Rams Take Down Tampa Bay

Posted Dec 23, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. – All week long the question persisted: how would the Rams respond to last week’s disappointing loss to Minnesota, especially with any hopes of reaching the postseason so far gone that coach Jeff Fisher resorted to quoting the movie ‘Dumb and Dumber.’

With two games to go and the playoffs something in the range of the one in a million odds Fisher referenced, the Rams offered a resounding answer about the character of their team Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium.

By the time the clock hit all zeroes, the Rams had a convincing 28-13 win that saw them put together big play after big play on defense working in perfect harmony with an opportunistic offense.

“We talked about it before the game that we were going to go out and play hard for 60 minutes and that’s exactly what we did,” quarterback Sam Bradford said.

The win evened the Rams record at 7-7-1 on the season, including four wins in their past five games, a challenge presented by Fisher earlier in the week that he hoped would take some of the focus off the missed opportunity against the Vikings.

Even though that same Minnesota team officially eliminated the Rams from the playoffs Sunday afternoon with a 23-6 win against Houston, the Rams were unfazed by any of the discussion of some sort of hangover and responded in kind.

“A game like that shows guys professionalism, shows guys do not tank it and start thinking about the offseason,” running back Steven Jackson said. “Guys showed that they are really professionals and standup guys about what they want to do. I believe everyone showed up today.”

While the Rams got four interceptions from the defense, including one returned 41 yards for a touchdown by rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins, and five sacks, perhaps no play better exemplified the Rams’ determination to bounce back than tight end Lance Kendricks’ 80-yard touchdown catch to open the third quarter.

Carrying a 14-6 lead at the start of the second half, the Rams started from their 20 and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called for a play that has been successful multiple times this season.

With Kendricks lined up inside and receivers Danny Amendola and Chris Givens outside the hashes, Bradford’s eyes lit up at what he saw when he looked across the line of scrimmage at Tampa’s defense.

“We got the ideal look for that play,” Bradford said. “We sucked the linebackers up and the safeties were playing up and I don’t think anyone saw Lance going up the middle.”

Bradford took the snap and faked a handoff to Jackson that drew the linebackers to the line of scrimmage. With the safeties concerned about Givens and Amendola on the outside, Kendricks released from the line with no problem and found himself wide open down the seam.

Kendricks hauled in a perfect throw from Bradford and saw nothing but open expanse in front of him, a sight that was welcome if not unfamiliar.

In fact, Kendricks was so open with so much room to run, he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to go the distance. Teammates joked that a piano fell on Kendricks’ back around the 20-yard line as he slowed down considerably.

“Piano, monkey, everything,” Kendricks said. “After about 40 yards I was gassed.”

In need of some help, Kendricks got it from Amendola, the player who even on a day when he had just two catches, always finds a way to make winning plays.

Never giving up on the play and encompassing the exact attitude Fisher hoped for from his team entering the game, Amendola raced downfield and threw a block that won’t make any big hit highlight reels but was effective enough to spring Kendricks for the final 20 or so yards for an 80-yard touchdown and a 21-6 lead that would be enough to finish off the Bucs.

“It would have been real easy for Danny to take that play off once he saw he didn’t get the ball,” Bradford said. “But just the type of player Danny is, he was going to give everything he had to get down there and make that block.”

Bradford would chip in another touchdown pass, a 5-yard strike to receiver Austin Pettis that combined with Jackson’s 5-yard run would complete the Rams’ scoring.

Of course, as has been the case many times this season, it was the defense providing the spark the Rams needed early in the game.

Trailing 3-0 early in the second quarter, Jenkins jumped in front of a pass from Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman and raced 41 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams a lead they would not relinquish.

It was Jenkins’ league-leading fourth return touchdown of the season and his third from an interception.

“I just, every time I touch the ball, I feel like I can get in the end zone,” Jenkins said. “That’s my mentality and I’ll keep having that mentality.”

Jenkins’ interception set off a chain of events that time and again saw the Rams coming up with big plays at the most important times. They finished with five sacks and got picks from middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, end Eugene Sims and cornerback Trumaine Johnson.

And in the second half with the Bucs trying to mount a desperate comeback, the Rams twice came up with stops on fourth down inside their 10-yard line.

“This team is very resilient,” Jackson said. “Our defense is amazing. They are going to create turnovers, they are going to get after the passer and they are going to make it tough for the opposing offense. So as an offense, it gives us opportunities that we have got to take advantage of. A lot of times, it wasn’t really smooth as an offense but when we had to make plays, we showed up once again.”

Sunday’s victory sets up a showdown with hated division rival Seattle in perhaps the league’s most difficult road environment. The playoff hopes are gone but the conviction of a football team remains.

“So we don’t even have a one in a million chance?” Fisher said. “Well, we’re going to play hard. We are going to finish strong. We are going to go up to Seattle and get a chance to finish out on a winning note and a chance to finish undefeated in the division. So if we are able to do that, then we can jump into the offseason with optimism for next year.”