when the 49ers used the short field
to march 48 yards for a TD, and then Kyle Boller's errant pass was intercepted
by linebacker Pat Willis and returned 23 yards for a TD. The 'Niners scored a
second defensive TD early in the fourth quarter when defensive tackle Ray
McDonald returned a botched handoff from Boller to Amendola on an end-around 11
yards for a score.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Rams Lose 36-17, Continue Their Futility

The Rams needed to make a stand Sunday to show their fans – and themselves – that progress is coming with the New Regime.

They failed dismally. Some faces changed in this defeat, but familiar problems remained.

The Rams staggered to their 13th loss in a row and 30th in 35 games, falling to the Packers 36-17 in their home opener at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday.

“I was disappointed with the result, but I wasn’t disappointed with the effort,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said after the game, repeating his familiar refrain.

With a horrific offensive start, the Rams fell behind 16-0 less than six minutes into the second quarter. They got a spark when quarterback Kyle Boller replaced starter Marc Bulger — who departed with a bruised shoulder.

The Rams fought back to cut Green Bay’s lead to 23-17 . . . and then their comeback bid ran out of steam.

The Rams got two TD receptions by tight end Daniel Fells, 163 total yards from Steven Jackson, 187 return yards from Danny Amendola and a 53-yard field by Josh Brown.

And now the bad news:

  • Bulger and Jackson turned the ball over with first-quarter fumbles. Both mishaps put the Packers into scoring position.
  • Brown had a 48-yard field goal attempt blocked.
  • Despite his two TD passes, Boller finished with a dreary passer rating of 75.2. He misfired on 15 of 31 passes and threw a late interception.
  • Working against the makeshift Packers line, the Rams front seven didn’t apply much pass pressure. These guys let Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers break containment and scramble for 40 yards and a touchdown.
  • Overall, the Rams defense allowed 402 yards as Rodgers posted a passer rating of 126.9. He kept bombing away, hitting one big play after another in the Rams secondary.

“You try to bounce back after those big plays, but they kill you,” Spagnuolo said.

Top Rams wide receiver Laurent Robinson left the game with an ankle injury and starting safety James Butler suffered an MCL injury. Those injuries left a bad team even more shorthanded.

“Laurent had done some good things for us in some key situations,” Spagnuolo said. “We’ll have to have other guys step up.”

And Butler, Spagnuolo said, “he kind of runs the show back there.”

So the Rams, 0-3, sank to the very bottom of the NFL. The Detroit Lions won today, so there can be no team worse than this one.

Spagnuolo says he doesn’t want to discuss the past, but he has done nothing to this point to break the three-year pattern of failure.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rams Fall Short Against Redskins

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer


First Quarter

- The Redskins won the toss and elected to receive. The Rams, in the blue jerseys with gold pants, are set to kick off.

- The Rams defense did its duty, getting a three and out as Jonathan Wade broke up a deep pass on first down and a completion to Malcolm Kelly fell 1 yard short. The Rams take over at their 28.

- Bulger quickly completed a 12-yard pass to Robinson and hit Jackson for a gain of 3 yards two plays later. With those completions, Bulger became the franchise’s all time leader in that category.

- Unfortunately, the 12-yard gain was the only first down the team would pick up and Jones punted to Washington’s 14 where the Redskins took over for possession No. 2.

- The Redskins fared much better this time around as Clinton Portis and Chris Cooley did most of the work. Washington had a first and goal at the Rams’ 8 but the Rams defense did enough to hold the Redskins to a field goal when Witherspoon tipped a third-down pass in the end zone that fell incomplete.

- Suisham connected from 21 yards out to make it 3-0 Redskins with 4:57 to go in the quarter.

- Kenneth Darby got the first kick return opportunity of the day for the Rams, bringing it back to the Rams 15.

- The Rams’ second opportunity started ominously when McMichael fumbled after a catch but it was negated by a roughing the passer penalty.

- Center Jason Brown suffered a right knee injury and was replaced by Mark Setterstrom at center.

- The Rams have a second down at Washington’s 46 to open the second quarter, trailing 3-0.

Second Quarter

- The Rams’ drive stalled after a second down sack and they had to punt it back to Washington. The Redskins took over at their 26.

- Again, Washington was able to march it down the field, converting a third-and-10 in Rams territory when Campbell hit Santana Moss for a gain of 21 yards. The Rams again came up with a hold, as Washington settled for a 28-yard field goal from Suisham to make it 6-0 Washington with 7:58 to go in the half.

