Rams Pull Together for Victory

Posted Sep 26, 2010

At some point, the Rams have maintained for the first three weeks of the season, ‘here we go again’ would simply become ‘here we go.’

That point came Sunday after a second quarter Redskins rally in which nearly everything that could go wrong for the Rams did.

Instead of falling into that old trap, the Rams pulled themselves up off the mat, played their most spirited half of the season and threw enough knockout blows to come away with a stirring 27-16 victory. The win moves the Rams to 1-2 and within a game of the NFC West Division lead and rival Seattle coming to town next week.

“What I told the team was, any win in the NFL feels good, but when you can rise above some adverse situations that’s even better,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “And I thought the reason we did that is because we hung together, nobody bailed out, nobody panicked.”

Make no mistake; the Rams had plenty of opportunities to panic after jumping out to a 14-0 lead on running back Steven Jackson’s 42-yard touchdown run and tight end Daniel Fells’ 3-yard touchdown grab.

What followed could have been disastrous. In a span starting with 5:48 to go in the first quarter when, with a 14-0 lead, Sam Bradford was intercepted deep in Washington territory after Dominique Curry blocked a punt.

Over the course of the next 20 or so minutes, the Rams were hit with an avalanche that included a Washington field goal, a fumbled kickoff return, a 21-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to Santana Moss, another Washington field goal, injuries to both offensive captain Steven Jackson and defensive captain Oshiomogho Atogwe and a blocked field goal attempt that could have expanded the lead to four going into the locker room.

But when the Rams arrived in said locker room for the short halftime, it was Spagnuolo, their relentlessly positive leader, who professed his undying faith in his team.

“Coach Spags did a good job at halftime of making the point ‘ignore the way these points happened and ignore the way the momentum kind of went their way,’” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “Think about that they had 13 points and we had 14 so either way, we’re up 1. Just go out there, stay together and handle the adversity. I think that’s what we did.”

In the first two weeks of the season, finding a way to hold it together for 60 minutes has eluded the Rams. But it was in those missed opportunities that the Rams found the lessons necessary to put it all together, even in the face of adversity.

And it wasn’t just that the Rams dominated the second half by outscoring Washington 16-3 as the offensive line imposed its well, rookie quarterback Sam Bradford displayed poise beyond his years and the defense continued to get Washington off the field on third down.

No, it was more in how the Rams did it and who was doing it that this win was gained.

“It was a great team win,” guard Adam Goldberg said. “There have been so many times where the defense has done a great job and we haven’t been able to put the points up that we needed. Or we have been able to score and haven’t been able to get that last stop or something like that where we are just one aspect short. So it felt great putting it all together, both sides of the ball and special teams being able to carry their weight and be a part of a great win.”

With Jackson and Atogwe, joining a cadre of players already out with injuries on the sidelines, the Rams reached deep down their 45-man gameday roster to get contributions that made a difference in the game.

It was backup running back Kenneth Darby carrying 14 times for 49 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown burst that gave the Rams the lead for good midway through the third quarter.

It was cornerback Bradley Fletcher coming up with his first interception of his young career.

It was safety Darian Stewart playing through a quad injury in place of Atogwe and holding his own.

Up and down the roster, everybody contributed and everyone found a way to make plays when the Rams needed them most.

“We had adversity,” Jackson said. “We had times in the game where we jumped on them 14-0 and they came roaring back. We had guys that were down for injuries or whatever and people stepped in, filled the shoes and did the job. I think you saw a collective win by a lot of different guys.”

While Darby was filling in admirably for Jackson, the onus fell on Bradford to stay calm without his security blanket in the backfield and continue to makes plays.

And though the final numbers are fairly average – Bradford was 23-of-37 for 235 yards with a touchdown and an interception – it was his second half performance that spoke the loudest.

After what he called a “terrible” second half last week in Oakland, Bradford responded by going 11-of-17 for 146 yards as he led the Rams on four scoring drives behind an offensive line that imposed its will on the Redskins.

“I think it was huge for us offensively to come out and start the second half the way we did, especially after the past two weeks where we struggled to get going after halftime,” Bradford said. “To come out and march down and score, I think that really gave a boost to the entire team.”

That boost was clearly evident on the other side of the ball, where the Rams defense again found a way to keep an opponent out of the end zone.

No series was more important than the one that happened as the teams came out of the locker room for the second half.

With momentum clearly in Washington’s corner, the Redskins hit a big play to start the third quarter to the Rams’ 8.

But, like it has so many times throughout the first three games, the defense held the Redskins to a field goal. In fact, Washington

“That’s huge,” Laurinaitis said. “That’s what you have to do a lot of the time. You hate to be a bend but don’t break kind of team but when big plays happen like that all you can do is say to yourself ‘Let’s go to the next play.’ We say that a lot in the huddle, that the next play is the most important. That’s all you can do, is just realize that and don’t let any plays, big or whatever, kind of affect you.”

That mindset paid off as the Rams defense shut the Redskins down for the rest of the game, regularly found ways to get off the field (Washington was one-for-10 on third downs) and keep Washington from doing much of anything.

“I think we just got after them,” end Chris Long said. “I think (McNabb’s) a great player but if you get after even the best players, it’s hard for them to convert. Across the board, we had some great calls on third down. And we got pressure when we got the chance. We did a good job on third down.”

With all of the wild plays and twists and turns in the season’s first victory, a team deserving of a celebration couldn’t help but think about what the implications of a win – a single win – could have.

While Jackson was already discussing the need to keep it in perspective, even he couldn’t help but wonder what a win like Sunday’s could do for the team’s confidence.

And though maybe the Rams could have made things a bit easier by building on their fast start, in some ways the way the Rams got that first victory could be a reward greater than the victory itself.

“I think a win is a win but winning in this fashion shows that this team can deal with adversity,” Jackson said. “We can play with a lead and our defense faced a very talented offense and did a good job, especially in the red zone holding them to 3 points. I think if we were to win the game and could choose to either to win by a substantial lead or in this fashion, I think this fashion does more for our confidence.”