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Season in Review: Part 1

Posted Jan 25, 2011

After an offseason in which the Rams made a plethora of big moves and changes, the buildup to the start of the 2010 season came with its fair share of buzz.

With new franchise quarterback Sam Bradford in place and having earned the starting job with some excellent preseason performances, the Rams entered the 2010 season with hopes of a turnaround from the struggles of 2009.

What they got was a dramatic shift in results that saw them rise from 1-15 to 7-9 with a final game of the season opportunity to win the NFC West Division and earn a home playoff game.

Over the next four days, stlouisrams.com will take a look back at the 2010 season and all of the ups and downs that came with it.

Game No. 1 – vs. Arizona – Cardinals 17, Rams 13

Although it was the first game and first loss of the season for the Rams, the season opener might be the game that most sticks in the team’s collective craw when it looks back at the 2010 season.

Despite a rousing debut in front of an excitable crowd, this game will best be remembered for opportunities that were narrowly missed and the ultimate in disappointing defeats despite a last second Hail Mary attempt from Bradford coming up short.

“There are a couple of plays in there you have got to make if you are going to win a close football game like that,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “I think we are headed in the right direction, doing the right things and guys are doing what they are supposed to. We just have to make a play. The only thing we didn’t get today was the reward.”

While the Rams didn’t get that reward and fell to 0-1 on the season, it certainly wasn’t for a lack of effort. In fact, the Rams came up time and time again with enough plays to put themselves in position to get a victory.

What wasn’t there was that extra yard, that extra catch, that extra takeaway that could have ultimately sealed the deal.

There was, perhaps, no play more indicative of that than defensive tackle Clifton Ryan’s fumble in the third quarter.

With the Rams holding a 13-10 lead and 7:02 to go in the quarter, defensive end C.J. Ah You burst around left end and hit Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson, forcing a fumble.

Ryan scooped it up at Arizona’s 23 and chugged toward the goal line with nothing but green turf in front of him.

As Ryan approached the goal line, Arizona receiver Steve Breaston cam darting in from behind and stripped Ryan at the 5. Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein recovered in the end zone for a touchback.

Instead of a 20-10 lead for the Rams, Arizona simply restarted its drive at the 20 trailing by three.

Of course, that near miss was far from the only one that could cause some sleepless nights for the Rams on Sunday night.

Ironically, it was another chance created by a defensive fumble recovery that ultimately didn’t pan out.

Arizona took the opening drive and marched deep into Rams territory when safety Oshiomogho Atogwe jarred the ball away from Cardinals running back Tim Hightower at the Rams’ 21.

Cornerback Bradley Fletcher scooped it up and returned it to Arizona’s 32. Three plays later, the Rams lined up for a 34-yard field goal attempt for kicker Josh Brown.

Arizona safety Adrian Wilson came through untouched and blocked Brown’s kick, causing the Rams to come away with no points from another opportunity.

Bradford threw for 253 yards on 55 attempts with a touchdown and three interceptions in his debut and Mark Clayton emerged as the team’s go to receiver with a 10-catch, 119-yard performance but it wasn’t enough.

“There’s going to be things in there when we watch it where we’re going to say ‘Hey, if we could have just done this, we would have won the football game,’” Spagnuolo said. “But, that’s the NFL.” 

Game No. 2 - @ Oakland – Raiders 16, Rams 14

On the heels of the near miss in Week 1, the Rams looked to rebound as they headed to the Bay Area to take on an improved Raiders team in search of their first victory.

Much like that season opener, the Rams came up just short. But unlike in that game, the Rams and Spagnuolo were victims of their own mistakes.

“It’s not to take anything away from the way they played,” Spagnuolo said. “But as I told the football team, you can’t win in the NFL when you beat yourself. I preface that by saying that I think Oakland did do a nice job in the second half. They win the football game and we lose.”
The loss dropped the Rams to 0-2, a number that was particularly hard to swallow considering they were just eight measly points from being 2-0. But in the NFL, the distance from undefeated to winless remains extremely short.

On Sunday, the distance that hurt the Rams most could be measured much more efficiently: 15 yards.

“The disappointing thing is that I have not seen or felt that this was an undisciplined football team,” Spagnuolo said. “But how can you not think that after a game like that? I think we have just got to learn that you can play tough and physical football and be smart doing it. I did think we played tough and physical and I think Oakland played tough and physical. That’s the kind of game it was. But it’s too hard to win when you are giving up free 15 yard plays. It’s too tough.”

Indeed, the Rams were flagged a total of eight times for 92 yards in penalties. Of those eight flags, five carries the maximum yardage of 15. Four of those were personal foul penalties while one was a chop block.

With each 15-yard infraction, Oakland seemed to find a way to take advantage. In fact, the Raiders had three scoring drives kept alive by personal fouls which resulted in nine points. Take away just one of those scoring efforts and perhaps the outcome is different.

In spite of themselves, the Rams still found a way to be in position to steal a last-minute win before the final painstaking penalty of the day gave Oakland the push it needed to finish the deal.

