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Rams Win With a Little Luck

Posted Nov 13, 2011

CLEVELAND – As he stood with his teammates and coaches watching the final moments of Sunday’s game unfold, Rams running back Steven Jackson and the rest of the offense began getting their minds set for a potential game winning drive.

With Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson lining up for a chip shot 22-yard field goal that would have given the Browns a two-point lead with about two minutes to play, the near certainty of such a try had Jackson and the Rams convinced that they would need some late game heroics to pull off a victory.

But then, just when it was needed most, the Rams caught a break. Yes, the team that four-leaf clovers and rabbit’s feet seem to avoid like the plague finally got a little bit of luck on its side.

As Cleveland long snapper Ryan Pontbriand let fly, the leg of the blocker next to him got in the way and the ball trickled back to holder Brad Maynard.

Maynard did a terrific job of getting the snap down but with the timing thrown off, Dawson hooked it left and the Rams were able to hang on for a rather unorthodox 13-12 victory.

“Something like that doesn’t happen to us,” Jackson said. “I was happy to see that kind of bad luck actually happens to others and not just the St. Louis Rams. I’ll take a few more.”

The win improves the Rams to 2-7 and gives them two wins in the past three weeks. The Browns dropped to 3-6 with the loss.

That it was a Dawson miss that ultimately gave the Rams the win was a bit poetic for a couple of reasons.

One, Dawson had been the Browns’ best source of offense all day, booting four field goals. To that point in the season, he’d been nearly perfect and was known for converting on 50-yard plus attempts. For Dawson to miss, the Rams clearly needed that break.

Second, it was blocked field goal that kept the Rams from victory last week in Arizona so for a miss to give them a win brings at least a little bit of justice to their world.

“I’m happy for our football team with the win,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “They are hard to get in this league. Somewhere along the way, I believe things even themselves out.”

Matter of fact, in last week’s game it was not one but two special teams plays that went in the other direction that ultimately gave Arizona the win.

True to form, the Rams benefitted from another huge play from the special teams in addition to Dawson’s miss.

“We’ll take any win we can get,” end Chris Long said. “It was a gritty one for sure. We lost last week on special teams and we won this week on special teams so that is just an example to show you how quickly things can turn around.”

Trailing 12-10 with 10 minutes and 53 seconds to play, Rams punter Donnie Jones skied a 45-yard punt down the right sideline toward Cleveland’s electric returner, Josh Cribbs.

The kick was angled toward the sideline in hopes of limiting Cribbs’ space to return the kick. The idea was the pin Cribbs in and not let him make a backbreaking big play to put the game away.

The Rams had something else on their minds when Cribbs fielded the ball without a fair catch.

“All week in preparation for the game we watched film and saw Cribbs where he would get the ball up and try to make a play,” linebacker David Nixon said. “So we said we would strip it if he put it up.”

Cribbs hesitated ever so slightly after catching and then began to make his move toward the sideline. But Nixon closed on him quick and Cribbs put the ball up high but it was far from tight.

“Sure enough he tried to make a play in dodging Craig Dahl and I saw the ball out there so I just went straight for it and tried to rip it out,” Nixon said.

Nixon, who just signed with the Rams this week and had been out of football since the team let him go last year, ripped it out.

Ben Leber, who like Nixon, was playing in no small part because of injuries to normal special teamers Bryan Kehl and Josh Hull, closed quickly and saw the ball on the ground.

“I was coming down and trying to get in position,” Leber said. “I saw him returning the ball. I happened to see Nixon rake it out, I saw it on the ground and I just reached out with the left paw and so happened to cradle it in.”

Leber recovered at Cleveland’s 27 and advanced as far as the 9 before settling for kicker Josh Brown’s 34-yard field goal that ultimately gave them the final margin.

Of course, perhaps the game might not have been in that situation to begin with were it not for a third consecutive big performance from Jackson on offense (128 yards on 27 carries) and a defense that held the Browns to just four field goals.

Each time it appeared Cleveland would go in for a touchdown that could make a comeback difficult; the defense bowed up and got the stop.

Although Cleveland posted 335 yards and won the time of possession battle, time and again it was denied a touchdown and had to settle for field goals despite a game plan that included plenty of misdirection and trickery.

“Their game plan was tough,” Long said. “It was tough to stop. They threw a lot of unorthodox stuff at us. That was big. We know if we force them to kick field goals, eventually they might make a mistake in the kicking game because those winds were a factor.”

Making matters more difficult for the Rams was a plethora of injuries on offense that left them scrambling for personnel.

“It was a little bit different,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “It seemed like we were running people in and out a lot. Different bodies, different combination groups, different combinations of guys than we’ve had before. I’m starting to get used to that. I’m comfortable with all our guys and I thought they did a great job today.”

Bradford and Co. found enough of a rhythm to score the game’s lone touchdown as he and wideout Brandon Lloyd connected for a 7-yard touchdown to give the Rams an early 7-3 lead.

“We worked on that play a lot this week,” Lloyd said. “Josh was calling that play a touchdown all week saying we are going to score on this. We repped it a lot to make sure the timing was down between me and Sam. It turns out the hard work paid off. We needed that.”

The amount of injuries and adversity the Rams overcame to beat Cleveland on Sunday will not likely dissipate anytime soon. The injuries aren’t going away and the plug ‘n play mentality is going to have to continue to be used.

That’s why this team won’t soon turn down any additional help it can get, even if it comes in the form of a bounce or two going their way.

“We have to take it one week at a time,” Long said. “It’s not cliché at this point, it’s our reality. It’s a must win every Sunday. We have to approach everything like it means the world because it does. We are in a heck of a hole but there is a lot of football to be played on Sunday and we are going to go as hard as we can.”