Monday, September 27, 2010

Rams revel in victory after 10 straight losses


Those left in the crowd of 52,370 counted down the final seconds as if they were in Times Square on New Year's Eve. Wide receiver Brandon Gibson couldn't help himself, he borrowed the huge Rams flag from the normal flag-bearer guy and started waving it.

"I asked him, ‘Can I wave it for a little bit?' " Gibson said. "He let me have it. It was fun."

In the locker room afterward, there were smiles and shouts. Owner Stan Kroenke worked the room, congratulating his victorious team. Center Jason Brown presented coach Steve Spagnuolo with a game ball.

"Big Jason gave it to him because Spags has stuck with us all the way," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "He's never, ever given up hope on this team."

So this is what it's like after a win - which the Rams did, 30-16 Sunday over the Washington Redskins. The Rams had lost 10 in a row since last year's 17-10 victory at Detroit on Nov. 1.
And this is what it's like to win at home - the Rams had lost 14 in a row in the Edward Jones Dome since a 34-14 victory over Dallas on Oct. 19, 2008.

"Let's face it, we didn't want to be faced with 0-3," Spagnuolo said. "We've been in two prior games where we certainly all felt we could have won, and we didn't. So you were looking for find a way to win, and we did that. We did that today even in the middle of a lot of adversity."

The Rams squandered a 14-0 first-quarter lead, in the process losing offensive captain Steven Jackson (groin) and defensive captain Oshiomogho Atogwe (thigh). They had another field goal blocked, this one practically from extra point range - a 21-yarder at the end of the first half.
And when Donovan McNabb connected with Santana Moss for a 56-yard gain to open the second half, and the Redskins subsequently took a 16-14 lead on a field goal, it looked like yet another case of here we go again.

The Rams had suffered narrow, wrenching defeats against Arizona and Oakland, squandering second-half leads in both games. They appeared headed down that all-too-familiar road Sunday, but then a funny thing happened. They regrouped, exhaled and scored the game's final 16 points on a Kenneth Darby touchdown and three Josh Brown field goals.

"You don't play the game to kinda get close," Josh Brown said. "You play the game to win. ... This is pure excitement. This is what the game's about."

Unless, of course, you happened to be in the visitors' locker room, where the Redskins are now 1-2.

"They just flat-out whipped our (butt)," Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "In the first part of the game, they came right out at us, and we weren't ready. Thirty points, that's very unacceptable. They just kept hitting us with big plays."

The Rams' offense ... and big plays. Normally those words aren't used in the same sentence. But it did happen over and over again Sunday. Before his injury, Jackson rambled 42 yards for a TD on the Rams' opening drive, getting a great downfield block from Jason Brown that cut off the pursuit.
On the next Washington possession, safety James Butler scooped up a Moss fumble and raced 49 yards to the Redskins' 3. Two plays later, quarterback Sam Bradford rolled right and looked into the back corner of the end zone for tight end Daniel Fells.

Fells was covered by Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall. But when Hall came up to challenge Bradford, who was running toward the end zone, Bradford pulled up and tossed the ball to a wide-open Fells for a TD and a 14-0 Rams lead just 6 minutes into the game.

"Sam made a great read," Fells said. "He made a double-read. He faked like he was going to run the ball, and then just dumped it off at the corner of the end zone."

But when Jackson went down, it looked pretty bleak, right?

"Obviously, I was hoping it was only going to be for a play or two," Bradford said, smiling. "I thought maybe he just needed a breather. That's what I was hoping. Then to realize that he wasn't going to come back to the game, I think that just meant that everyone on our offense was going to need to step up."

And that's what happened. Immediately following that go-ahead field goal in the third quarter by Washington kicker Graham Gano, the Rams put together a 74-yard touchdown drive that included third-and-long completions by Bradford to Fells and rookie Mardy Gilyard, capped by a 12-yard run by Darby for his first NFL score.

Washington didn't cross midfield until the final minute of the game against a Rams defense that has yet to give up more than 17 points in a game this season. Meanwhile, the Rams tacked on those three field goals, with the help of two long catch-and-run plays by Mark Clayton (30 and 25 yards). There was also a successful fourth-and-inches gamble from the Washington 43 when it was still a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter.

"Now we know that feeling of what it means to pull a close one out," Laurinaitis said. "I think that's important. You can talk about it, encourage it, and all that stuff. But until you actually feel it. ..."

Now, they finally know that feeling.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tight ends suffer MCL injuries

A pair of Rams tight ends suffered injuries to the medial collateral ligaments but at this point have different prognoses.