- The Rams offense found the spark it needed on second down of its ensuing possession as Jackson snaked through a hole on the right side and raced for a gain of 62 yards. A block in the back on Avery cost them 10 yards but gave the Rams a first down at Washington’s 36.

- The Rams picked up another first down on a completion to McMichael for 7 yards and a penalty.

- That helped set up a third-and-3 for the Rams at Washington’s 17.

- Jackson passed Dick Bass for fourth on the team’s all time rushing yards list.

- Bulger hit Robinson for a key third down conversion to give the Rams a first down at Washington’s 5.

- On third down, Bulger hit Robinson again with a fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown to give the Rams their first lead of the season with 3:56 to go in the half at 7-6.

- The defense got a stop when Ron Bartell forced a fumble and recovered it. The play was originally ruled down but a booth review overturned it and the Rams went to the locker room with a 7-6 lead.

Third Quarter

- The Rams received the opening kickoff of the half hoping to maintain momentum gained at the end of the first.

- After a 13-yard strike to Robinson on first down, Bulger threw three straight incompletions and the Rams punted. Washington took over at its 21.

- The Redskins managed a trio of first downs, including another third down conversion to Moss.

- On third-and-10 at Washington’s 47, Campbell hit Cooley for yet another conversion, this time for 18 yards.

- Again Washington marched deep into Rams territory and the St. Louis defense found a way to force another field goal.

- Suisham converted this one from 23 yards out to make it 9-7 Washington with 6:27 to go in the quarter.

- The Rams have responded with a long drive of their own, one that’s still going after some key conversions, including a second-and-25.

- At the end of the third quarter, the Redskins lead the Rams 9-7 and the Rams have the ball at Washington’s 21.

Fourth Quarter

- Poised to take the lead in the fourth quarter, disaster struck the Rams. An offense that had taken care of the ball all day, lost it when Avery caught a potential third down conversion and coughed it up when Chris Horton forced a fumble. Carlos Rogers recovered for the Redskins at their 7, where they took over.

- The defense was able to get a stop as a James Hall sack forced Washington to punt from its own end zone.

- The Rams picked up 8 yards on the first two plays but an incompletion on third down led to a Rams punt.

- Washington took over at its 20 and pieced together a long, time consuming drive deep into St. Louis territory, including a fourth-down conversion at the Rams’ 20.

- On fourth-and-short from the Rams’ 2, Washington opted to go for it again.

- This time, the Rams got a stop and got the ball at their 4.

- But the Rams had four consecutive incompletions and Washington regained possession.

- The Redskins got in victory formation and ran the clock out for a 9-7 win.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Seahawks blow past Rams 28-0

SEATTLE (AP)—The Seahawks soared, seemingly revived under new coach Jim Mora.

St. Louis? Looked like the same old Rams who went 2-14 last year and got Steve Spagnuolo his first head coaching job.

Matt Hasselbeck, playing his first game since Thanksgiving Day, overcame two interceptions in his first three throws Sunday to connect with John Carlson for two touchdowns in Seattle’s 28-0 romp past the Rams.

The Seahawks took advantage of a rare use of instant replay to cruise over the sloppy, undisciplined Rams.

Hasselbeck finished 25 of 36 for 279 yards passing, his most for an opener. Seattle beat its division rival for the ninth consecutive time with its biggest win to begin a season since a 38-0 victory over Philadelphia in 1998.

The Rams gained just 247 yards in a flop that looked alarmingly like their 38-3 loss against Philadelphia that opened last season. The Rams were also doomed by 10 penalties—two personal fouls after plays by volatile offensive lineman Richie Incognito.

Julius Jones took the new one-step-and-go run game of first-year offensive coordinator Greg Knapp literally, bolting untouched 62 yards for a touchdown in the second half. Jones finished with 117 yards on 19 carries behind the new zone-blocking scheme of an offensive line that barely missed nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones and starting center Chris Spencer, both out injured.

St. Louis’ bright spots were 14 tackles from rookie middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and an interception early by Oshiomogho Atogwe, who was all over the field.

Too bad for the Rams their offense wasn’t. It managed just 13 first downs against the new, attacking schemes of first-year defensive coordinator Gus Bradley.

Marc Bulger, playing with tape on his broken right pinkie, was 17 of 36 for 191 yards. He was sacked three times.

