In Need of Big Plays, Rams Find a Way

Posted Dec 9, 2012

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Nothing ever comes easy in the NFL but there may not be a team that can attest to that adage with more accuracy than the 2012 Rams.

Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium was just another in an ever-developing line of heartstopping victories buoyed by late game heroics.

The result, in regulation this time, was a stirring 15-12 win against the Bills in a game the Rams trailed for most of the day.

“We didn’t think it was going to be easy,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was tough but nobody panicked. We made some adjustments at halftime, it was a close ball game, all we had to do was make some plays.”

And make some plays they did as the Rams got heroic contributions from a variety of places on their way to reaching the .500 mark at 6-6-1 and extending their winning streak to three games.

The three-game tear is the first for the Rams since the final trio of games in the 2006 season and places the Rams firmly in the mix of the NFC Playoff picture.

But they wouldn’t be there were it not for the contributions by so many up and down the roster.

No play was bigger than receiver Brandon Gibson’s 13-yard touchdown catch with 48 seconds to play. Rookie wideout Chris Givens grabbed the 2-point conversion to muster the final margin.

That it was Gibson to make the touchdown grab was fitting on a day when he had his first career 100-yard performance, including 90 on five catches in the second half.

On the play, quarterback Sam Bradford’s first read is to Austin Pettis coming over the middle but with the safety coming up to cover Pettis, Gibson had an angle on the deep in and Bradford put it on the money for a touchdown that set off a joyous celebration.

The game-winning drive capped a 14-play, 84-yard journey that took four minutes and seven seconds.

“I think it says a lot about the maturity of this team,” Bradford said. “I thought the next step for us was winning on the road against an opponent who wasn’t in our division. And that’s what we did today. It wasn’t pretty. Our defense played great, kept us in it until the very end but when it mattered, guys stepped up, made plays and I think this team grew up a little bit more today.”

For evidence of that growth, look no further than that final drive. While Bradford has actually excelled in the fourth quarter for most of the season, he was asked to put together Sunday’s drive without the benefit of injury go-to guy Danny Amendola.

Gibson stepped up but Bradford needed more.

“You can’t say enough about them,” Bradford said. “When it counted guys stepped up and made plays. When the game was on the line, everyone knew what was at stake and they elevated their game and made the plays when we needed them.”

Stuck in neutral for most of the day offensively save for running back Steven Jackson’s 1-yard touchdown run to open the third quarter, the Rams took over at their 16 with 4:55 to play. After methodically moving to their 32, the Rams needed someone to get yards in a big chunk.

As it turned out, tight end Lance Kendricks was the man to do it. With both safeties playing high, Kendricks ran is route down the middle of the field but was surprised when middle linebacker Nick Barnett dropped to cover.

Despite Kendricks being surrounded by three defenders, Bradford fired his hardest fastball into coverage and Kendricks instinctively snatched it and went to the ground for a gain of 22 to Buffalo’s 46.

“It’s one of those things where you don’t even have time to think about it, you have just got to catch it,” Kendricks said. “I knew the situation and we were trying to move the ball down the field so I knew we needed a big play. We were kind of dead all game as far as making big plays down the field.”

Perhaps no play was bigger than the one that would come four snaps later. After Bradford fired incomplete on third-and-1, the Rams faced fourth-and-1 at Buffalo’s 37.

The play call was designed for receiver Austin Pettis to run a quick in route depending on the coverage. With coverage shaded outside, Pettis broke in and hauled in a spectacular grab on a pass thrown well behind him for a 9-yard gain and a first down.

“It was a staple play in our offense and coach called it for me to be in that position,” Pettis said. “It was a big play in the game and we needed to extend the drive and I’m glad Sam was on the same page and we were able to execute.”

While Pettis remained humble about the enormity of the play, Bradford was more than happy to provide some praise in acknowledging Pettis’ hands on a difficult catch reaching behind him.

“Whatever he wants; dinner, buy him really whatever because he saved the day,” Bradford said. “Obviously, it was fourth down and it kept the drive going and it allowed us to continue the drive and go score.”

Even after the big-play laden comeback, the Rams defense, which had been excellent all day still needed to find a way to get one final stop.

Since the opening day loss to Detroit in which the defense just couldn’t quite get the stop it needed to beat the Lions, that group has asked for another chance to make the stop to close out the game.

On Sunday, they got that chance and passed the test with flying colors as defensive end Robert Quinn struck a giant blow on second and 10 at Buffalo’s 42. There, Quinn power rushed from the right side and pressure from a safety blitz by Quintin Mikell forced Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick into Quinn’s waiting arms.

One play later, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar squeezed the interception to seal it and slid to the ground after a 21-yard return.

“Going back to Detroit, it was communication and some bad plays here and there,” Quinn said. “And as the season has gone on, we haven’t let that rattle us I think we just finally grew together and if there is still time on the clock we think we still have a chance. It’s just a more upbeat team ready to finish games when we can.”

At 6-6-1 with three to play, the Rams are far from satisfied and well aware that there is plenty of work to be done to stay in the mix for a playoff spot.

In the immediate aftermath of the game, the focus was not on a macro, potential playoff point of view.

“I’m not concerned about that right now,” Fisher said. “What I’m happy for is these guys playing on the road in a tough place and finding a way to win the game. We are going to enjoy it tonight, then go back and get ready for another tough opponent next week.”

Still, it would be folly to think the Rams aren’t well aware that every win is an absolute necessity to stay in the mix and continue harboring hopes of postseason football.

More than anything, though, Sunday’s win was the next step in the evolution of a team that is not only finding ways to win but finding ways for everyone to do their part in those victories.

“It was a huge win for us,” defensive tackle Kendall Langford said. “It kept our playoff picture alive. The goal is to win out and we have to take it one week at a time but today’s victory showed that this is a mentally tough team; a physically tough team and we are resilient. We kept banging, we kept banging and it broke open at the end.”