Rams' tight ends suffer MCL injuries.

Coach Steve Spagnuolo said that Billy Bajema's MCL injury could take two to four weeks to heal but that trainer Reggie Scott listed  Daniel Fells as day to day with his MCL strain.

Defensive tackle Darell Scott underwent an MRI and was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, an injury that commonly takes a month to heal.

"We'll see how long that takes. We'll probably not have him this week," Spagnuolo said.
Safety Craig Dahl will undergo post-concussion tests Tuesday. Spagnuolo said he was resting Monday. Dahl suffered the concussion on a hit to Raiders' running back Darren McFadden.
Defensive tackle Clifton Ryan also will undergo further testing. He was hospitalized overnight Wednesday for what seem to be migraines and did not play in the Rams' 16-14 loss Sunday in Oakland.

"We want to make sure everything is eliminated," Spagnuolo said.

Spagnuolo said running back Steven Jackson's knee and Rodger Saffold's back were sore but that both appeared OK.

Other players appear to be on the mend. Cornerback Justin King (hamstring) is expected back at practice Wedensday. Both LB Chris Chamberlain and TE Michael Hoomanuwanui are out of the cast/boot  each was wearing as a result of foot and ankle injuries, respectively.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Clayton stars in his debut with the Rams


A week ago, no one could've imagined that rookie quarterback Sam Bradford's first regular-season NFL completion would be to Mark Clayton. Even more preposterous would've been any notion that after just three practices with the Rams, Clayton would be their leading receiver in Sunday's season opener.

After Clayton hauled in a career-high 10 passes for 119 yards in a 17-13 loss to Arizona, Bradford said, "It's definitely impressive. But we saw it all week. The first day he was here, he knew exactly what he was doing."

The Rams traded for Clayton on Monday, sending a 2011 late-round draft choice to Baltimore to complete the deal. Clayton, a sixth-year veteran out of the University of Oklahoma, was a first-round draft pick by the Ravens in 2005.

His production had declined over the past four seasons, falling from a career-high 67 receptions in 2006 to 48 in '07, 41 in '08 and then a career-low 34 last year.

"You got to have the ball thrown your way to catch them," said Clayton, 28. "The thing is, I've learned perseverance, being a consummate pro, working, just always, no matter what, to get open. And when the ball comes, take advantage of it. If it doesn't, get open again."

Clayton became expendable when the Ravens signed free-agent wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh earlier Monday.

The Rams had been looking for an experienced hand to supplement their corps of young and largely inexperienced wide receivers. They dealt for Clayton just a few days after a knee injury knocked their top wideout, Donnie Avery, out for the season.

Still, it would've seemed absurd to predict that after getting onto the practice field at Rams Park for the first time Wednesday, Clayton would torch the Cardinals.

Well, maybe Rams center Jason Brown might have seen it coming. He played with Clayton in Baltimore. There, Brown said Clayton proved that he is "very smart and very disciplined."

"We were making compliments and commenting on that all week long, how he came in and didn't have a single mental error at practice," Brown added. "Never lined up wrong, never ran a wrong route. He was on top of it since Day One."

Clayton did extra work on the field after practice each day, then spent a least two hours in the playbook every night before going to bed.

"I was able to just sit down and go over it — play, play, play, play," Clayton said. "The Lord gave me a photographic memory. I can go in and just look at some pictures and remember it and ... just process it in my mind real quick."

Clayton had just one 100-yard receiving day last season and only two in 2008. His previous high in receptions, eight, was achieved three times. The most recent occurrence came nearly three years ago, though.

His new career mark "means nothing," Clayton insisted in the wake of the defeat.

"Offensively, we have to put the ball in the end zone," he said. "You make a play here, a play there, but at the end of the day, we have to score points. If we want to win, we're going to have to score points, period."

The Rams mustered a single touchdown Sunday, and Clayton played a major role in the score. His acrobatic grab on the right sideline was good for a 39-yard pickup to the Cardinals' 9-yard line with 20 seconds left in the first half.

"That was big ... a pro catch," Brown said.

Four plays later, Bradford rolled right and found wide receiver Laurent Robinson in the front of the end zone. The 1-yard yard TD as time expired pulled the Rams even, 10-10, at the break.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Clayton had a 33-yard reception in a promising drive late in the fourth quarter. That catch took the Rams to the Arizona 33-yard line, but the march ended with an interception.

