Rams vs. Buccaneers: St. Louis' Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 16
Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman looked for redemption in the form of ball control, having thrown four interceptions in Week 15 against the soft New Orleans Saint defense.
He failed, as the Rams' ninth-ranked pass defense took four more from him.
The Rams wanted to prove their run defense was as solid as it had looked before Adrian Peterson, and that they could score points in the first half.
Their defense achieved both of those goals for them.
Let's take a closer look at the Rams' 28-13 victory over the Buccaneers and see if we can discern the heroes from the goats.
Winner: Janoris Jenkins
His fourth interception of the season was far and away the easiest.
Buccaneers receiver Mike Williams fell down on his route, leaving Jenkins settled and waiting for Josh Freeman's pass to arrive.
From there, it was a small matter of keeping his feet in bounds and eluding a couple of poorly attempted tackles—the saddest one coming from Freeman himself at the goal line when he halfheartedly bumped Jenkins toward the sideline, only to see him spin away and into the end zone.
It was Jenkins' fourth interception and fourth defensive touchdown of the year (three interception returns, one fumble return).
For good measure, he also added six tackles, all of them solo.
Janoris Jenkins was the steal of the 2012 NFL draft.
It will be interesting to see what the Rams can do with their 2013 selections.
Loser: Rodney McLeod
As brilliant of a rookie as Janoris Jenkins is, fellow rookie Rodney McLeod was his antithesis against the Buccaneers.
Instead of making the most of his opportunities (as Jenkins did), McLeod did just about as much damage as he possibly could in his limited time on the field
The first of his two egregious penalties came in the third quarter on kick return duty when he was flagged for an illegal block in the back—a penalty which backed the Rams offense up inside their own 10-yard line.
The second came a little later in the third quarter when the Rams were assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on his account, this time on a punt.
McLeod has seen the vast majority of his playing time come on special teams in his rookie year. After his mistakes against the Buccaneers, he will be fortunate to be on the active roster in Week 17.
Winner: Michael Brockers
It is not often you will see a defensive player on a "winners" list that didn't register a single tackle in the game.
Brockers' inclusion here shows that there are other, sometimes more important, things a player can do to help his team win.
The Buccaneers had just trimmed their deficit from 28-6 to 28-13. After holding the Rams to a three-and-out on their ensuing possession, the Buccaneers drove the ball the length of the field again only to have the drive stall inside of the Rams' 5-yard line.
4th-and-1. The Buccaneers offense comes back onto the field. Everyone in the building knows that Josh Freeman is going to try and use his 6'6", 248-pound frame to push his center forward and pick up that all-important yard.
They already have momentum on their side. If they score here, the Rams are in serious trouble.
Michael Brockers used his incredible strength to wedge himself between the center and guard and thereby stack up the Buccaneers offensive line, allowing the linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties behind him to come up and push Freeman backward.
Plays like this go unnoticed by a lot of people, but are integral to winning football games.
He also tipped a pass that was then intercepted by Eugene Sims late in the fourth quarter.
Loser: Chris Long
He had one sack, but no other tackles.
His name was called on a few other occasions throughout the game, though.
Three different times, actually. All three for neutral-zone infractions.
Five yards can be the difference between winning and losing a game. For one player to give up five yards three different times on the same infraction earns him a place on my "losers" list.
That that player was Chris Long portends well for the Rams. He is not likely to have a similar performance any time soon. But in Week 16, the Rams won despite—not because of—his actions.
Winner: James Laurinaitis
That he led the team in tackles with 12 is nothing new; we have come to expect that from James Laurinaitis.
What we don't expect is for him to get an interception. Not only an interception, but one that turned the tide in favor of the Rams at a time when they were clinging to a 7-6 lead and the Buccaneers were driving down the field.
After picking off the pass, Laurinaitis wisely fell to the ground and secured the ball. Then, the Rams offense went down and scored a touchdown when Steven Jackson dove over the goal line, making the score 14-6.
The Rams would not look back from there.
Loser: Rams Receivers
If you can't get open against the league's 32nd-ranked pass defense, then you can't get open against anybody.
Many of Sam Bradford's 14 incompletions were thrown into double coverage or into the ground because his receivers could not get separation.
That Brian Quick was on the field but only had one target thrown his way is not encouraging.
Danny Amendola, surprisingly, was the biggest offender, having received seven targets from Bradford, but only bringing in two receptions.
This is atypical for Amendola. Perhaps his heel is not fully healed. Whatever the reason, he will be back to his usual ways.
Without Amendola, this Rams passing attack is all but nonexistent.
Winner: Quintin Mikell
Against the Buccaneers in Week 16, Quintin Mikell was second on the team with 11 tackles.
The Rams consistently brought Mikell off the edge on third-down blitzes, and though he only registered one quarterback hit, that hit was a sack, and he forced many quick throws which resulted in incompletions.
Ten of his 11 tackles were solo. Quintin Mikell was a force to be reckoned with in Week 16.
Winner: Lance Kendricks
Lance Kendricks led all Rams receivers with four receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown.
Perhaps more important, he did not have any terrible-looking drops.
His game was not perfect: He had some missed blocks, one of which came on a wide receiver screen that would have gone for big yards had he hit his block.
Still, the 80-yard touchdown to open the second half was a back-breaker, and his overall performance was a positive sign for the oft-maligned former second round pick. Perhaps he will prove to be the player Billy Devaney had hoped he would be.
Winner: Steven Jackson
Steven Jackson had 19 carries for 81 yards (4.3 per carry) and a touchdown with a long run of 19 yards.
It was another solid game from the Rams' all-time leading rusher.
Jackson has said publicly that he wants to see the Rams through to a new era of winning football.
After the way he has performed this year, no one in their right mind can question whether or not he still has the ability to be not only a useful NFL running back, but an elite one.
The questions then become, will the Rams want him back when they have Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson already under contract for 2013, and will he be willing to take the pay cut that will certainly be required for him to wear the Rams horns beyond 2012?
After watching what Jackson has been able to do when the coaching staff gives him the carries, I hope the answers are both yes.
Winner: Rams Run Defense
Of Frank Gore, C.J. Spiller, Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin, only A.P. was able to put up more than 100 yards rushing against the Rams' suddenly wall-like run defense.
Martin could only squeeze 62 yards out of 18 carries against the Rams in Week 16.
The last five weeks of the Rams' 2012 schedule have been a pitiless gauntlet of the league's top running backs. Aside from Peterson's two exceptional carries, the Rams have proven to the rest of the league that this team is anything but "the same old Rams."