BY JIM THOMAS
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.