The game’s decisive—and weirdest—play came in the final minute of the first half. Seattle’s Olindo Mare struck a 49-yard field goal try low. St. Louis’ C.J. Ah You blocked it, and three other Rams could have. Quincy Butler scooped the ball and ran 49 yards for an apparent touchdown.

As the Rams were about to snap for the tying extra point, referee Pete Morelli surprised everyone by announcing the booth officials had called for a review—for whether St. Louis had 12 men on the field.

Turns out, they did. The Rams’ sideline had almost no reaction, as if bewildered at the rare reversal. Three plays later, Hasselbeck found Nate Burleson for a 12-yard touchdown. Instead of 7-7 at halftime, Seattle led 14-0.

The Rams never recovered.

The issue of giving replay officials authority to review plays on the field grew after an infamous incident involving former Steelers coach Bill Cowher in 1995, four years before the current replay system was introduced. The late referee Gordon McCarter incorrectly called Pittsburgh for 12 men on the field during a game against Minnesota. Cowher was fined for comically stuffing into McCarter’s pocket a photo from the press box showing 11 Steelers on the field.

Seattle made it 21-0 midway through the third quarter on a 33-yard pass from Hasselbeck to Carlson one play after Carlson’s 38-yard catch and run.

The Seahawks had two turnovers in the first seven minutes. Hasselbeck’s first interception came in the end zone on a ball tipped by Atogwe to teammate James Butler, three plays after the Rams lost a fumble on the opening kickoff. On the next series, Atogwe jumped a slant route by Burleson for another interception.

But after former Seahawk Josh Brown was booed and then cheered for missing a 37-yard field goal, a Seahawks drive ended with a 1-yard toss to Carlson.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Defense Does It Again

By Nick Wagoner

First Quarter

- The Rams got a quick three and out on Kansas City’s opening possession as Justin King made a nice tackle after stretching a play wide for no gain. On third down, Jonathan Wade stopped Jamaal Charles for a loss of 3.

- On their first possession, the Rams gave it right back after a three and out of their own.

- The Chiefs picked up a couple of first downs before the Rams came up with another stop.

- Likewise, the Rams moved it with a third down conversion to tight end Daniel Fells before a punt.

- Jones booted a 58-yard punt that was downed at Kansas City’s 1 to start the Chiefs’ third drive.

- The Rams went to their second team defense for the most part on the following drive and Kansas City capitalized. A 41-yard jaunt by Larry Johnson gave the Chiefs the ball at the Rams’ 6.

- Penalties derailed the drive and Kansas City had to settle for a 31-yard field goal from Ryan Succop. The Chiefs have a 3-0 lead with 55 seconds to go in the quarter.

- The Rams have put their second team offense in with the exception of Bell, Goldberg and Smith. Brock Berlin is in at quarterback.

- At the end of the first quarter, Kansas City leads 3-0.

Second Quarter

- The Rams got off to a promising start on their next possession as Brock Berlin hit receiver Ronald Curry for a 14-yard gain.
- But a trio of incompletions forced the Rams to punt again. Jones boomed another kick and the Chiefs started their next possession from the 14.

- Rams defense gets a three and out as C.J. Ah You came up with a sack for a loss of 7 yards on third down. Rams take over at their 47.

- Rams took a shot on first down but Berlin just missed Derek Stanley deep down the right sideline.

- The Rams couldn’t convert a third-and-1 and Jones punted again. This time, he dropped it at Kansas City’s 2. Jones is having a big night.

- Dantrell Savage broke a 70-yard run to the Rams’ 28.

- A sack by Victor Adeyanju stalled that drive and the Chiefs had to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Succop.

- The Chiefs lead 6-0 with 9:20 to go in the half.

- The Rams responded with their best drive of the night as Berlin was nearly perfect on the possession and hit tight end Daniel Fells for a 6-yard touchdown. The extra point gave the Rams a 7-6 lead with 1:51 to go.

- Berlin was 7-of-9 on the drive for 74 yards including a 17-yard completion to Curry and a 27-yard strike to Nate Jones for a gain of 27 yards on third-and-10.

- The drive covered 85 yards on 15 plays in 7:29.

- Rams get a three and out right away as a blitz for Adeyanju forces a third down incompletion.

- Chiefs safety DaJuan Morgan appeared to come up with an interception on the Rams first play from scrimmage to give the Chiefs life at the Rams’ 23.

