Monday, December 27, 2010

Rams beat 49ers 25-17

ST. LOUIS (AP)—The St. Louis Rams set up a winner-take-all matchup at Seattle for the NFC West title, while the San Francisco 49ers will finish their disappointing season without Mike Singletary.
Sam Bradford(notes) broke Peyton Manning’s(notes) NFL rookie record for completions in a season and the Rams had four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery in a 25-17 victory over San Francisco—which fired Singletary as coach later Sunday — to remain in position to end a five-season playoff drought.
“Another must win,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “It’s great to have that situation in the 16th game.”
St. Louis (7-8) has already accomplished much, rising from a 1-15 record in 2009. The Rams finished 5-3 at home, their first winning record since the last playoff appearance in 2004, and coming off a wretched three-year stretch in which they were 2-22.
The Rams ended a 10-game losing streak against Seattle with a 20-3 victory in October. Another win would give them their first season sweep since 2004, when they beat the Seahawks a third time in the playoffs.
“That’s exactly what we want,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We control it. We have another tough division foe that matches up with us, but I think the guys showed that we’re hungry to be successful.”
Bradford broke out of a three-game slump of no touchdown passes and five interceptions, throwing a 3-yarder to Laurent Robinson(notes) to put the Rams ahead 22-14 in the fourth quarter, one play after Danario Alexander’s(notes)spectacular 49-yard grab while flat on his back.
Bradford was sharp in the second half, going 16 for 20 for 168 yards. The lone miscue came when Patrick Willis(notes) stripped Bradford on a sack in the first quarter and the 49ers recovered at their own 32.
“I was very comfortable,” Bradford said. “Any time you give a quarterback time, they’re going to get comfortable.”
The 49ers (5-10) got a 78-yard punt return from Ted Ginn and a 60-yard touchdown grab by Michael Crabtree(notes). But they’ll miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season.
In one of Singletary’s final moves, he benched quarterback Troy Smith(notes) in the fourth quarter, one series after the two had a heated exchange.
Smith had 356 yards passing in the 49ers’ 23-20 overtime victory over the Rams last month in San Francisco but was 7 for 19 for 153 yards in the rematch. He put it together for just one series, going 2 for 3 for 85 yards capped by a 60-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree int he second quarter.
Singletary and Smith shook hands in the locker room and the coach did not apologize for the sideline scene.
“I’m sure there’s a right way and a wrong way in today’s life,” Singletary said. “There are many different rules, being politically correct. All I know is I was trying to win a game and the bottom line is you have to do what you think is right.”
The 49ers were 1-7 on the road, where they were outscored 200-117. They appeared to sag after missing a chance to take a 17-15 lead late in the third quarter when Jeff Reed(notes) shanked a 34-yard field goal attempt.
San Francisco cut the gap to five on Reed’s 47-yarder
The Rams totaled four sacks, one of them by James Hall(notes) for a safety after Smith couldn’t handle a poor shotgun snap in the first quarter. O.J. Atogwe’s interception in the third led to one of Josh Brown’s(notes) three field goals.
St. Louis scored a touchdown on its opening drive for only the second time all season, benefiting from an interference call on Nate Clements(notes), with Jackson scoring from the 1 on the next play.
The 49ers otherwise stuffed the run, limiting Jackson to 48 yards on 24 carries and making Bradford beat them. He has 335 completions, topping Manning’s record of 326 in 1998, and passed Chris Weinke(notes) for second in rookie attempts, needing 22 attempts next week to eclipse Manning.
The 49ers led 14-12 at the half despite totaling three first downs and 82 yards in penalties.
Ginn was untouched on his fourth career return touchdown, beating special teams that allowed no return yards on 10 punts by Donnie Jones(notes) in the first meeting. Smith converted twice on third and long during the touchdown drive, hitting Vernon Davis(notes) for 25 yards on third-and-13 and then connecting with Crabtree on the 60-yarder on third and 12.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Rams fizzle after strong start

Associated Press

Matt Cassel was supposed to be a game-day decision. The quarterback had
no doubt he'd be in the lineup.

Cassel went the distance only 11 days after an emergency appendectomy,
leading the way in a 27-13 victory over the suddenly sagging St. Louis
Rams on Sunday. He didn't think it was a big deal, either.

"Everything felt good," Cassel said. "I feel good now. And a win makes
it feel better."

Before the game, Cassel said one of the team doctors texted that he was
probably more nervous than the quarterback about what might happen.
Teammates were impressed at the quarterback's toughness, too.

"For a guy to come back after having an organ removed from his body,
playing the next week, yeah it's definitely extraordinary," running back
Thomas Jones said. "I'm proud of him, really proud of him."

To the Rams, Cassel didn't look a man who'd just been stitched up.

"He's a tough dude," defensive end Chris Long said. "I mean, he came out
there and slung it around a little, he took a hit or two.

"A lot of people wondered if he'd even play and he played a good game."

Jamaal Charles scored on a short run and helped clinch it with a late
80-yard burst for the Chiefs (9-5), who retained a one-game lead over
the Chargers in the AFC West.

Kansas City managed only 67 yards in a 31-0 loss at San Diego last week
with backup quarterback Brodie Croyle starting, and ended a
seven-quarter scoreless drought on Cassel's 2-yard pass to Leonard Pope
midway through the second quarter.

