Rocky Mountain High: Rams Win

Posted Nov 28, 2010

DENVER – It was a movie that Chris Long and his Rams defensive teammates had seen before.

The Rams had built leads in road games and played well for long stretches of games only to have victories snatched away in the final moments. And the common denominator in each of those games – at Tampa Bay, at Oakland, at San Francisco – was that the defense was unable to protect a lead.

So as the Broncos took over at their 34 with 1:06 to play and the Rams clinging to a three-point lead, Long and his defensive mates look at one another and made it clear that this time the ending to the movie had to change.

“We said that to each other,” Long said. “We can’t let this happen. That’s on us. Sam and the guys went out and played an awesome game and we had to do our part and we did at the end.”

Indeed, with the game on the line in the closing moments and even more to the point, a road win hanging in the balance, the Rams had no choice but to come up with a stop or risk losing yet another in a series of heart breaking, gut wrenching defeats away from home.

This time, the script was changed and the Rams did just that, coming up with the plays needed on four consecutive downs to hang on for a 36-33 victory, improve to 5-6 on the season and back into a tie atop the NFC West Division with Seattle.

So when Denver quarterback Kyle Orton’s fourth down pass attempt fell incomplete after he took a shot from Long, the Rams couldn’t help but to be happy and let out a big breath.

“At that point we knew we won the game so it was wild relief,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “There’s never relief until it says there is no way mathematically with the clock they can win the game or end up scoring as long as we don’t fumble in the victory formation. So it felt pretty good.”

On a day with plenty of important downs, momentum shifts and wacky situations, it was those final four downs that ultimately determined the Rams’ road fate.

After Donnie Jones’ punt was deflected following the Rams missed opportunity to pick up some first downs to run the clock out, the Broncos started with solid field position at their 34.

Denver’s passing game, known for going to maximum protections situations with as many as eight blockers for quarterback Kyle Orton couldn’t do that because it needed to get the ball down the field quickly.

The Broncos had just done that on two consecutive possessions to get a pair of quick touchdowns and trim the Rams’ lead to 3.

So it was that Long and the Rams made it a point to get after Orton with all they had for four consecutive downs.

“They did a good job of protecting him most of the game but at the end they had to kind of let us pin our ears back and we had to take it for ourselves,” Long said. “They got two two-minute drives on us and that’s on the D line. We had to rectify the situation.”

On first down, Long burst around right tackle Ryan Harris and dropped Orton for a sack and a loss of 6 yards.

Of course, that didn’t allow the Rams any time to revel in their newfound advantage in field position, not considering the way teams have been able to convert in long yardage situations against them.

“You just never know what can happen,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said.
They made some great plays on some third and longs and they had some unbelievable receptions. They have some very talented wideouts so I wasn’t going to relax until that last ball hit the ground.”

Funny Laurinaitis should mention a ball hitting the ground considering what took place on second down.

Orton dropped back on second-and-16 and fired deep down the middle for tight end Daniel Graham. Orton placed it perfectly on Graham’s back shoulder as Graham turned and squeezed the ball.

But as soon as Graham had it, Laurinaitis reached in and knocked it away to bring up third down.

“The play that kind of scared me was when Laurinaitis got the ball out,” running back Steven Jackson said. “I thought (Graham) made the back shoulder catch for a second.”

On third down, Orton looked for Eddie Royal over the middle but misfired as Harris was called for illegal hands to the face on the onrushing Long.

Finally, on fourth-and-16, the Rams were just one play away for sweet victory on the road for the first time in 2010.

Thoughts of Tampa and San Francisco still swirled in the heads of the Rams but there was nary a player on the defense that didn’t want to be on the field with the game on the line.

“I think as a competitor you have just got to keep fighting in those situations,” Laurinaitis said. “You have got to know that you are going to be able to come through in the end. After our experiences against San Francisco or Oakland or Tampa Bay, you have it kind of planned out already. We talked about it at halftime that this game would come down to the ‘D.’ we already have a lead and I don’t think we expected it to be that close. Regardless we had to make more plays on that last drive. All we needed was four downs of good football.”

With three of those downs out of the way, it all came down to one last gasp for Orton and Co. But once again, it was Long who found a way to beat Harris, hit Orton as he threw and watch at the ball fell harmlessly to the ground.

“I don’t even remember what happened on the last play,” Long said. “We were so geared up on emotion I couldn’t even tell you how I beat him.”

While the defense made the save, it was certainly the offense that put it in position to complete the task as that unit put together its most prolific and outstanding performance of the season with quarterback Sam Bradford leading the way.

As the Broncos repeatedly stacked the run box with the intent of stopping Jackson, the Rams found themselves with favorable one on one matchups in the passing game.

And Bradford made it a point to take full advantage of the situation as he picked apart Denver’s defense. When it was all said and done, Bradford set a career high with 308 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-37 passing for a rating of 113.3.

Bradford spread the ball to nine receivers and hit tight ends Billy Bajema (twice) and Michael Hoomanawanui (once) for his three scores.

All of those touchdowns came in the first half and came after the Broncos jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead. But the Rams responded by going to a no huddle offense and quickly put up points in building a 26-13 halftime lead.

“I think we have all forgotten a little bit that we got behind in this football game and battled our way back,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s not easy to do when you are away and playing in this particular environment.”

Running back Kenneth Darby picked up a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter to make it 33-13 Rams and the defense ratcheted it up to shut out the Broncos in that third quarter.

But, as Spagnuolo feared, Denver made a run and trimmed it to the three-point margin to make the final moments so tense.

“Going forward here, if you are going to win consistently in the league the defense has to find a way to close football games, especially when you are up two scores,” Spagnuolo said.

While Spagnuolo and the Rams would prefer not to have it come down to the final moments, at least this week they were able to change the script enough to come away with a victory.

With that victory, the Rams find themselves right back in the mix in a first-place tie with Seattle. Perhaps more important, in earning their first road victory, the Rams again sent the message that all things remain possible.

“We’ll take that,” Long said. “It’s the wild, wild West. You never really know what can happen and know who is winning, who is losing. You have just got to take care of your business and hopefully we’ll be in it at the end here.”