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."