Jones became the NFL's 25th player to rush for 10,000 yards and scored
the final touchdown on a 2-yard run with 3:26 to go, one play after Ron
Bartell ran down Charles just shy of the goal line. Charles had 126
yards on 11 carries and Jones had 62 yards on 22 carries, and the Chiefs
totaled 213 yards rushing.

Cassel was questionable after getting limited work in practice, but led
the team on the field for warmups and didn't miss a snap while going 15
for 29 for 184 yards. He was rarely hit by the Rams, who sacked him
twice on the same series in the third quarter but couldn't rattle him,
and even produced a first down with a 13-yard scramble in the second

The Rams (6-8) fizzled after a strong start, losing their second
straight and missing a shot to solidify first place in the weak NFC
West. Sam Bradford became the third rookie in the NFL to pass for 3,000
yards but it came in one of his worst performances.

"I didn't play well at all," Bradford said. "We let it get away and
there's nothing we can do about it now."

Bradford was 21 for 43 for 181 yards and two interceptions, both times
by Kendrick Lewis. Bradford was sacked three times, all by Wallace
Gilberry, to lead a pass rush that hounded him all day.

The Rams led 6-0 after field goals to end the first two possessions but
totaled one first down in the second and third quarters while the Chiefs
scored 20 straight points.

St. Louis got its first five first downs of the second half on a
12-play, 72-play, drive capped by Steven Jackson's 5-yard run that cut
the margin to 20-13 with 4:04 to go on. The next play after the kickoff,
Charles broke loose for an 80-yard jaunt to the Rams 2, and Jones took
it in the next play.

"When you have eight men in the box, you usually don't get those types
of runs," Bartell said. "We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of

The Chiefs have won five straight in the series since 1997, and were
helped in this one by thousands of vocal fans who made the trip across
Interstate 70. Gov. Jay Nixon attended and presented the Governor's Cup
trophy, usually awarded after a preseason game.

The Rams had five false starts. Bradford said "for a home game it was a
little harder to hear."

"We've got to be better than that," the quarterback added. "I didn't
think I played well at all."

Jones, who alternates with Charles, hit the 10,000-yard plateau on a
4-yard carry early in the third quarter. Jones entered the game needing
17 yards and finished with 62 yards on 22 carries after totaling 1 yard
on three attempts last week.

Two field goals by Josh Brown field goals in the first quarter ended the
Rams' three-game slow-starting slump during which opponents outscored
them 30-0 the first two possessions. The Chiefs managed only 16 yards on
nine plays in the first quarter, and Cassel threw into a crowd on an
interception by Kevin Dockery to end the second series, but outgained
St. Louis 155-8 in the second quarter.

Offensive tackle Jason Smith was whistled for three penalties in the
first half - false start, illegal use of hands and holding.

The Chiefs finished 3-5 on the road. They allowed an average of 32
points the previous five road games.

Notes: Rams FB Brit Miller was carted off with a right knee injury in
the third quarter and is likely out for the season. ... Bradford is
third on the single-season rookie QB list in completions (307), attempts
(517) and yards (3,065). ... Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe had two catches for
53 yards after totaling one catch for 3 yards the previous two weeks.
... The Chiefs had 48 yards rushing on 17 carries at San Diego.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Grit, resolve and another Rams road victory

By Mike Sando

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Sam Bradford rolled to his right, found no one open 
and decided to make a run for it.

Risky move.

Bradford, the St. Louis Rams' record-setting rookie passer, found 
himself facing the Arizona Cardinals' Adrian Wilson.

It's been a tough season for Wilson and the Cardinals -- the Rams made 
it tougher with a 19-6 victory Sunday -- but Wilson can still crack 
heads with the best of them. The Pro Bowl safety wasn't going to miss 
the opportunity. He hit Bradford hard and shook him.

Bradford wavered a little on his way back to the huddle.

What happened next revealed more about Bradford than anything found 
within his worst statistical line since Week 5 (18-of-29 for 187 yards, 
one pick and a 66.3 rating).

Facing third-and-10, the quarterback stared down Wilson again, this time 
from the pocket, and he absorbed more punishment -- all while delivering 
a perfect sideline strike to Laurent Robinson for a 10-yard gain. No 
wonder Bradford tired of all the questions about his durability coming 
out of college.

"If you're a competitor and you take a shot or you get hit in the mouth, 
you're not going to turn it down," Bradford said. "You're going to get 
back up and try to give them your best shot on the next play. That's 
what I try to do."

That's what the Rams did Sunday throughout their second consecutive road 
victory. They weren't pretty. They won ugly. And they were tough.

The Cardinals' Alan Branch drew a penalty for a helmet-to-helmet hit on 
Bradford late in the game. Bradford's next pass found tight end Billy 
Bajema for a 26-yard gain.

"[Bradford] is very tough and resilient and strong-minded," Bajema said.

Bradford wasn't alone that way. Cornerback Ron Bartell (shoulder), right 
tackle Jason Smith (ankle) and Bajema (knee) returned to the game after 
suffering injuries that left them in obvious pain. Steven Jackson, still 
playing with pins in his left hand following surgery weeks ago, pounded 
out 102 yards on the ground despite taking a physical beating for the 
second week in a row. Arizona played tough on defense.

"This was our most physical game of the year," Rams guard Jacob Bell 

What did the Rams show?

"Some resolve," coach Steve Spagnuolo said.

