Monday, September 17, 2012

Rams Won't Be Denied in Comeback Win

by Nick Wagoner

Time and again in Sunday’s home opener against the Redskins, the Rams found themselves facing some kind of hardship.
Be it a game-opening fumble that became a Washington touchdown, an apparent back-breaking interception in the end zone, an injury to a key player or debilitating penalty after debilitating penalty, you could name a malady and the Rams faced it.
In the past, any sign of trouble, let alone the large pile mounting on the Rams’ sideline Sunday would have been enough to break their will. But the past is the past and the Rams are no longer interested in worrying about something that happened 12 seconds ago, let alone 12 months.
The result was a scintillating come-from-behind 31-28 win over the Redskins at the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams evened their record at 1-1 while Washington fell to the same mark.
“It’s a completely different swagger,” running back Steven Jackson said. “It’s just amazing. I know it’s only week 2 and we’re 1-1 but it’s just a whole different atmosphere. I can’t thank Coach Jeff Fisher enough for what he’s done and what he’s doing with us.”
What Fisher and his coaching staff have done in a short time in St. Louis is instill an attitude in the league’s youngest team that won’t allow them to back down from any challenge. The familiar refrain of next play has taken on new meaning.
Witness what happened at the end of Sunday’s victory. After coming up a play short of snatching a stunning win in Detroit last weekend, the Rams bemoaned the fact that they just didn’t get the job done when the chance presented itself.
In one week, the lessons learned from that game were evident on the field. With the ball at Washington’s 41 and the clock running down, backDaryl Richardson, who replaced an injured Jackson in the first half, coughed up a fumble that the Redskins recovered.
Instead of the ball and a chance to run out the clock and win the game, suddenly Washington had new life. An opponent with the ball and a chance to drive for a winning touchdown in the final moments, sound familiar?
The Redskins quickly moved into Rams territory. On third-and-8, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III fired to receiver Josh Morgan in the right flat. Morgan was tackled for a gain of 7, a yard short of the first down by cornerbackCortland Finnegan.
Finnegan, long known for his ability to agitate opponents, apparently pushed Morgan past his breaking point as the two became entangled after the play. Morgan took exception to Finnegan’s antics and fired the ball at the corner.
Out came a flag and a 15-yard penalty that forced Washington’s Billy Cundiff to try a 62-yard field goal to tie it. He wasn’t close and the Rams had sealed a win.
“It’s one of those things I guess he was just fired up and he didn’t make the right decision,” Finnegan said. “It was a chippy game all game. It’s a physical game on both sides and both defenses didn’t want to break. We were bending at times. Credit us for making a play at the end.”
Indeed, it was a chippy game that seemed to have very little in the way of control from the officials. In all, 18 flags were thrown and of those 18, six were of the 15-yard variety for unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness.
Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, himself a player who specializes in feisty, said it was important for the Rams to stay under control.
“I learned from a coach one time ‘Get to the edge and never hurt the team,’” Dunbar said. “You can get to the edge, look over the edge but never hurt the time. You can get to the line, just don’t cross it.”
That the Rams were even in position to pull off the late win seemed amazing enough considering what the way things started. On the first play from scrimmage, receiver Danny Amendola lost a fumble that cornerback Josh Wilson returned 30 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Washington lead.
Quarterback Sam Bradford didn’t hesitate to go back to Amendola, who responded with a career day, 15 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown.
“That was not easy to do,” Fisher said. “But Danny, he was determined to right that wrong.”
Bradford himself faced a tough moment when he threw an end zone interception to linebacker London Fletcher with the Rams driving for a potential leading score.
All the Rams did in response was get a blocked punt from tight endMatthew Mulligan on a play that was designed to be a return to get it right back for the offense at Washington’s 24.
“He got it on his own, because we had a return (on),” Fisher said. “We didn’t even have a rush. He sensed something. It’s good you get an experienced player like that who can sense the protection issue and take advantage of it. So, yes ‘Mully” is ‘Mully.’ Mully’s always going to put himself in the right place at the right time to make a play.”
Four plays later, Bradford rewarded Mulligan with a 1-yard touchdown pass to give the Rams the lead for good.
 “To be honest, he got out of there too fast,” Mulligan said. “My thing is they put me in there to hold guys up and he didn’t block me long enough, so I just kept going and he kicked it right through me. So I was happy to get there and be in the right spot.”
Despite losing Jackson (groin) and left tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) to injuries early in the game, Bradford and the offense never missed a beat.
That group rolled up 452 yards of total offense, 23 first downs and was seven-of-12 on third down conversion attempts as they overcame a 21-6 second quarter deficit.
Bradford, in particular, was on top of his game as he finished 26-of-35 for 310 yards with three touchdowns and that one pick for a rating of 117.6. He threw touchdowns to Amendola, Mulligan and wideout Brandon Gibson.
“He was dialed in all week and certainly dialed in today,” Fisher said. “He and (offensive coordinator Brian) Schotty were on the same page. This was a difficult defense…Sam had some answers. He knew where to go with the football for the most part.”
The defense, meanwhile, was doing its part to keep Griffin in check. He was able to shake loose for two touchdown runs and a 68-yard touchdown pass to receiver Leonard Hankerson but the defense made big plays when it had to.
Finnegan came up with his second interception in as many weeks and Washington finished with 373 yards and was just four-of-13 on third down.
Most important, that group did everything necessary to get a stop when it absolutely had to have one.
“That’s one thing we talked about going into this week and one thing we talked about going into the last drive,” Dunbar said. “We didn’t want to have that feeling we had last week when we didn’t close the game. We wanted to close it, to finish it and that’s just what we did.”
After settling into victory formation and kneeling twice, the Rams had wrapped the first win of the Fisher era. The joyous players soaked in the victory, even going so far as to shake hands and give out gloves to fans in the south end zone.
“There were so many lessons to be learned tonight, starting with the first offensive play and that’s kind of how the game went,” Fisher said. “We would have a difficult situation arise on the field and they’d bounce right back.”
Again and again.

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