GLENDALE, Ariz. – For the vast majority of the players in the Rams locker room, playing meaningful, important games in December is a new challenge they haven’t yet had to conquer.
But with each passing week and each win, these young Rams are leaving the distinct impression that they simply don’t know that most people outside the walls of their own locker room are surprised they’re even in that position to begin with.
In fact, in Sunday’s 19-6 win against the Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, the Rams were expected and favored to win the game. But that’s a feat that’s easier said than done against an Arizona team that had previously beaten the Rams seven consecutive times.
All the Rams did was go out and take care of business to get an all important divisional road win in December.
“We’re feeling good, especially with a division win and two road wins, that’s what it takes,” defensive tackle
Sunday’s win comes with plenty of intrinsic value both in terms of the big picture and in the short term. The victory evens the Rams’ record at 6-6 and keeps them in a tie with Seattle for first place in the NFC West Division.
More important, the Rams remain in charge of their own destiny from this point on. In other words, if the Rams can find ways to continue taking care of business, they will be the last team standing in the NFC West when all is said and done.
While all of that remains to be seen, Sunday’s win certainly gave the Rams plenty to take away that could help them through the stretch run.
At the top of that list is the team’s ability to finally finish with a flourish in outscoring Arizona 10-0 in the second half and come away with a victory without all of the drama that seems to be a hallmark of Rams’ road games this season, particularly ones like last week’s 36-33 win against Denver in which the Rams almost squandered a big second half lead.
“Yeah, that was better than the last one,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I think they are always going to be like that. But you have got to play well in the fourth quarter and we did that. Moving forward all these fourth quarters are going to be tough.”
For the Rams to come out and put on a strong second half performance was important for reasons beyond simply getting past whatever late-game problems have plagued them this season.
This time, it was completely imperative to the outcome, especially after a slow starting first half in which Arizona moved the ball well offensively and the Rams struggled to find a rhythm with its own offensive unit.
Nursing a 9-6 halftime lead after an impressive drive to wind down the second quarter, the Rams went into the locker room unsatisfied with their performance in the first 30 minutes.
“It was 9-6 at halftime and we feel like as a whole team we didn’t play very well,” Spagnuolo said. “I heard one comment in the locker room which I echoed but when I pulled them back together was we had not played very well and yet we were up by three points. We kind of rallied behind that and then in the second half we had to play better. I think we did that. There’s probably some maturity in that.”
Leading the charge in the Rams’ second-half was a revived Rams defense that had been gashed for a number of big plays in the first half. Arizona gained 177 yards in the half with nine plays of more than 10 yards mixed in.
With those big plays on their mind, the defense came back out in the second half, ratcheted up the emphasis on stopping Arizona’s running game and relentlessly blitzing all three of the Cardinals quarterbacks who played.
“We just eliminated the big plays, made them one dimensional, forced them to pass the ball stopped the run in the second half and the offense got us some points to give us some freedom to get after the quarterback a little bit,” Robbins said. “You’ve got to eliminate the big plays, cut down on penalties and get off the field on third downs.”
In the second half, the Rams defense held Arizona to just 47 yards of offense and no points and came up with three sacks, an interception and limited the Cardinals to just three gains of 10 yards or more.
With the defense firmly in control and Arizona shuttling among Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton at quarterback, the Rams offense again found a rhythm by going without a huddle.
After a strong drive to end the first half netted a field goal to take the lead into the locker room, quarterback
Buoyed by the no huddle, the Rams gained rhythm on their second drive of the third quarter in marching 85 yards on 10 plays in four minutes, 42 seconds.
After hitting on a couple of big plays on third down with completions to
Another field goal from Brown made it 19-6 and the offense managed to do what it hadn’t in a few weeks in staying on the field in the fourth quarter with a five minute, 17 second drive that allowed the clock to reach all zeros.
“I think we came out of the half with a lot of confidence,” Bradford said. “I think that last drive really says a lot about our offense as a unit to come out and finish the game with the ball in our hands. I think that’s definitely an improvement from weeks past.”
In what Spagnuolo called a “total team win,” it’d be a mistake to leave out a dominant performance from the Rams special teams.
Brown provided four field goals and an extra point, punter
With their first win in one try in December and back to back wins on the road, the Rams wasted no time making it clear that they remain unsatisfied with their impressive turnaround.
As the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints loom next week, the attention hadn’t quite turned but was well on its way not long after the final whistle.
“Our mentality is to have great expectations,” Robbins said. “We are still humble, still have a ways to go here in the last month but guys are putting in the work. We are still committed to coming into work and getting better each week. We are not satisfied with where we are at but we have to continue to strive. I think the main thing is with wins, we celebrate today and tomorrow we will put it behind us and move on to next week.”