What else did we learn Sunday? Let's run through the list:

1. The division race could hinge on Week 17

The Rams improved to 6-6 and remained atop the NFC West, tied with 
Seattle but owning the tiebreaker thanks to a Week 4 victory over the 
Seahawks. The teams play again in Week 17 and it's looking like the 
division race could hinge on the outcome.

The San Francisco 49ers fell to 4-8 at Green Bay. The Cardinals are 
effectively finished at 3-9 following their seventh consecutive defeat.

"To win a division, you have to be able to win road games," Rams 
defensive end Chris Long said. "We're going to have our share of road 
games coming up. I think we've been resilient and that is a good thing, 
in that we have lost some tough ones on the road and come back and we 
haven't let it become a mental distraction."

2. Arizona's QB situation went from bad to worse

Last week, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said the team had no plans to 
get regular-season reps for third-string rookie quarterback John 


Skelton might be the only Cardinals quarterback healthy enough to play.

Whisenhunt did not name a starter for Week 14 against Denver. He said he 
sensed something wasn't right with Derek Anderson after the Rams roughed 
up the veteran starter in the first half. Whisenhunt replaced Anderson 
with Max Hall in the third quarter.

Hall finished with one fumble, one interception, one dislocated shoulder 
(his left) and a 4.2 passer rating in five snaps.

Skelton finished the game. Unlike Hall, Skelton showed a strong arm in 
completing 3 of 6 passes for 45 yards, including a 22-yarder to Steve 
Breaston on third-and-16. Not that it's ever a good sign when the 
third-stringer is mopping up.

"I'm pretty sure when he was driving to the stadium today he had no clue 
that he would be playing in the role that he did," Cardinals running 
back Tim Hightower said.

3. The Rams' make no apologies for winning on the road

The sorry state of the Cardinals, particularly at quarterback, slaps a 
disclaimer on any sweeping proclamations about the Rams' performance 

The Rams owe no apologies to anyone, however. They had lost eight in a 
row to the Cardinals, a streak dating to 2006, and they hadn't won road 
games in back-to-back weeks since defeating New Orleans and San 
Francisco midway through the 2007 season.

"We showed some resolve and some grit when you think about them having 
beaten us the, what, last three years," Rams safety Oshiomogho Atogwe 
said. "To come here on the road, where we have struggled until last 
week, and play a game good enough to win, we're just showing our growth 
more than anything, getting better each week."

4. The Cardinals' defense showed up.

The Cardinals' unveiled some scheme changes that gave the Rams some 

"We like to run the ball in the middle, so they blitzed the middle, they 
ran some twists early on first down in the middle, stuff that we haven't 
really seen -- stuff that we were prepared for, but they executed pretty 
good today," Bell said.

Count Wilson, defensive end Darnell Dockett and safety Kerry Rhodes 
among the Arizona defensive players showing some fight after an 
embarrassing performance against San Francisco on Monday night.

Dockett blew up a Rams running play near the goal line, nearly taking 
hitting Bradford before the quarterback could get out from under center.

"For our guys to play with the type of effort that they did today and 
make some of the plays that they did, shows that you got a lot of the 
right guys," Whisenhunt said.

I didn't see much from outside linebacker Joey Porter or cornerback 
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, to name a couple players with Pro Bowls on 
their résumé.

The only time Porter stood out, at least from what I saw, was when he 
yapped away at Smith, the Rams' tackle. Porter finished with two 
tackles, his lowest total since Week 1.

Rodgers-Cromartie, beaten for a touchdown last week, committed a penalty 
to negate a long gain when Arizona used him as a wide receiver early in 
the game.

5. The Cardinals have become the 2009 Rams.

The Rams were the team fumbling through quarterbacks last season. 
Third-stringer Keith Null made four starts.

St. Louis reacted during the offseason by turning over its roster at the 

The Cardinals could bring back Hall and Skelton to compete for a backup 
job, but they need to draft a quarterback and find veteran spot starter 
with some accuracy. Marc Bulger comes to mind as one potential option, 
provided the former Rams starter has used this season in Baltimore to 
get healthy and get his mind right.

At least there's no way the Cardinals can convince themselves they're OK 
at the position. Their experience this season demands change.

"Sometimes you take it for granted, how great it is to have a guy like 
Sam who kind of solidifies the position for years to come and also in 
the immediate future you know what you've got back there -- a guy who 
can put you in position to win every game," Long said. "It's really a 
blessing and it makes football feel a lot different when you have that 
steady force back there and it's not inconsistent or unpredictable."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rams took us on a wild ride this trip

