After enduring a week of questions about how his team would respond to last week’s disappointing loss to Detroit, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo couldn’t help but wonder himself what his group would do Sunday against the high-octane Chargers.
What the Rams provided to Spagnuolo and the 52,472 Rams fans in attendance at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday was an array of emphatic answers that this Rams team is different, much different as it surged to an early 17-point lead and muscled up for a tight finish in a 20-17 victory.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say yes,” Spagnuolo said. “You always wonder how your team will react from a setback like that. I’m real proud.”
Spagnuolo has much to be proud of after his team thoroughly dominated the Chargers’ highly-ranked offense and defense in the first half and then did just enough in the second half to hang on for the win.
The Rams evened their record at 3-3 with the win and captured their third consecutive win at home for the first time since 2004. The Chargers dropped to 2-4 with the loss.
Unlike the Rams’ other victories this season, Sunday’s had a little different twist. Whereas they were able to pull away and hang double digit losses on Washington and Seattle, Sunday’s game was in doubt until the game’s final moments.
Clinging to a 20-17 lead and with a defense on the sideline that was just about out of gas, Spagnuolo turned to star running back
“At that point in the game, I asked him to go into the huddle and tell them that we needed them right now because the defense was tired,” Spagnuolo said. “We had to find a way to get a couple first downs at the minimum.”
After a first half in which the Rams moved the ball up and down the field, they had been kept in check by San Diego’s second-ranked defense for the bulk of the second half. Now, with three minutes, 11 seconds to play and the Chargers with all of their timeouts and the two-minute warning, the Rams had to find a way to power up and push the Chargers around.
Two Jackson carries netted just 4 yards, bringing up a third-and-6 at the Rams’ 36 before the two-minute warning. Instead of throwing, the Rams stuck with their workhorse as he burst up the middle, cut to the right and picked up 9 yards.
Two plays later, he broke off a 12-yard run to the right side to put the game away.
“To be an elite running back, you have to be able to do that,” Jackson said. “I can’t take credit for that. I think the offensive line did a great job of just answering to the call. They knew and we knew that it was going to be a three-minute, scratch and claw kind of situation. We had to stay in bounds and we had to get a first down or two. And for everyone to answer, that’s just hats off to the offensive line.”
Of course, for the Rams to even be in a situation to put the game away, they had to get plenty of other big plays. And for the most part, it was a scintillating defensive performance that did the trick.
The Rams defense held the Chargers to a season-low 287 yards of total offense and kept them to just four-of-13 on third down conversions.
Most of all, though, it was the relentless pressure the Rams were able to get on San Diego’s Pro Bowl quarterback, Philip Rivers, that set the tone for the defense.
All told, the Rams finished with seven sacks, including two each from
“Those boys up front were eatin’, weren’t they?” Atogwe said. “They were hungry. They got after Philip Rivers and the Chargers and allowed us to play well.”
Offensively, the Rams started the game with a flurry, posting 206 yards in the first half. Bradford forged a connection with the just called up Alexander, as the rookie wideout finished with four catches for 72 yards.
And Jackson scored on a 7-yard burst with the help of a monster block from rookie left tackle
Jackson finished with 109 yards on 29 carries, his second consecutive 100-yard game. Bradford threw for 198 yards with the touchdown and his first goose egg of his young career in the all important turnover category.
In the second half, the offense bogged down some but the Rams went back to relying on defense and special teams to put it away.
“We want the pressure,” Hall said. “We want it on ourselves and like I said, that intensity went up in the fourth quarter when we needed it and that was huge.”
Hall’s impact wasn’t limited to defense, either. As San Diego drove into Rams territory for a field goal to attempt to cut the Rams’ lead to 17-13, Hall burst up the middle and blocked Nate Kaeding’s 49-yard field goal try.
“I blocked it,” Hall said. “It was nice. I think the first field goal we got pretty good pressure to that same side so coach (Tom) McMahon dialed it up again and we were able to get there.”
The Rams offense promptly came up with the drive it needed as the Rams moved into San Diego territory before kicker
“As an offensive unit we took pride in finishing the things out,” Jackson said. “Our defense stepped up big time, and we knew they needed a break, they needed a little gas. And the offensive line did a tremendous job of just answering to the call.”
Gathered in the meeting room last night, Spagnuolo showed his team clips of an old “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler versus Thomas “Hitman” Hearns fight. The message was simple.
“We have been talking a lot about expecting to win,” Spagnuolo said. “I talked last night about; it’s the nature of man to rise to greatness when greatness is expected. That’s what I fed to them last night so I expected greatness out of them. We needed a great effort out of them today against this particular football team. I thought they gave that.”
The result was one with which the Rams are starting to become familiar but even with another win in their pockets, they are far from ready to sit on their laurels. For as familiar as the winning feeling might be getting – especially at the Edward Jones Dome – the attitude doesn’t change.
In other words, this Rams team has no designs on getting too excited about this win just like it refused to get too down after last week’s loss.
“I feel like everyone in that locker room expects to win now and I think that’s huge,” Bradford said. “I think if we continue with that mentality, we have a lot more victories in store.”