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.

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