by Bryan Burwell

DENVER • Just in case you thought you were the only one who spent most of Sunday afternoon slaloming along on this wild emotional ride between the peaks of hilarity and the depths of football depression, just in case you figured you were the only one staring at the television wondering if you were witnessing a fascinating thrill ride or a potentially devastating train wreck, allow me to take you inside the visitors' locker room of Invesco Field at Mile High.
Over there on the far wall of this bustling winner's locker room, Sam Bradford, still in uniform, shoes untied, jersey on the floor, slumped in a chair in front of his locker stall, indulging in the spoils of victory.
"Man, that was crazy," the quarterback said as he munched on a biscuit out of his postgame lunch box. "Up one minute, down the next and back up again. Crazy, man, crazy. Wow."
And then the kid flashed a big old smile from beneath that scraggly beard, took one more big bite on that biscuit and finished talking.
"But tell me again, what was the final score?"
Rams 36, Denver Broncos 33.
"Well, then, isn't that all that matters? We won, right?"
Exactly, Sam. The Rams won a road game, people. Can I get an amen?
It wasn't perfect. In fact, it was downright ulcer-inducing. But when you are a franchise that has for far too long treated life on the road like one endless misguided adventure, when you've spent the past four seasons compiling one bad road disaster after another (55 weeks without a road victory, two victories away from home since 2008 and a staggering 4-24 road record since the start of the 2007 season), who are we to quibble about style points?
This is a Rams team that is taking all the small steps in the right direction, even if they still tend to stumble occasionally at the worst possible times. But here they were at one of the NFL's great road venues — a place that used to shiver, shake, rattle and roll when the Broncos were winning AFC titles and Super Bowl trophies — and the youngsters found a way to win a game when they had to.
It was the perfect game for a team that is still trying to find its way and discover its stature in the NFL. We don't know what they are quite yet, but we do know that their season still has meaning with this important road win. The Rams are 5-6, which doesn't sound like much if you live in places like New England or New York, Chicago or New Orleans. But for a team that was 1-15 only a year ago, it's enormous. Then throw in the insane bonus that the Rams are now officially back in first place in the NFC West with five games to play, and you might as well be living on a cloud.
Now think about this, too: In a few days it will be December, and the Rams will be on top of their division standings, and they're built to stay that way when you realize their division is cluttered with deeply flawed and rapidly declining competition.
But it was also a game that provided plenty of perspective, because it wasn't remotely a complete game. Let's just say it was a fun three quarters.
Let's begin with young Mr. Bradford, who is no longer a rookie, and it's becoming difficult to remember the last time he actually did look like one. The Broncos' defensive game plan was to make sure that Steven Jackson didn't beat them (Jackson gained some of the most brutal 72 yards you'll ever see against eight and nine men in the box all day long), and they dared the kid to do it with his arm.
And guess what?
He did.
He had his first 300-yard game, completed 22 of 37 passes for three touchdowns and an eye-popping 113.3 pass efficiency rating. He threw the ball deep to all his receivers and he challenged the Broncos up the sidelines and — gasp and swoon! — up the middle of the field. Danario Alexander came off the inactive list and averaged only 23.8 yards a catch. Laurent Robinson is starting to look like a receiver who can get deep, too (14.5 yards a catch), and Danny Amendola just keeps on doing everything right (he caught four balls for 41 yards and killed the Broncos with three end-arounds for 48 yards). And Bradford used his tight ends brilliantly, too (two TD catches by Billy Bajema and one by Mike Hoomanawanui).
Then the fourth quarter started and the Rams' coaches went all fair and balanced on us, which is to say they got incredibly conservative.
Ah, yes, shall we discuss the fourth quarter? You know those final 15 minutes where Rams fan swallowed their hearts, and the Rams' coaches apparently lost all their nerve?
There was so much to like about this game until the fourth quarter. The Rams bounced back from a 10-0 deficit with the stadium beginning to feel very much like it used to when John Elway was thrilling the home folks. With all that foot stomping going on in the upper deck, I swear the press box was vibrating like we were in an earthquake. But then the offense started clicking, outscoring the Broncos 30-3, and the Rams went into the fourth quarter with a 33-13 lead. It was a thing of beauty going into the fourth quarter, and you could see the stands emptying out as disgruntled Broncos fans stopped booing and headed for the parking lot.
But then it started to happen.
It was that very familiar, queasy feeling we've felt before in Tampa and in Oakland and in San Francisco. That creeping sense that no lead is safe when the Rams are away from the Edward Jones Dome. They didn't attack. They retreated. They played it safe, just like they have done so many other times when the Rams could have put away victories in Tampa, Oakland and San Francisco.
After the game, coach Steve Spagnuolo admitted that even while basking in the thrill of victory, he couldn't understand why this team continues to struggle with its ability to be cold-blooded killers. He was smiling this time, but it was the nervous laughter of a man who knew he'd just narrowly escaped a piano falling on his head.
"I just know this," Spagnuolo said. "Going forward, if you are going to win consistently in this league, your defense has to find a way to close out football games, especially when you are up by two scores. You have to find a way to do that."
But as time goes by, it's becoming more apparent that the struggles on the road are not always a simple matter of execution by the players. Sometimes, it's also a matter of style and approach, and that is all on the coaches. Sometimes you have to stick with what got you here. Earlier in the year, it was an understandable approach because you were protecting a rookie quarterback. But Bradford isn't a rookie anymore and this team is ready to win games without racing the last few laps under the ever-present caution flag.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rams Can’t Quite Keep Up with Falcons

Posted by nickwagoner on November 22, 2010 – 12:58 AM 

- The Rams came into Sunday’s game looking to bounce back from a tough loss to San Francisco last week. But the task was tall with a talented Atlanta team coming in and ultimately it was too much for them to overcome in a 34-17 loss at the Edward Jones Dome.

- The Falcons are the best team the Rams have played this season. They’re extremely balanced offensively and they play stout, solid defense that doesn’t allow much in the way of big plays. With the win, Atlanta moves to 8-2 on the season. The Rams fall to 4-6 with the loss but the rest of the NFC West teams also lost Sunday, which means the Rams didn’t lose any ground in the divisional race.

