After such a positive start for the St. Louis Rams Sunday at Jacksonville, their offensive inconsistency, and timid coaching late, led to another loss.
Time to hand out the grades.
Marc Bulger had a decent game, going 22-of-34 for 213 yards with a touchdown and interception. His TD toss to Donnie Avery in the first quarter was the first Rams score in the first quarter this season, but when Avery later went down with a hip injury, Bulger lost his best target.
The Jaguars piled nine guys in the box at times, and Bulger and the Rams could not find any consistency. The Rams scored a touchdown on their opening possession when Bulger hit Avery in the back of the end zone to cap an impressive drive.
Bulger did a nice job of spreading the ball around in the first half, but they need to do a better job of getting the ball to the tight ends to loosen up the defenses. Randy McMichael had two catches in the first half, but finished with just three receptions for 32 yards. Billy Bajema did not have a catch, and Daniel Fells caught two balls for only 11 yards.
Then there’s Steven Jackson.
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur used screens to get the ball in his best player’s hands in the first half, but then kind of got away from that in the second half—until the very last drive. The two best screens came in the bookend drives. The last one set up the game-tying field goal when Jackson ran through and around the Jags defense.
The other came on the opening possession when Jackson got a great block from Richie Incognito to pick up a first down.
Jackson finished with just 16 carries for 50 yards. He did have six receptions for another 78, but 16 rushing attempts aren’t going to cut it.
While there were outstanding efforts from Leonard Little and Clifton Ryan, the Rams defense gave up too many big plays to Torry Holt and allowed Maurice Jones-Drew to run rampant in the second half.
A pair of Holt receptions led to a Jones-Drew touchdown on Jacksonville’s first possession, but the Jags had a botched snap on the extra point, and the Rams still led 7-6. Holt had a great day against his former ’mates. His 101-yard day included an incredible one-handed grab late in the second quarter.
Mike Sims-Walker led the Jags with nine catches for 120 yards, and David Garrard threw for 335 yards. He did not have a touchdown pass, and threw a pair of interceptions—one of which Little took back 36 yards for a score to regain the St. Louis lead at 17-13 midway through the fourth.
But both Ron Bartell and Craig Dahl dropped sure interceptions. The Rams were finally able to pick off Garrard in the third when Laurinaitis hauled in a ball tipped at the line by C.J. Ah You.
The Rams had an opportunity to put this game away, and led from their opening drive until Jacksonville took the lead with 8:05 remaining in the fourth. The offense’s inability to convert on third down led to Jacksonville dominating time of possession. The Jags held the ball for more than 42 minutes, and were able to wear down the Rams defense late, leading to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns from Jones-Drew.
Ryan, Little and James Hall all recorded sacks, but they didn’t get much support from their defensive teammates.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
Danny Amendola had a 57-yard kickoff return following the Jags’ first-quarter score, but that long kickoff was squandered when Bulger threw an interception in the end zone.
Josh Brown drilled a 52-yard field goal to give Rams their largest lead of the season at 10-6 just before the half. David Roach was impressive in return coverage.
But the reason this grade is so low is because of the punting game. Donnie Jones uncharacteristically shanked a punt in the first half, an omen of a bad day ahead. The normally sure-footed punter had an off day, posting a 39.8-yard average on six punts. He did not have a single punt land inside the 20.
We’ll begin with with the penalties, something that has plagued the Rams all season. It actually wasn’t that bad. There was a false start from tackle Alex Barron, and a tripping penalty on running back Kenneth Darby late in the first half that nearly knocked Rams out of field goal range.
Then there were a trio of pass interference calls, two of which came very late. The first was pretty questionable on Bartell, who was later justifiably called for pass interference when he was on Holt like a backpack.
Another very late flag was thrown on cornerback Jonathan Wade, but Wade thought he had gotten away with one, then acted like he did nothing wrong once the flag came out. It was a good call, as he had an arm around the tight end with the ball in the air.
Shurmur, for the most part, called a great game. It just comes down to execution, and the Rams didn’t for most of the second half. Then, thanks to Jackson’s efforts, the Rams moved the ball deep into the red zone. That’s when Spagnuolo got soft, settling for a field goal with seven seconds remaining and a timeout.
Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch puts on his homer hat, and calls it a “wise” decision. I disagree. When you haven’t won in 15 games, you fire the ball to the end zone one more time, and then kick it if you need to. You play, and coach, to win, not just to not lose.
The Rams offense regressed against a defense that is worse than Minnesota’s. They did hold their longest lead of the season. The previous was when they held a 7-6 advantage at Washington for 11:37 between the second and third quarters.
But the defense gave up too many big plays, and the Spagnuolo turned spineless with a chance to win the game. There were some bright spots, but a game for the taking ended up being the team’s 16th straight defeat.
This column can also be found at The Alton Telegraph .