"We just weren't efficient," Clayton said. "We had some opportunities, and we weren't able to take advantage of them. We know we'll get better. We'll work hard this week and come back and capitalize on those things next week," when the Rams face the Raiders in Oakland.

Looking forward, Clayton likes what he sees.

"I believe in this team," he said. "This is a really good team, and we wanted the win bad, and it hurt. We fought hard. ... I want to do my best and leave everything on the field. I just want to try to help this team win games."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rams start fast in win over Ravens


OK, reality check. Start with the understanding that Baltimore played its entire second-team defense to open Thursday's preseason finale. Throw in the fact that the Ravens who were on the field didn't seem overly interested in playing football - at least not at first.

Nonetheless, the numbers and the performance by quarterback Sam Bradford speak for themselves. Bradford completed six of six passes on the Rams' opening drive for 68 yards. Once again, he made quick decisions and spread the ball around. Throw in a run here and there, and you had a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in what became a 27-21 Rams victory.

"I felt great out there tonight," Bradford said. "I felt like we really got in rhythm early as an offense. ... We converted on a couple of third downs, which is always nice. It was really a great first drive."

Bradford started again in place of the injured A.J. Feeley (thumb), and his numbers in those two starts: 21 completions in 28 attempts (that's 75 percent), for 257 yards, three touchdowns and a sterling passer rating of 138.5.

To be sure, there will be bumps and bruises along the way. There's no way Bradford makes it look this easy once the real games begin. But is there any logical reason why he shouldn't be the opening starter Sept. 12 against Arizona?

"That's not up to me. That's not my call," Bradford said. "Whether or not I think I am, that's not up to me. It's up to our coaches, and I trust what they believe. If they think I'm the guy, then I am. If not, it means I've got to work that much harder and get that much better before I am."
So, Steve Spagnuolo, your thoughts on your opening-day starting QB?

"So," Spagnuolo said, teasing. "We'll have the day off tomorrow. We'll get treated, and we'll go on from there."

After a breakout performance last week against New England, the Rams' head coach said he wanted to see Bradford put together back-to-back good outings before making any quarterback determination. Bradford seemingly answered that question.

If possible, Bradford was even better than his stats Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome. Take his 9-yard completion to tight end Billy Bajema on the fourth play of the game. On the first-down play, the Ravens brought a safety on the blitz, and then rolled a cornerback into the spot vacated by the safety.
It's a strategy designed to fool the quarterback, especially a rookie quarterback. But Bradford wasn't fooled; he got the ball out quickly before the corner could get there.

"They did bring a couple blitzes while I was in there," Bradford said. "But it's something that we were prepared for. Billy did a great job knowing that the safety was coming and turning his head and I was able to find him and get rid of the ball."

Two plays later, give an assist to Danny Amendola on Bradford's longest completion of the drive, a 36-yard gain on a little stop-and-go move by the wide receiver known as "White Chocolate" by his teammates. Amendola turned to his right, or inside, only to discover the ball was thrown to the outside. Not a problem. Amendola made a quick adjustment turning back to the outside and getting his feet in bounds as he caught the ball.

"He definitely helped me out," Bradford said. "That was a great catch by Danny. He did a great job adjusting to the ball; I left it outside a little bit. But fortunately, I put enough air on it to where he was able to make an adjustment on it and make a great play."

The completion gave the Rams a first down on the Baltimore 14 and four plays later, Bradford completed a 2-yard TD pass to Billy Bajema. Interestingly, the Rams came out in the no-huddle, something Bradford did frequently at Oklahoma.

That was it for Bradford, and the rest of the starting offense. One series, one touchdown. The Rams scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the third week in a row.

Bradford's replacement, Keith Null, started out red-hot as well. Fighting for the No. 3 quarterback job, Null also completed his first six passes, including a 3-yard TD to a leaping Brandon Gibson, another player competing for a roster spot.

But pass No. 7 by Null led to seven points for Baltimore. The pass deflected off Gibson and was returned 57 yards by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe for a TD. Ellerbe taunted the Rams by waiting just outside the goal line, and then hopping across into the end zone once defenders drew near, but there was no penalty flag.

Ellerbe's "pick six" occurred early in the second quarter and cut the Rams' lead to 14-7. With Null still at quarterback, the Rams tacked on a Josh Brown field goal - he went nine for nine this preseason - to stretch the lead to 17-7.

Baltimore got as close as a three-point deficit once, and trailed by six on two occasions, but ended the game with quarterback Troy Smith throwing an incomplete "Hail Mary" pass into the end zone as time expired.