EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For one quarter of football Monday night at MetLife Stadium, the Rams controlled the action against the New York Giants.
What they had to show for a fairly dominant opening 15 minutes turned out to be the same thing they’d have to show for the full 60 minutes of a game that for the second week in a row saw the Rams make the types of mistakes that ultimately result in a loss: nothing.
Despite a fast start in which the Rams dictated the tempo with a fast break offense and a resilient and defiant defense, a pair of huge miscues shifted the lead and momentum in favor of the Giants.
When all was said and done, New York emerged with a 28-16 victory and improved to 1-1 on the season. The Rams fall to 0-2 with the loss.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot until we had no foot left,” left tackle
Rodger Saffold said. “We have to just keep from stopping ourselves and just play the game.”
Much like last week’s season opening loss to the Eagles, the Rams again played a talented NFC East opponent. And again, the Rams found themselves in a competitive battle in which they showed right away they can play with some of the league’s better teams.
But despite any type of fast start or plays that appeared to have the Rams tracking toward a victory, an avalanche of mental errors that resulted in penalties, red zone woes and turnovers led to the only statistic that truly matters: points for the opponent.
“(It was) a little bit of the same story as last week,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I thought there were a number of times we shot ourselves in the foot. It’s very difficult to beat these football teams, any football team in this league when you find a way to beat yourself. If you can win like that first then you can go from there.”
All indications from the way the game started had it looking the Rams were going to jump all over the Giants early. After getting a defensive stop to start the game, the Rams came out in a no-huddle offense designed to keep the Giants in the same personnel and keep them off balance.
Sam Bradford – who was schooled in a similar offense at Oklahoma – directed it perfectly, firing darts all over the field including a 68-yard catch, roll and run for receiver Danario Alexander.
Alexander was tracked down at the 1-yard line and that’s where the problems began anew for the Rams. Running back
Cadillac Williams was stopped for a loss of 1 and Bradford fired incomplete twice, leaving kicker Josh Brown to boot a 21-yard field goal for a quick 3-0 lead.
That was just the beginning of the failed red zone opportunities, though. The Rams would get inside New York’s 20 three more times and come away with a touchdown just once when Alexander climbed the ladder for a 19-yard touchdown that would account for the final margin.
In the red zone trips where the Rams settled for field goals, Bradford was 1-of-6 for 4 yards. Williams gained 10 yards on three carries and the Rams not only failed to score a touchdown but also to gain a first down (on the two possessions where that was possible).
The missed chance from the 1 was the second week in a row the Rams had a first and goal from the 1 and couldn’t cross the goal line.
“I think it’s everything,” Bradford said. “I think it’s decision making, execution. It takes all 11 guys doing their job on a play to score a touchdown and I think we are starting to understand that or at least I hope we are starting to understand that. If one guy doesn’t do his job, it results in us not scoring a touchdown and leading to a field goal.”
Of course, the Giants did their part to slow the Rams too, by any means necessary.
Thrown off kilter by the Rams’ no huddle attack, the Giants defense was sucking wind on the Rams’ second possession. So, they opted to find ways to stop the game to catch a breather rather than call timeout.
“It was great,” Bradford said/ “We had them exactly where we wanted on those first couple drives and they couldn’t get set, they couldn’t line up so two of their guys they told them ‘Someone go down, someone go down.’ So someone went down and grabbed their leg. I was pretty frustrated about that.”
That wasn’t the only thing to frustrate Bradford and the Rams, though. Following the opening field goal, the Rams defense came up with another stop and the Rams were poised to get the ball back.
Greg Salas, in place of Danny Amendola, couldn’t handle the punt and the Giants recovered it and converted it into a 3-yard touchdown from receiver Hakeem Nicks after the benefit of another disturbing Rams’ trend, a costly penalty. That one went for 23 yards on a pass interference and Nicks scored two plays later.
After Brown’s second field goal to make it 7-6, the Rams defense got another stop and promptly drove into Giants territory. On third-and-8 at the Giants’ 25, the Rams called for a screen to Williams hoping to catch the Giants off guard when they came with another all out blitz.
But Bradford’s pass to Williams was a lateral and Giants linebacker Michael Boley scooped it up and raced 65 yards for a touchdown as a stunned Williams looked on. Suddenly, it was 14-6 Giants and they never looked back.
“It was a designed screen to Cadillac,” Bradford said. “I think they were bringing zero pressure, bringing someone off that edge. I hurried and tried to get it around the guy and in doing that I threw it backwards. I just can’t do that. In hindsight, I probably should have just called timeout and got out of that play.”
With the Giants benefiting from those Rams turnovers and the team’s eight penalties for 85 yards, Alexander, Bradford and the Rams passing game was tearing off big chunks of yards.
Bradford threw for a career-high 331 yards and the Rams had five plays of at least 23 yards. Alexander was Bradford’s primary target, catching three balls for 122 yards and the touchdown.
“He did a great job today,” Bradford said. “We believed we had some matchups outside that we could take advantage of. They came up and tried to press him a couple times and he did a great job of getting off the line and beating his guy down the field and then made some really nice catches once I put the ball up there.”
Alexander’s emergence and Bradford’s work were far from enough, though as the Rams again couldn’t overcome their own mistakes and came away with another big missed opportunity. .
“We are probably not going to win too many games if we continue to do that,” Spagnuolo said. “We have to find a way to iron it out.”