- On the injury front, the Rams had nothing too serious. Tackle Rodger Saffold tweaked his shoulder and will have an MRI but that was the only ailment of concern for coach Steve Spagnuolo after the game. S Oshiomogho Atogwe, CB Ron Bartell and CB Justin King missed time during the game with cramps but they all returned.

- As for the game, the final score is certainly misleading. With 3:31 to play, the Rams had the ball at Atlanta’s 2 trailing by nine. A touchdown there and they had all timeouts remaining with a chance to get the ball back. Atlanta finished the game with a late 39-yard touchdown run by Michael Turner for the final margin.

- For most of the game, Atlanta controlled the ball and the clock with its balanced offense. QB Matt Ryan is a heck of a player. Not many quarterbacks in the league are better against the blitz than he is. He dissected the Rams on the blitz and was able to keep his team on the field time and again.

- A few things that really hurt the Rams: time of possession and field position. The Falcons had the ball for 35:55 to the Rams’ 24:05. And the Falcons took full advantage of good field position, particularly in the first half. A big kick return was the impetus for that.

- The Rams went sackless against Ryan and the Falcons, a disappointing showing for a group that has been the best in the league at getting to the quarterback.

- QB Sam Bradford set a rookie record for consecutive attempts without an interception with 169. That streak ended on a bizarre, fluky interception at the goal line on a late shovel pass. That was the play that killed the Rams’ drive at the goal line and ended the Rams’ chances.

- TE Michael Hoomanawanui collided with G Adam Goldberg on the play, throwing off the timing as the ball ended up in the hands of Atlanta S William Moore.

- Hoomanawanui had a solid performance, catching four passes for 46 yards with a touchdown. His 18-yard grab down the sideline was a thing of beauty.

- Nice effort, Brandon Gibson. He had five catches for 42 yards and his touchdown grab on a fade to the left corner of the end zone was outstanding as well.

- Steven Jackson finished with 54 yards on just 11 carries but Atlanta made it obvious it wanted to take him away. And the Rams weren’t on the field enough to continue feeding him. Congrats to Jackson for reaching 10,000 career yards from scrimmage, though.

- In the locker room after, the Rams were quick to give credit where its due. Atlanta is an excellent team and probably the top contender in the NFC right now. That’s the type of team the Rams are striving to become.

- It doesn’t get any easier from here. The Rams now go on the road for three straight, starting next weekend in Denver. In order to stay in the race, they’ll need to find a way to get that elusive first road victory.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rams Lose in OT


SAN FRANCISCO • The Rams pushed and pushed, and pushed some more. If that elusive first road victory was a boulder, they had it at the top of the hill and could almost see the other side — the down hill side.

But once again, they slipped and got flattened by it. It's difficult to imagine any road loss being more wrenching than the 18-17 loss at Tampa Bay three weeks ago. But this was it, a 23-20 overtime defeat to San Francisco on Sunday at Candlestick Park.

"When you have a team, third-and-forever, fourth-and-forever, for them to convert it and come back and get a touchdown — that can't happen," cornerback Ron Bartell said.

It happened. The Rams led 17-13 in the closing minutes of regulation, but San Francisco wiggled out of third-and-32 and fourth-and-18 holes leading to a go-ahead touchdown catch by wide receiver Michael Crabtree with 2 minutes, 10 seconds to play.

Undaunted, the Rams drove 70 yards on their next possession, tying the score as time expired on Josh Brown's 33-yard field goal. Just four plays earlier Steven Jackson, who had 148 yards rushing and receiving, put the Rams in position to win the game in regulation managing to stay inbounds on a 25-yard catch with linebacker Takeo Spikes draped all over him.

But a couple of plays later, on a second-down play from the 49ers 15, tight end Daniel Fells dropped a pass at the Niners' 7 on a play he might have scored on. "I've got to come up with that catch," Fells said. "I take everything personal. I go out there and I bust my butt every single down, every single play, and I expect to make those plays so I can help my team win."
But it was one of those games where there were several plays like that, good and bad. And lots of questions.

Why, for example, did Kevin Dockery start ahead of Bradley Fletcher at cornerback? According to STATS LLC, only 49 percent of the passes directed at Fletcher had been completions this season.

"We've got a lot of competition in a lot of spots, to be honest," coach Steve Spagnuolo said, when asked about starting Dockery. "You know I'm of the thinking, the philosophy, that there should be competition all the way through. I think it makes guys play harder and better. So 'Dock' got his shot and we'll see where it goes for this coming week."

Dockery, biting on a play fake, was beaten by Vernon Davis for a 32-yard gain on the 49ers' first play from scrimmage. He was then beaten by Josh Morgan for a 65-yard gain on the first play of San Francisco's second series, which led to the game's first touchdown.

Dockery was replaced on the next series by Fletcher in the Rams' base defense, although he stayed in the game in other packages.

And more pertinent to the ending of the game, why did referee Ed Hochuli's crew call pass interference on safety Oshiomogho Atogwe in overtime, on a play that clearly looked like an uncatchable ball?

The Rams seemingly had San Francisco stopped on third-and-2 from the St. Louis 45. Defensive end Chris Long, who spent most of the day in the 49ers' backfield, was in the process of bringing down quarterback Troy Smith on the play.