- The Rams defense got the job done again, holding Kansas City to a 34-yard field goal. Kansas City has a 9-7 lead at the half.

Third Quarter

- The Rams opened the second half with the ball and rookie Keith Null at quarterback. Chris Ogbonnaya picked up 26 yards on the drive as the Rams got into Kansas City territory but the drive stalled at Kansas City’s 36.

- The Rams opted to punt and Kansas City took over at its 15.

- After driving into St. Louis territory on a 53-yard completion, the Rams got another takeaway in the preseason as David Roach forced a fumble that linebacker Dominic Douglas recovered in St. Louis territory.

- Null hit Stanley on third down for a conversion to move into Kansas City territory.

- The Rams couldn’t get another first down, though, and Jones had to punt again. This time, he couldn’t drop it inside the 10 and it went through the end zone for a touchback.

- The Chiefs’ possession didn’t last long though as Rams cornerback Quincy Butler sat on an out route and picked off a Tyler Thigpen pass. He returned it 28 yards for a touchdown and a 14-9 Rams lead with 2:48 to go in the quarter.

- The Rams have the ball and a 14-9 lead at the end of three.

Fourth Quarter

- The Rams got yet another takeaway to open the final quarter as Justin King got an interception at Kansas City’s 26.

- The offense couldn’t do much with it though and a fumble on third down that the Rams recovered knocked the team out of field goal range. Jones punted again, this time dropping it at the 10 and Kansas City took over at its 12.

- The teams traded punts but a roughing the punter penalty on Kansas City gave the Rams a first down and new life with about eight minutes to go.

- That was enough to give the Rams another chance to score and they took advantage. Null connected with Sean Walker for gains of 14 and 23 yards.

- Josh Brown connected on a 37-yard field goal for a 17-9 lead with 4:08 to play.

- After Kansas City marched into Rams’ territory, the defense stepped up and got the stop it needed again.

- The offense couldn't salt out the clock and the Rams had to punt with about 50 seconds left. Jones rocked a 62-yard punt, downed at Kansas City's 6 to put it away.

- The Rams ultimately held on for a 17-9 win. The Rams finish the preseason 3-1 for the first time since 2005.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Boller leads Rams over Bengals 24-21

CINCINNATI (AP)—The last thing that the St. Louis Rams wanted to see was Kyle Boller’s helmet tumbling across the field.

Boller played better Thursday night in his second game filling in for Marc Bulger, completing a flurry of short passes during a 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. He also had one moment of bravado that made the Rams shudder.

He refused to duck.

Boller got his helmet knocked off on a hit by linebacker Keith Rivers at the end of an 8-yard scramble, waiting too long to start his slide. Unfazed, Boller got to his feet, found his helmet and completed his next two passes, including a 3-yard shovel pass to running back Samkon Gado for a touchdown.

“I could have slid a little earlier,” said Boller, who was 14 of 20 for 96 yards. “It is what it is. My chin strap hit just above my eyes. It was a good scramble, but maybe if I can get down a little sooner, the coaches would like that.”

No kidding.

“I was just trying to get to the ball,” said Rivers, who had his jaw broken on a hit from Pittsburgh’s Hines Ward last season. “It wasn’t anything intentional.”

The Rams lost Bulger to a broken pinkie finger on his passing hand before the last game and couldn’t afford another quarterback setback. Bulger is hoping to be ready for the season opener Sept. 13 at Seattle. Boller struggled as his replacement last week in a 20-13 loss to the Falcons, but seemed much more comfortable against the Bengals.

“He moved the team,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “He drove us down there after the bad start. When you score on a drive, the quarterback deserves the credit.”

Both teams were missing their starting quarterbacks, turning the game into a preview of how it might be if their injuries linger. The Bengals were reminded that they really need Carson Palmer back for their opener against Denver.

J.T. O’Sullivan was sacked three times, lost a fumble and had two passes batted away at the line. His best moment was an improvised underhand pass to running back Brian Leonard that went for 25 yards and set up a touchdown. O’Sullivan was 7 of 13 for 94 yards while playing into the third quarter.

With Palmer sidelined the last two games by a sprained left ankle, the offense has moved the ball in spurts but failed to get many points because of penalties and mistakes. O’Sullivan’s fumble at the Cincinnati 20-yard line set up the Rams’ second touchdown.

“We’ve just got to find a way to eliminate it,” O’Sullivan said. “It puts you in such a disadvantage any time you turn the ball over. That’s one of the things that has to change immediately.”

