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.

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