Smith got the ball off, but it was a wobbly duck, destined to fall incomplete in the middle of the field, nowhere near a 49ers receiver. But as tight end Delanie Walker stopped and turned back to make an attempt for the ball, he collided with Atogwe, who was trailing in close coverage.

Out came the flag. Instead of punting from the 45 on fourth down, the Niners had a first down at St. Louis 23, already in field goal range. Two Frank Gore runs later, Joe Nedney kicked a 29-yard field goal with 9:39 to go in overtime for the victory, which boosted San Francisco's record to 3-6 after an 0-5 start.

Spagnuolo said he tried to get an explanation from the officiating crew on the call. "I asked, but it's noisy and I was screaming to ask," he said. "It was called."

Did he agree with the call?

"I'm not going to comment on that," Spagnuolo said. "You have to play the next down based on the way they officiate it, and that's what we did."

Attempts by the Post-Dispatch for a pool report on the call were unsuccessful.

Atogwe had left the locker room. But when Bartell was asked if he thought the pass was uncatchable, he replied, "Yeah, yeah. I thought a couple of the pass interference calls were questionable. At the end of the day you have to play above officiating. We still had opportunities to make plays and we didn't get it done."

Nope. Instead of putting a dagger in the 49ers' attempt to salvage their season, the Rams lost their fourth game the season by four points or fewer. Three of those tight losses have come on the road, where the Rams remain winless since Nov. 1, 2009.

For the third time this season, the Rams had a chance to get above .500 with a road victory. For the third time this season, they fell short, losing for the fifth straight time to San Francisco.

At 4-5, the Rams dropped a game off the pace in the NFC West behind Seattle (5-4), which defeated Arizona 36-18.
"We're not the old Rams," Long said. "We're trying to be a new team and set a new standard. And the standard isn't losing close games on the road."

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rams vs. Panthers--Postgame Notes

- The Rams improved to 4-4 on the season as they defeated the Carolina Panthers 20-10. It was St. Louis’ fourth consecutive home win, giving the Rams a 4-1 record at home this season.

- Prior to the game, the Rams honored former WR Isaac Bruce by retiring his number 80 jersey. Bruce became the ninth player in franchise history to have his jersey retired, and many of his former coaches and teammates were on hand for the ceremony.

- During Bruce’s ceremony, several dozen fans formed a tunnel through which Bruce and his former teammates walked to the center of the field. Those making up the tunnel were fans chosen through a lottery of 15-year Personal Seat License (PSL) holders and other select fans.

- QB Sam Bradford completed 25-of-32 passes for 191 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions to give him a single-game career-best passer rating of 112.4. Sunday was Bradford’s third consecutive game without an interception, and he’s now gone 96 consecutive attempts without being picked off.

- Bradford was 9-of-11 for 73 yards and two touchdowns on third down Sunday, good for a passer rating of 133.9.

- For the fifth time in as many home games this season, the Rams held their opponent under 17 points. Defensively, St. Louis is allowing just 12.6 points per game at home this season and 17.6 points per game overall.

- RB Steven Jackson gained 63 total yards (59 rushing, 4 receiving) to give him 9,839 yards from scrimmage on his career and moved past WR Henry Ellard (9,816) into fourth place on the franchise’s all-time list.

- The Rams held Carolina to just 25 rushing yards Sunday, the second lowest total allowed by St. Louis since the club relocated to the Gateway City in 1995. The 25 yards allowed were the fewest given up on the ground since Carolina rushed for 31 yards against St. Louis on Nov. 11, 2001.

- St. Louis won the time of possession battle 36:28 and held Carolina to 0-for-4 on third down in the first half.

- As a team, the Rams forced four turnovers, including three interceptions, and St. Louis scored 10 points off of takeaways Sunday. Three of the team’s takeaways came in the fourth quarter. On the season, the Rams have 15 total takeaways. St. Louis had 20 in 16 games in 2009.

- LB James Laurinaitis ended Carolina’s first drive of the day when he intercepted Matt Moore’s first pass attempt of the game. The interception was Laurinaitis’ first of the season and third of his career. Laurinaitis also sacked Moore later in the game, the linebacker’s second sack of the season.

- The Rams held the Panthers scoreless in the first quarter, marking the sixth time in eight games this season that their opponent has failed to score a first quarter point. St. Louis has allowed zero points in the first quarter at home this season and six total first quarter points in 2010.

- WR Danny Amendola caught a touchdown pass for the second consecutive week. His two-yard catch, his second of the season and third of his career, gave the Rams a 10-3 lead just before halftime. Amendola now has 15 consecutive games with at least one reception.

- Seven different Rams caught a pass Sunday with Amendola and Brandon Gibson tied for the team lead with six catches each.

- S Craig Dahl recorded his third forced fumble of the season when he stripped WR Steve Smith late in the third quarter. DE Chris Long recovered, and the takeaway resulted in a 23-yard touchdown pass from Bradford to TE Daniel Fells.

- St. Louis recorded its third takeaway of the day when DE James Hall hit Moore’s arm and forced an errant throw that was intercepted by S James Butler. The interception was Butler’s second of the season, and led to a 41-yard Josh Brown field goal.

- DE Chris Long recorded a sack, giving him three consecutive games with at least 1.0 sacks for the second time in his career. Long now has 4.5 sacks on the season, second among Rams defenders.

