LONDON – Little more than two and a half minutes into their first venture across the pond, the strangers in a strange land St. Louis edition looked right at home in Wembley Stadium.
Taking the opening kickoff 80 yards on five plays in two minutes, 35 seconds, the Rams opened Sunday’s game against New England with a scintillating 50-yard touchdown connection from quarterback
Just like that, the Rams had a 7-0 lead and seemed to be ready for a dogfight against the defending AFC champions. But the first couple paragraphs of Sunday’s story turned out to be terribly misleading.
“You can’t ask for a better start to the game,” Bradford said. “The first time we touch the ball we go down and score. That’s exactly what we planned to do. Then it just all fell apart from there.”
Indeed it did fall apart as the Rams went from the highest of highs in those opening moments to the lowest of lows by the time the clock finally, mercifully hit all zeroes. The result was 45-7 loss to the Patriots in a game that was never really close after the Rams took that initial lead.
The loss is the third in a row for the Rams and drops them to 3-5 on the season as they head into what seems like a much-needed bye week. Of course, the bye week will also allow for the possibility for the Rams to wallow in what was, without question, their worst performance in the young tenure of coach Jeff Fisher.
“We just got beat in every phase of the game, got dominated,” Bradford said. “I don’t think there’s really any other way to put it.”
The defense was shredded by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his cast of weapons, the offense continued to shoot itself in the foot with costly miscues and even the special teams failed to do one of the basics.
Perhaps most maddening was the performance of a defense that seemed to make so many strides in the season’s first seven weeks. Even after a bit of a step back last week against high-octane Green Bay, the Rams defense seemed prepared to make that look like an exception to the rule.
Instead, that defense turned in its worst defensive performance of the season. The Patriots posted 473 yards of total offense, went seven-of-12 on third down, converted their only fourth down attempt for a 1-yard rushing touchdown by back Shane Vereen and kept Brady spotless in the pocket.
Brady threw for four touchdowns, two each to tight end Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd and finished with 304 passing yards and a rating of 131.1.
In the unofficial pressbox statistics, the Rams had no sacks and didn’t even manage to register a quarterback hit. While Brady has a special ability to get rid of the ball quickly and identify blitzes to exploit, the complete inability to get near Brady left the Rams exposed.
“You have to make him feel uncomfortable,” linebacker
With Brady enjoying the comforts of a clean pocket, it was Gronkowski who was taking advantage of an overzealous group of safeties and linebackers. Time and again, Gronkowski found himself running free in the secondary with no defenders near him.
When all was said and done, the big tight end had eight catches for 146 yards and the aforementioned two scores.
"I know basically when you are playing a team like this you have got to execute and have good eyes,” Mikell said. “I know I in particular had bad eyes on the tight end. We have just got to make more plays and get ourselves in position to stop them from getting the ball and tackle well.”
Adding to the frustration was a run defense that struggled mightily on the heels of three outstanding performances against the run. But New England back Stevan Ridley pounded away for 127 yards on 15 carries and the Patriots posted 152 yards on the ground, more than the Rams had allowed in the past three games combined.
And, once again, the Rams were unable to come up with a takeaway to give the offense an extra possession.
“That’s now three consecutive weeks our defense has not gotten a turnover and if you want to have a chance to keep it close you have got to have turnovers and things like that,” Fisher said. “We just couldn’t do it.”
While the Patriots were moving it at will, the Rams offense wasn’t able to keep up by continuing to post points of its own. Following the opening drive where they made it look so easy, there wasn’t much else there for Bradford and Co.
That unit posted 326 total yards though many of those came late in the game with both sides playing backups. The Rams also had two more turnovers as Bradford was intercepted on a pass intended for rookie wideout
In the immediate aftermath of a game, it can be harder for an offense to see what was keeping it from moving the ball consistently but Bradford had little doubt what the main issue was for the Rams on Sunday.
It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out considering it’s been an on going problem for the offense this season in general.
“We’ve made it very known and clear that when we hurt ourselves with penalties the chances of us scoring go down by a big percentage,” Bradford said. “It’s inexcusable. We’ve got to start holding each other to a higher standard because obviously when we do that, we are not going to score points.”
As though those struggles on offense and defense weren’t enough, the Rams couldn’t even gain traction on special teams, an area they’ve generally excelled at this season.
Trailing 21-7 near the end of the first half, long snapper
Now, Fisher and the Rams will make the long flight back across the ocean to St. Louis, take a day or two to recover and return to practice this week before a weekend off for the bye week.
When they return, things won’t get any easier. How they respond to having their backs against the wall will go a long way in determining how the season’s second half plays out.
“This is a real test for our young football team, going into the bye week coming off a disappointing loss like this and we will find out a lot about ourselves and their confidence and see how they’ll bounce back,” Fisher said.