After Bradford hit Clayton for a 17-yard touchdown in the right corner of the end zone to cut the deficit to 16-14, the Rams had momentum and had Oakland pinned at its 19 facing a second-and-9.

Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski rolled to the right looking to find a first down as Rams defensive tackle Fred Robbins chased from behind. As soon as Gradkowski let it go, Robbins shoved him from behind. Gradkowski went to the ground and the flag came out.

In a chippy game filled with similar penalties, it was little surprise the flag came out despite the bang-bang nature of the play.
 
The penalty gave Oakland a first down at its 34 and three plays later, the Raiders converted a third-and-7 to put the game away.

Rams running back Steven Jackson carried the freight for the Rams, racking up 125 total yards on 23 touches while Clayton continued to establish himself by catching a pair of touchdowns.

The Rams defense also showed its mettle in regularly keeping the Raiders out of the end zone despite numerous red zone opportunities.

Still, it was those aforementioned silly mistakes that ultimately couldn’t be overcome.

“This is where penalties are killing us,” Jackson said. “This is where we don’t know yet how to put a game away. Some kind of way we have to find it. And you have to do it on Sunday. You can’t do it on Wednesday and Thursday. You have to do it on Sunday.”

Game No. 3 – vs. Washington – Rams 30, Redskins 16

Sitting at a disappointing 0-2 despite having a very realistic chance of an undefeated start, many wondered how the Rams would breakthrough against a Washington team coming off an impressive win.

The Rams answered all of those questions emphatically with one of their finest performances of the season as nearly all phases of the game seemed to come together in a convincing win against Washington.

Despite a second quarter hiccup in which the Rams saw a 14-0 lead become a one-point halftime edge, the Rams surged in the second half, outscoring the Redskins 16-3 the rest of the way.

“What I told the team was, any win in the NFL feels good, but when you can rise above some adverse situations that’s even better,” Spagnuolo said. “And I thought the reason we did that is because we hung together, nobody bailed out, nobody panicked.”

In the first two weeks of the season, finding a way to hold it together for 60 minutes eluded the Rams. But it was in those missed opportunities that the Rams found the lessons necessary to put it all together, even in the face of adversity.

The offensive line imposed its well, Bradford displayed poise beyond his years and the defense continued to get Washington off the field on third down.

Despite losing Jackson and Oshiomogho Atogwe to injuries, the Rams persevered in getting production from players down the depth chart.

It was backup running back Kenneth Darby carrying 14 times for 49 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown burst that gave the Rams the lead for good midway through the third quarter.

It was cornerback Bradley Fletcher coming up with his first interception of his young career.

It was safety Darian Stewart playing through a quad injury in place of Atogwe and holding his own.

Up and down the roster, everybody contributed and everyone found a way to make plays when the Rams needed them most.

And, perhaps above all, it was the emergence of Bradford in the second half who put the Rams over the top. In the closing 30 minutes, Bradford was 11-of-17 for 146 yards as he led the Rams on four scoring drives behind an offensive line that controlled the line of scrimmage in the final quarters.

It was a long awaited win for all of the Rams but it was the way in which they did it that left them most optimistic about what the rest of the season had in store.

“I think a win is a win but winning in this fashion shows that this team can deal with adversity,” Jackson said. “We can play with a lead and our defense faced a very talented offense and did a good job, especially in the red zone holding them to 3 points. I think if we were to win the game and could choose to either to win by a substantial lead or in this fashion, I think this fashion does more for our confidence.”

Game No. 4 – vs. Seattle – Rams 20, Seahawks 3

Riding the momentum from their first win of the season, the Rams entered their second divisional game and second consecutive home game with confidence as rival Seattle came to town.

In a game that was never all that close, the Rams punished the Seahawks with Bradford lighting up the skies and a defensive that was nothing short of dominant.

“I think it’s a huge win for us, especially coming off last week, a win versus Washington,” Bradford said. “I think everyone kind of wanted to see if we could validate that and see if we could put two together or if that was just a fluke that we happened to catch them on an off-night.  So to come out here and play the way we did and get a win against a divisional opponent and move to 2-2, I think it’s huge.”

The Rams did indeed even their record at 2-2 and moved into territory that had been unfamiliar for some time, in jumping into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC West. In addition, the Rams shattered the Seahawks’ 10-game winning streak against the Rams.

Playing on a gimpy groin, Jackson posted 124 yards of total offense while Bradford threw for 289 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The defense took care of the rest, limiting Seattle to just 83 yards in the second half, forcing the Seahawks to go three and out five times and holding them scoreless over the final 30 minutes.

For the second week in a row, the Rams walked off the field not only knowing they played well but also with the reward that came with it.

In the process, they proved that they were no longer satisfied with simply winning a game. They wanted more. Much more.

“I thought the team came out and performed, like we’d talked about all week,” Spagnuolo said. “I was little bit concerned there during the week that the hunger was gone. That achieving one win would be all that they wanted to get because I knew down deep that wasn’t the case, but I was concerned about it. And being a divisional game, you need a little bit of intensity coming out of there, especially being at home. You have to win your division games at home. And I thought they came out with the right mindset. They came right out and played pretty good football, so I was happy about that.”