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.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Rams’ defence stuffs Seahawks 20-3

ST. LOUIS - Steven Jackson was a question mark until the first snap.
There was no way he was going to miss this one for the St. Louis Rams. So, he went out and showed theSeattle Seahawks he could play hurt and still make a big impact.
"I knew I wouldn't be 100 per cent, but I knew I had enough to give," said Jackson, who blocked out a strained groin Sunday. "I feel like the team is going in the right direction and I wanted to be a part of it."
The two-time Pro Bowler had 126 yards rushing and receiving, complementing another strong game by No. 1 pick Sam Bradford(notes) and a stout defense in a 20-3 victory Sunday that gave the Rams consecutive wins for the first time in two seasons.
Bradford, who threw two touchdown passes, knew he wouldn't have been nearly as effective without the two-time Pro Bowler in the lineup.
"I never doubted he would be out there," Bradford said. "He's a huge part of this offense. Anytime he's in the huddle, there's no doubt that it boosts the spirits of everyone in the huddle."
Jackson had 70 yards on 22 carries to pass Marshall Faulk for No. 2 on the Rams' rushing list, shaking off an injury that sidelined him the second half of last week's win over the Redskins. He added three catches for 54 yards, including a 49-yarder before Kenneth Darby(notes) scored on a 21-yard screen pass.
Officials stopped the game after a 15-yard gain early in the fourth quarter put Jackson ahead of Faulk. Jackson has 6,991 yards in seven seasons with the Rams and trails only Eric Dickerson, who had 7,245 yards from 1983-87.
"From Day 1, I set a tone that I wanted to leave here putting my footprint on this organization," Jackson said. "It's very meaningful, but I ain't in first place."
Bradford completed 23 of 41 passes with one interception as the Rams (2-2) ended a 10-game losing streak against Seattle and topped their win total from last year.
"It feels great," Bradford said. "To get ourselves to 2-2 and just be in the conversation for the division lead, I think that's big for this team."
Big for the Rams to get such poise so soon.
"We got after him pretty good, we chased him around a lot," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We're looking at a guy that's going to be a really big-timer."
The last time St. Louis won games was Weeks 5 and 6 of 2008 under interim head coach Jim Haslett.
Throughout the week, coach Steve Spagnuolo made sure players weren't content with winning just once.
"I was a little concerned that the hunger was gone," Spagnuolo said. "I thought the team came out with the right mind-set."
The Rams sacked Matt Hasselbeck(notes) four times, had one interception and forced a fumble. St. Louis' special teams bottled up returner Leon Washington(notes), who had two touchdown returns last week, and Golden Tate(notes),who had been averaging 25 yards on punt returns. There was no daylight for Washington (26.7 yard average) or Tate (6.0 yards) against the Rams.
"Excellent," Spagnuolo said. "I spent time talking about it and I don't know anything about special teams. There was a fire, an intent."
The Seahawks peaked with a 14-play drive in the first half that stalled, leaving them with only a chip-shot field goal by Olindo Mare(notes). The Rams foiled a fake 51-yard attempt near the end of the half when Darby ran down holder Jon Ryan(notes) on a would-be roll-out pass to John Carlson(notes).
Seattle averaged 29 points during its 10-game streak over the Rams dating to 2005, but is 3-18 in its last 21 road games. Two of the victories came in St. Louis.
The Seahawks scored their fewest points since a 44-6 loss Oct. 5, 2008, at the New York Giants.
"I give them credit, but that's not really the issue for us," Hasselbeck said. "We've got to get better and I've got to get better. I know I can and I know we can."
The Rams led 10-3 at the half, but missed a couple of chances in the second quarter that would have made it a much wider gap.
Brandon Fletcher's interception return to the 3 was wasted on Earl Thomas'(notes) end zone pick for Seattle, an errant throw that had a dismayed Bradford holding his helmet with both hands on his way to the sideline.
Notes: Rams CB Kevin Dockery(notes) injured his right hamstring in the third quarter after sustaining facial lacerations on the Seahawks' foiled fake field goal in the half. … Seahawks LB Dexter Davis(notes) (hamstring) was sidelined in the second half. … The Rams last held an opponent to single-figure scoring in a 9-7 loss at Washington in Week 2 last season. … Seattle scored at least 23 points in all 10 of the victories in its streak against St. Louis.