- S Oshiomogho Atogwe clinched the victory with an interception on Carolina’s last drive of the game. Atogwe has two interceptions on the year and 21 for his career.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rams wilt in loss to Bucs


TAMPA, FLA. • The mere act of losing was nothing new. After all, there have been many losing locker rooms in recent years for the Rams — way too many. But in the immediate aftermath of this latest defeat, 18-17 to Tampa Bay, this may have been the quietest Rams locker room yet.

There was frustration. Fatigue. And the gnawing knowledge that they let one slip away. The Rams were oh, so close to a rare road victory, and a 4-3 record, with 1-5 Carolina coming to the Edward Jones Dome next Sunday. All things seemed possible with a 17-3 lead in the second quarter at Raymond James Stadium.

But it all started to unravel with questionable clock management late in the second quarter, helping the Buccaneers tack on a field goal before the half. Then Steven Jackson, so strong running the football in the first half, was dinged in the neck and wasn't right for a while.

With backs Cadillac Williams and Kregg Lumpkin ineffective on the ground in the first half, the Bucs switched to rookie LeGarrette Blount in the second half. Blount, whom the Rams passed on when he was available via the waiver wire earlier this season, was very effective.

Slowly but surely, momentum — and the scoreboard — started tilting Tampa's way. A field goal here, a field goal there. The dagger came with just 10 seconds to play, when on second-and-goal from the St. Louis 1, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman rolled deep to his right to avoid pressure and found Williams wide open in the end zone.

Poof went the lead, the road victory and the chance to have a winning record for the first time in four years. (The Rams were 4-3 after seven games in 2006 and haven't been above sea level since.)

"This one is extremely sour right now," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "It's going to be a long plane ride. I'm sure each person is going to be thinking about every play they could've made to seal it or whatever."

"I gotta give (Tampa Bay) credit," left guard Jacob Bell said. "They ended up pulling it off, but we let that one slide. We let it out of our grasp. We've got to work on finishing games out. We get 'em down, we gotta keep 'em down."

In the process of letting the Bucs off the mat, the Rams once again left their offense in the locker room at halftime. Oh, the offensive players came out for the third quarter. But the production didn't.

In the first half, the Rams gained 189 yards, averaged 6.1 yards a carry, converted five of eight third downs and scored 17 points.

Second half? Ninety-six yards, two of six on third down, 3.3 yards a carry. And, oh yeah, zero points.

"We've escaped some games earlier in the year where we've struggled on offense in the second half, and the defense has carried us," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "Today it came back to bite us."

For the third game in a row, the Rams failed to score a touchdown in the second half, and they have only three points total — scored against San Diego — after halftime over that stretch.

"I don't know that I can figure that out," coach Steve Spagnuolo said.

You could make a case, although Spagnuolo denied it, that the play calling was too conservative in the second half against San Diego. Six of the first nine plays in the second half were handoffs in that game. That ratio was flipped against Tampa Bay, with six of the Rams' first nine plays passes to start the second half.

But the result was the same. The Rams gained only 21 yards in the third quarter Sunday, and managed only one first down.
"We were in the locker room (at halftime) talking about being aggressive, staying aggressive," Spagnuolo said. "I don't know if it was the effort. I don't know — maybe the heat. I know our defense was tired at the end. But I don't have an answer for the lack of points in the second half."

On a day when it was 84 degrees at kickoff with the temperature reaching 90 by game's end, the St. Louis defense was on the field a lot in the last two-plus quarters.

After Bradford's second TD pass of the day, a 2-yard toss to tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, the Rams had a 17-3 lead with 2:59 left to play in the first half. Tampa, which had only 44 yards of offense at that point, had the ball for 20 minutes, 25 seconds — to the Rams 12:34 — the rest of the game.

The Buccaneers had a first down at the Rams' 49 at the 2-minute warning in the first half. Strangely, Spagnuolo helped keep time on the clock for the Buccaneers by calling timeouts after the next two plays. When Freeman scrambled for 16 yards and a first down to get the Bucs out of a third-and-16 predicament, they still had 1:26 left on the clock with the ball at the St. Louis 39.

"I tell you what, I'd do it again," Spagnuolo said. "Because obviously at the end (of the game) we needed more points. But it was being aggressive. We were trying to get the ball at the end. I had confidence in the defense that we'd get 'em off the field, and our offense would get another chance with the ball. Trying to get the offense another possession. It didn't work out."

No, it backfired. In a game the Bucs ended up winning by one point, they got three points on Connor Barth's 39-yard field goal with 24 seconds left in the first half. Which undoubtedly contributed to that long plane ride home.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bernie on Rams' Win

