Special Teams One Play from Big Day

Posted Nov 18, 2012

By all accounts, the Rams had a good day on special teams Sunday against the Jets.

The coverage units covered well, punter Johnny Hekker boomed punts, kicker Greg Zuerlein did his job. The Rams even shut down a fake punt attempt and blocked a field goal.

But when Sunday’s 27-13 loss to the Jets was over, the Rams couldn’t help but think that a good day on special teams could have been a great one.

That’s because for all the plays they made, the one that would have been the biggest was all for naught as a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by receiver Chris Givens that would have given the Rams a 14-13 lead late in the first half was called back because of what the officials deemed holding on safety Rodney McLeod.

It was a huge play, a momentum-changing play that could have turned the game on its face. And it didn’t count.

“It’s a big play,” receiver Danny Amendola, who knows a thing or two about shaky calls bringing back big returns, said. “It’s a spark for our whole team when you get a score on special teams.”

The play seemed poised to change the way the game would go as the return took place just a couple minutes before halftime. With the Rams scheduled to receive to open the second half, the opportunity to extend the lead coming out of the locker room would have been there for the taking.

Alas, it was not meant to be.

“It was just disappointing because it was a big play for our team,” Givens said. “It was a big momentum boost but you can’t think about it too much and dwell on it. We have just got to learn from it and move forward.”

From the perspective of McLeod and coach Jeff Fisher, the block appeared to be a textbook kickout block, the type of block that should, well, spring the returner for a big gain.

McLeod engaged inside the shoulder pads as instructed and said he felt like he was doing what he’s been coached to do.

“I latched on to his breast plates and drove him to kick him out and next thing I know I saw the flag,” McLeod said. “It was a tough play in the game for us. We had a lot of momentum going once he scored but unfortunately we didn’t get the touchdown.”

When asked about it after, McLeod said he was simply trying to finish the block and when he was asked for an explanation on what he did wrong, he was told he has to let go of the block earlier than he did.

“It looked like hands were inside,” Fisher said. “The player wouldn’t have made the play. When the player throws his arms up in the air like that sometimes it gets called. It didn’t look to me like it was an egregious hold.”

Unfortunately for the Rams, the penalty soiled their momentum and a potentially game-changing performance from the special teams as a whole.

With 11:53 to go in the second quarter, Jets kicker Nick Folk lined up for a 26-yard field goal that would have brought New York to within 7-6. But cornerback Janoris Jenkins made a huge play, shooting in off the right side to block it.

Safety Quintin Mikell recovered it at the Rams’ 13 and preserved the early four-point edge. It was the first blocked field goal for the Rams since James Hall did it against San Diego on Oct. 17, 2010. 

“Basically, the end man on the line of scrimmage blocked down and I got a good jump on the ball and I just so happened to make the play,” Jenkins said. “I just try to make plays when I can and however I can.”

Two drives later, the Jets attempted a fake punt with a quick snap to punt protector Tim Tebow. Tebow took the snap and shoveled a pass to fullback Lex Hilliard. But the Rams had it sniffed out and linebacker James Laurinaitis dropped Hilliard for a 1-yard loss to give the Rams prime field position at their 46.

The special teams work didn’t end there as Hekker followed his strong passing performance last week by getting back to his roots. He averaged 50.2 yards per punt and 44.4 yards net on five attempts.

INJURY REPORT: The Rams appeared to make it through Sunday’s game relatively healthy, with one notable exception.

“Injury wise, the only person, I think, will miss some time will be (LB) Mario (Haggan) with the elbow,” Fisher said.

Haggan had previously battled a thigh injury which limited him in practice last week. He played past it and started Sunday’s game at strong side linebacker. He suffered the elbow injury on the third play from scrimmage and did not return.

Receiver Danny Amendola also suffered a right foot injury in the first half, limping off. He returned to the game to open the second half and finished it. His status will become clearer as this week goes on.

GOING FOR TWO: Late in Sunday’s game, the Rams scored on a 2-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Bradford to receiver Brandon Gibson. The score trimmed New York’s lead to 27-13.

From there, Fisher opted to go for the 2-point conversion, eschewing the extra point though it would remain a two-score game either way.

Fisher was asked about the decision to go for the conversion – an attempt that failed when receiver Brian Quick couldn’t haul in a jump ball from Bradford – and explained it in pretty simple terms.

“We just needed points,” Fisher said. “The 14s still going to do it, we just needed points. So, get as many points as we can get down there.”

RAM BITS: Receiver Brandon Gibson’s pair of touchdown catches gave him his first career multi-score game…End Chris Long had two sacks, giving him seven on the season…The Rams officially added tight end Cory Harkey to the roster on Friday, activating him from the practice squad to replaced defensive tackle Kellen Heard, who was released last week. Harkey was active on game day and contributed on special teams…Sunday’s game was the Rams’ “Salute to Service” in which they honored the military throughout the game with giveaways and video recognition via vignettes on the scoreboard and more…The band Switchfoot played a free, one-hour concert at the conclusion of Sunday’s game.