Rams Unable to Overcome Big Runs

Posted Dec 16, 2012

For about 10 seconds, the Rams had gained momentum in Sunday’s de facto elimination game against the Vikings.

Rookie receiver Brian Quick has just climbed the ladder for a 4-yard touchdown catch on a fade pass from quarterback Sam Bradford and with Greg Zuerlein’s extra point, the game was tied at 7 with 12:39 to go in the second quarter.

What was shaping up to be a closely contested battle for position in the NFC playoffs didn’t take long to turn into a one-sided Minnesota victory as the Vikings promptly delivered a counterpunch courtesy of, who else, bionic running back Adrian Peterson.

Peterson’s 82-yard lightning bolt of a touchdown run would lead to a flurry of shots, including another long one late, that eventually knocked the Rams out 36-22.

“He’s really good,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “You can never relax. Every time he touches the ball he’s got a chance to go. Now yes, we played a lot of good, solid defensive snaps, but we had two that were not good.”

The loss drops the Rams to 6-7-1 on the season, ends their three-game winning streak and for all intents and purposes, takes away whatever playoff possibilities that remained. Minnesota moves to 8-6 on the year and finds itself still in the mix for a wild card spot.

That it was Peterson providing the game’s most important blow is nothing new for Minnesota as he has consistently made the big plays needed to keep the Vikings in the playoff chase for the better part of the past two months.

On the heels of Quick’s second-career touchdown catch, the Vikings started from their 18 with 12 minutes, 34 seconds to go in the second quarter.

To that point, a Rams defense solely focused on slowing Peterson down all week had been having terrific success in containing him. Peterson had eight carries for 8 yards, including five rushes for negative yards.

But the dam broke loose at the most inopportune time as the Vikings caught the Rams in a blitz and quarterback Christian Ponder handed it off to Peterson on a draw.

Peterson darted toward the right, slowed for a second and saw a seam up the middle. From there, he turned on the speed and raced 82-yards for a touchdown. That made it 14-7 and much of the air that had entered the Edward Jones Dome suddenly went away.

Fisher put the blame on himself and the defensive staff for making a bad call on first down.

“We were in the wrong defense, obviously,” Fisher said. “We were expecting pass and you can’t do that and so I think as coaches we have to take that. We had a defensive tackle dropping in coverage, so in a lead draw when the guy hits the secondary unblocked (that happens).”

Peterson’s touchdown set off a disastrous chain of events for the Rams that ultimately carried the Vikings to a victory in a forgettable second quarter for St. Louis.

Over the course of four minutes, 11 seconds, the Vikings took advantage of two Rams turnovers in turning a 7-7 tie into a 24-7 lead that would actually stretch to 30-7 going into the locker room.

“The first half, it was just bad football,” Bradford said. “We didn’t play well. We did the exact things we knew we couldn’t do if we wanted to win the game. We got behind. We didn’t control the football. We turned the football over. We talked about it all week and we didn’t execute for the first half and we just fell behind.”

As is always the case, it was costly turnovers that began the avalanche of points. Minnesota outscored the Rams 23-7 in the second quarter with Peterson rushing for 111 yards in the period.

After Peterson’s touchdown run, the Vikings were gifted field position when a center exchange between Bradford and center Scott Wells resulted in a fumble that Minnesota linebacker Chad Greenway recovered at the Rams’ 28.

“The ball slipped,” Fisher said. “The ball never got to Sam. When I asked Scott, Scott said it slipped before it got there. It was sideways before it got there.”

The Rams defense did its job in holding Minnesota to a 50-yard field goal from kicker Blair Walsh to make it 17-7.

Three plays later, Bradford dropped back to pass and looks for tight end Lance Kendricks over the middle but Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen showed his athleticism dropping into coverage and Bradford never saw him.

Griffen intercepted the pass and darted down the right sideline 29 yards for a touchdown and a 24-7 edge. Just like that, with 8:33 to go in the second quarter, Minnesota had mounted a 24-7 edge that the Rams would not overcome.

“That’s one of those things, I have got to be able to see him,” Bradford said. “I can’t throw it right to him.”

Peterson’s touchdown burst wasn’t his only huge run of the day as he ripped off a 52-yarder in the fourth quarter to slow a spirited Rams comeback. He finished with 212 yards on 24 carries and the score.

“It’s demoralizing,” linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar said. “You can’t give up those big plays. One of them was seeing the defense, the other one was just us. We can’t let those explosive plays happen. And when they do happen and you do such a good job for most of the game but you give up two big plays, it hurts.”

Trailing 33-7 entering the fourth quarter, the Rams did their best to muster a late comeback and were witness to a bit of history in the process.

With 1:47 to go in the third quarter, running back Steven Jackson took a handoff up the middle for a 9-yard gain. The run gave Jackson 73 yards in the game and made him the 27th player in NFL history to pass 10,000 yards rushing.

Spurred by Jackson’s piece of history, the Rams mounted a furious challenge as Bradford followed that run by Jackson by finding Amendola for a 6-yard touchdown to trim it to 33-14.

A quick stop by the defense got it back for the Rams, who put together another strong drive together and scored again when Bradford found Kendricks for a 6-yard touchdown. A 2-point conversion toss to Amendola made it 33-22.

“We kept fighting,” Amendola said. “We knew how much time we had so I guess we didn’t run out of time but I felt like we needed to get some points on the board early and it didn’t happen. The good thing is we kept fighting and it came down to the wire for a little while. We have just got to get better.”

In need of another quick stop, Peterson struck again, breaking two tackles and zig zagging his way to a 52-yard run into Rams territory that set the Vikings up for their final points, a 51-yard field goal from Walsh.

Any remaining comeback hopes evaporated on the ensuing drive when the Rams’ possession fizzled at midfield.

And with that, the Rams dropped another game back of the cluster of teams still in the chase in the NFC playoffs, almost certainly leaving them on the outside looking in come January.

For as frustrating as that is, it’s hard to deny the progress the Rams have made to even be playing in an important game such as Sunday’s at this point in the season. That’s why, with two games to go, end Chris Long expects to see his team continue to battle.

“I really don’t think about the postseason,” Long said. “I always said I’ll worry about that when it gets here and it will get here for this group eventually but evidently this year is not the year for the postseason.”