Rams vs. Panthers: Takeaways from St. Louis' 30-15 Loss to Carolina
The contest resembled a street fight more than a football game. The two teams erupted into skirmishes on multiple occasions.
Chris Long was ejected from the game after allegedly throwing a punch, according to the Fox broadcast, but it's a bit odd that he was singled out among multiple culprits, including known instigator Steve Smith.
However, while Smith and the Panthers had their share of questionable behavior, the Rams had a pretty disgraceful showing overall, which is why they caught most of the flak, including the ejection and multiple personal foul penalties.
The Rams not only hurt themselves with the scuffles, they had a number of additional mental errors that weighed them down, including a Tavon Austin touchdown negated by a Jake Long penalty, a dropped touchdown by Brian Quick and a fumble by Austin.
The game started as a bad dream and progressed into a full-blown nightmare after quarterback Sam Bradford left the game in extreme pain with an apparent knee injury.
With Seattle up next and the starting quarterback likely out of action for the time being, it's clear that the Rams are getting no love from the football gods.
For now, here are my takeaways from St. Louis' disastrous showing in Carolina...
Run Game Still Better with Zac Stacy Leading the Charge
Zac Stacy was held to just 53 yards on 17 carries against Carolina, so it was not an overly impressive showing for the rookie back. But the run game is in good hands with Stacy as the top back.
The Panthers entered the game with the fourth-best run defense in the NFL, allowing just 88.8 yards per game on average, but Stacy still managed to create decent runs against Carolina's front eight.
Stacy also had 34 receiving yards, giving him 87 yards from scrimmage, and he scored St. Louis' only touchdown of the game.
The St. Louis rushing attack was nonexistent before Stacy took over in Week 5, but the rookie has excelled in the starting role and is off to a promising start.
With Bradford likely out of action for the time being, Stacy will see an increased role on offense and will have a chance to shine.
Chris Long Should Not Have Been Alone
When the game turned into a street fight during the third quarter, it was clear that flags would fly and ejections would be imminent.
What was unpredictable, on the other hand, was the one-sided ruling by the officials, who pinned all the ejections and penalties on the Rams.
Typically, these skirmishes end with flags on both teams (usually cancelling each other out) and verbal warnings. If an ejection occurs, it's usually for the primary culprit for each team, unless it's a very visible and specific act committed by a single player.
Chris Long's behavior was hardly isolated. All 22 players on the field were at each other's throats, and to single out Long among them is simply absurd.
The Fox broadcast mentioned that Long reportedly threw a punch, but it's hardly visible on film. From what we saw on camera, he did nothing to stand out from the crowd.
If the goal of the officials was to send a message, it should have applied to both teams.
The Rams are not innocent. On the contrary, they played a pretty despicable game. But Carolina was equally vicious and received half the consequence. Officials haven't lost control of a game to this degree since the replacement refs from early 2012.
Penalties Still Hindering Tavon Austin
Austin is the most electric rookie in the NFL and should be in the discussion for Rookie of the Year, but you wouldn't know it unless you watch every Rams game.
Every explosive, game-changing play Austin creates is wiped out by a penalty. It's almost laughable at this point.
In previous weeks, Austin has had a number of superb punt returns negated due to blocking penalties. This week, Austin had a long touchdown reception wiped out thanks to yet another penalty.
The Rams continue to waste Austin's talent and production with foolish mistakes.
On the bright side, we've seen enough out of Austin to know he'll break out eventually.
Brian Quick Is Improving, but Still Haunted with Mental Errors
Brian Quick was an absentee player for the majority on 2012. While he's been visible this season, there have been a number of mental errors on his part.
Quick led the Rams with 97 receiving yards against Carolina, including a 73-yard catch that set up St. Louis' only touchdown of the game.
He's starting to make plays and flash the potential that made him the No. 33 overall pick in 2012, but it's obvious that Quick is still learning the finer points of the game.
Quick had two drops against the Panthers, including a would-be touchdown that hit him directly in the hands.
Quick is becoming a productive member of the offense, but he needs to clear his head and cut back on the mental hiccups if wants to have a future in this league.
Discipline Was Nonexistent in This Game
Between the aforementioned brawl and ejection and a number of additional mental lapses, the Rams played a highly undisciplined game that reflects poorly on the coaching staff.
The Rams ended with eight penalties for 68 yards, including a tripping penalty by Jake Long that negated a touchdown.
On the first play from scrimmage, Bradford threw a pick-six, followed by an Austin fumble that led to a Carolina field goal. Those two plays alone resulted in 10 points for the Panthers.
Throw in Quick's dropped touchdown, mentioned in the previous slide, and it's clear that the Rams were in a position to outscore the Panthers, but a lack of focus and discipline got in the way.
St. Louis cannot give up three turnovers and negate touchdowns with killer penalties on the road and expect to win. Few teams can overcome that.
The coaches will have to review film and make the proper adjustments. As of now, their team is not executing up to NFL standards.
Defense Made a Solid Effort
The Rams defense gave up 23 points, but the unit had some positive moments as a whole.
The St. Louis front eight contained Newton for the most part and limited him to just 26 rushing yards. Carolina's top rusher, DeAngelo Williams, was held to just 40 yards rushing.
Not bad, considering the Panthers entered the game averaging over 135 yards per game on the ground.
The defense also managed to record a safety in the first half after bringing down Mike Tolbert in his own end zone.
It was a winning effort for the defense, but it was completely spoiled by a complete lack of mental awareness.
Turnovers Cannot Happen on the Road
While the defense did plenty to sabotage itself, it sure didn't get much help from the offense.
Not only was the St. Louis offense held to one touchdown, but the unit coughed up three turnovers, giving the defense almost no shot at getting the job done.
It started with an interception on the first play from scrimmage. That was followed by an Austin fumble, then by a fourth-quarter Kellen Clemens interception.
It's difficult enough for a young team to pick up a win on the road against a tough opponent, but it's nearly impossible to overcome three turnovers.
The Rams did not turn the ball over once a week ago in Houston and walked away with a win, and they could have reached a similar outcome had they maintained possession on key drives.
Sam Bradford's Injury Could Be the Nail in the Coffin
Bradford was well on his way to a career year for the Rams, but he was knocked out of the game with an apparent knee injury. The outlook is grim.
According to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch via Twitter, Bradford was wearing a black immobilizing brace on his left knee following the game. Thomas also mentioned that Bradford will undergo an MRI upon his return to St. Louis.
Bradford has struggled at times, but he's the only quarterback on the roster capable of producing wins.
Kellen Clemens is the backup quarterback, and the veteran passer has been erratic in his limited playing time with seven career touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
If the injury to Bradford is serious, it will not only be the end of the 2013 Rams, but possibly the Bradford era as we know it.
Despite Bradford's production this season, the NFL is not a business that overlooks injuries. If the injury benches Bradford for the season, it will give the front office every excuse to search for a alternative option, and they'd be foolish not to.
Needless to say, the Bradford injury is a huge setback.
Steven Gerwel is the longest-tenured Rams Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report and serves as the Rams game-day correspondent. You can find more of Gerwel's work by visiting his writer's profile or by following him on Twitter.
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