Running back Bernard Scott, a sixth-round draft pick from Abilene Christian, had a fumble that safety James Butler returned 73 yards for a touchdown. Butler also intercepted one of Jordan Palmer’s passes in the third quarter and returned it 68 yards before the third-string quarterback tackled him.

The Bengals have lost five fumbles and thrown three interceptions in three preseason games.

“When you turn the football over, you have a difficult time winning, whether you’re playing in the regular season, the preseason, junior high, sixth grade, whatever it is,” coach Marvin Lewis said.

Quan Cosby, an undrafted receiver from Texas, returned the Rams’ first punt 49 yards for a touchdown, breaking through the front line of defenders into the clear. He ran past punter Donnie Jones to get to the end zone.

Jones also had a punt returned 44 yards by Tom Nelson in the third quarter.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spags On Loss to the Falcons


Coach Steve Spagnuolo blamed himself for the St. Louis Rams' ugly first quarter Friday night, saying he was guilty of not having his team ready to play.

The Rams (1-1) fell behind 14-0 and could never make up the lost ground as they fell 20-13 to the Atlanta Falcons at the Edward Jones Dome.

"I think it's all on the head coach with the first quarter," Spagnuolo said. "I don't think I had the team ready to play in the first quarter. I'm going to take the onus on that. We need to start the game better, especially against a good football team."

Asked how he was going to make sure the Rams were ready when they travel to Cincinnati to play the Bengals on Thursday, Spagnuolo said he didn't know.

"I'm going to be evaluating myself all the time," Spagnuolo said, "I'll sit back this week, and if I think there's something we can do differently in practice, we'll do it.

"If I think there's something we can say or approach differently the day before the game, we'll do that. But, right now if the team is not ready early like that, it's on the head coach. So we'll figure out a way."

The Falcons (1-1) first-string offense marched down the field with surgical-like precision on their first two drives against the Rams' first-string defense.

Spagnuolo said he couldn't tell in the locker room before the game that his team wasn't prepared.

"Are they ready? Are they not ready?" Spagnuolo said. "Sometimes you'll walk in there and say, 'This team is not ready to play,' and they go out beat a team by 30 points. So that's hard to assess."

The Rams allowed 162 rushing yards. Their starting defense got bludgeoned for 65 yards on seven carries by running back Michael Turner on the opening drive.

The Rams were plagued by poor tackling even though they had live tackling in practice during the first two weeks of training camp.

Spagnuolo said he wasn't going to second guess his decision to scale back on the live tackling during the last week.

"I'm not going to do that to myself," Spagnuolo said. "At some point, we all know in this league you stop doing live tackling in practice because you've got to have guys healthy. I think we will bounce back on that. It wasn't real good last night, but we'll get better at it."

The Rams' first-string produced only three points in the first half.

For the Rams' offense to struggle was more understandable since they were playing without quarterback Marc Bulger (broken pinkie finger), left tackle Alex Barron (swelling on the knee), left guard Jacob Bell (concussion) and wide receiver Donnie Avery (broken foot).

Still, the Rams were 0-for-3 in their red-zone opportunities.

"We talk about it all the time," Spagnuolo said. "When you get in that area of the field, everybody has to remind each other in the huddle that we have to focus and finish. I'm not sure why we didn't finish. I'm not going to blame it on focus. They probably made some good plays, too."

The Rams had a chance to pull out a win after rookie quarterback Keith Null and the third-string offense moved the ball to Atlanta 17 with 1:27 left to play.

But Null had a pass go through the hands of tight end Joe Klopfenstein in the end zone on second down.

"It probably would have been a tough catch, but it was a decent throw, I think," Spagnuolo said. "Keith would tell you that if he had to do it all over again. He would have went somewhere else with it. There was a possibility to make a play there, but it wasn't an easy catch."

Null was intercepted in the end zone by Atlanta safety Eric Brock on fourth down.

Spagnuolo said wide receiver Nate Jones was open on underneath route, but Null tried to throw the ball to tight end Eric Butler.

"They had brought a blitz, which is a good call by them," Spagnuolo said. "(Keith) got it out in time, so the blitz part of it wasn't an issue. It just didn't happen."

Spagnuolo said he didn't know if he would have gone for the win and attempted a two-point conversion instead of kicking the game-tying extra point if the Rams had scored.

"We would have had to talk about that," Spagnuolo said. "I would have liked to have a chance to make that decision."