Obviously, this is the Rams' biggest win under head coach Steve Spagnuolo. I realize the Chargers aren't playing up to their talent level, but after last week's debacle in Detroit the Rams had a choice to make: rise up or fade away.
And they rallied with great passion. The Chargers were shocked by the Rams' aggression and didn't have an early answer for it.
Damaged by the loss of Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd to in-game injuries the Chargers recovered and tried to make a game of it in the second half but the Rams kept their composure.
I would have liked to have seen the Rams offense attack more in the second half; you can't sit on a 14-point lead with two quarters to play. And the overly cautious approach nearly cost this team a well-earned win.
But Sam Bradford, who was calm and in command all day, led his team on a crucial 4th-quarter drive for a FG that gave the Rams' a 10-pt lead.
Rookie WR Danario Alexander provided inspiration and big-play skills. I wish the Rams would have targeted him more. But the Pat Shurmur offense had some good ideas; the distribution was excellent with nine different Rams catching passes.
And Steven Jackson had some terrific power runs, including a 9-yard romp on third and 6 near the two-minute warning when the Rams had to keep the ball and drain some clock. Moments later Jax put the Chargers away with a 13-yard run.
The Rams defense had some problems in the second half but let's be reasonable here: you just can't keep the Chargers down for four quarters. The seven sacks of Philip Rivers caused plenty disruption.
It got a little unnerving late in the game but the Rams held on for a 20-17 win. They're 3-3. And could be 5-1. The team made a positive statement Sunday. Outstanding win.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lions teach Rams important lesson

by Bryan Burwell

DETROIT • By the end of the afternoon when things had truly gone downhill for the Rams, there were all these gawdawful moments that let you know just how rotten this little trip to Motown had become.
As the fourth quarter wound down and the scoreboard glared with this ridiculous, mind-boggling score — Lions 44, Rams 6 — many of the 55,714 spectators who hadn't witnessed a victory in nearly a year, were actually leaving early, fully confident that the Lions, winless for the past 11 months, had secured their first victory of the season.
To make matters even worse, there was the utterly disturbing sight of defrocked Rams coach and current Detroit offensive coordinator Scott Linehan attempting a bit of prickly vengeance by dialing up a halfback option pass with his team already holding a 28-point lead. This was soon followed up by somebody named Alphonso Smith doing some goofy touchdown dance in the end zone after returning an interception 42 yards for the final score of the day.
Forty-four to six.
Well, I guess that corner we all thought the Rams had turned wasn't a corner after all.
More like a disturbing U-turn.
"Sometimes you need a butt-whippin' to let you know where you really are," Steven Jackson said with a refreshing bit of brutal honesty.
Just for the record, don't put me in the line with any hysterical folks who believe this error-filled, but extremely predictable loss to the Lions is a symptom of a deeper, darker malaise. The sky isn't falling, at least not yet. Here's what it is: It's a relapse that exposed the Rams for exactly what they are, a fragile young team that can't simply show up on Sundays and expect to frighten anyone.
It's a stern reminder for a young team that apparently had to be reminded that at this stage in its journey toward respectability, you can't play an imperfect game and expect to beat anyone, even an 0-4 team that had exhibited so many of these same self-destructive tendencies, too.
So you can't botch a game-opening onside kick, turn the ball over in the red zone, drop wide open passes, drop wide open interceptions, commit drive-killing penalties, and somehow forget to cover wide-open Lions tight ends and running backs all game long and expect that this will result in anything less than a lopsided defeat.
"We're not at the point where we can just show up," Jackson said. "We're not there yet. We're going to have to fight each and every play. Each and every snap, guys are gong to have to fight for extra yards. ... I don't think guys came in overlooking Detroit (because they were 0-4). But this was an eye opener, a wakeup call that once we get back on another winning streak, which I believe will happen, we won't take anything for granted."
In person, this didn't feel like it was a game where the Rams emotionally took the day off. Instead, it looked like a game where they simply forgot how close to perfect they still have to play to win. They survived the odd game-opening onside kick that gave the Lions the ball only 41 yards away from the end zone, by limiting Detroit to a field goal.
But that kick immediately set into motion a game-long theme that would spell disaster. Midway through the first quarter, Sam Bradford's most reliable receiver, veteran Mark Clayton, went down with a season-ending knee injury (a devastating blow that this offense will feel even more as the season progresses). It seemed to throw off the offensive game plan more than a little bit. Yet even without Clayton, the Rams moved the ball to the Detroit 9-yard line before Danny Amendola fumbled a Bradford pass at the 4, and the Lions recovered.
Then came a special teams breakdown when they Rams allowed a 105-yard kickoff return, followed by two more trips into the red zone in the first half that only resulted in two field goals.
And stop me if you've heard this one before: Rams cornerback Ron Bartell dropped a wide open interception that could have resulted in an easy touchdown.
The game was essentially over by halftime with Detroit leading 24-6.
But if the Rams had played as close to as well as they did the last two weeks, they would have converted at least two of those trips into the red zone into touchdowns, gotten a TD out of Bartell's blown pick, and the score could have just as easily been tied at 24-all.
So now we are about to find out what this developing football team truly is made of. We've seen what happens to the young Rams when they forget just how narrow their margin for success really is. Five games into the 2010 season, we have seen three games full of silly errors that have cost the Rams victories. We have also seen two weekends when the Rams took care of business like seasoned pros, when they capitalized on opportunities and finished games the way good teams should.
"I understand the ebb and flow of momentum," said defensive end Chris Long. "You win a couple of games and all of a sudden we're the favorite to do this and that. And then you lose one and the sky is falling. We're going to try to keep an even keel. We won't get too low off this. We'll take our medicine and move on."
So which team are they? Good or bad? The answer, it seems, is both.
As he stood in front of his locker stall after the game, young Mr. Bradford was like so many of his teammates, angry but not despondent. The room didn't feel like so many losing Rams locker rooms over the past few years.
Somehow, even in defeat, this room felt different.
Next week we'll find out if the Rams were talking a good game or if those old, familiar losing habits are going to take a bit longer to get flushed from this team's system.