Ultimately, this will go down in the eyes of most observers as a “trap” game that the Redskins barely escaped. Yes, both teams were 0-1 Sunday morning, but there’s 0-1 teams and then there are the “we need to completely re-learn how to win after the last 3 years” 0-1 teams like the St Louis Rams. However, in a week jammed full of upsets — the Jets over the Patriots, the Raiders over the Chiefs, the Bengals over the Packers, the Urlacher-less Bears over the Steelers, the Texans over the Titans — the Rams couldn’t muster up quite enough crazy to join the ranks.
Before the game, we predicted a close game, potentially a battle of field goals. And we watched as the Redskins went all Scott Linehan and crippled up in the red zone, keeping the Rams in the game long enough for us to actually mount an offensive attack.
We predicted that Laurent Robinson vs DeAngelo Hall could be a difference-making matchup. But little did we know that he would be the only Rams receiver capable of getting open against man coverage, or that Donnie Avery would have a complete nightmare of a game.
And we hoped that the Rams would commit more strongly to the run, and were rewarded with the two offensive highlights of the season so far — a 62-yard burst to open the second quarter, and subsequent touchdown pass for the first points of the season. SJ’s run was both glorious and unexpected, considering that the entire first quarter’s work on the ground totaled 3 yards on 4 carries.
Though Jason Brown didn’t finish the game to see his strategy against Albert Haynesworth come to fruition, the Rams’ running game executed it to perfection. From the second quarter on, the Rams were able to find or create running room against one of the most physical defensive lines they’ll face this season. And during a crucial stretch of the third and fourth quarter, they mounted a monstrous 13-play, 8-minute drive that included 8 rushes by SJ. By the end of it, Haynesworth was noticeably dogging it, standing up with one arm on his supposed blocker and giving up two or three steps like he was holding the door for the Queen of England.
By all rights, the Rams should have had their go-ahead and stay-ahead points at the end of that drive, but the star-crossed Avery got popped trying to stretch for the yardage to create a first-and-goal. The fumble killed the drive, but a nasty turn by our defense forced a three-and-out and a short punt, giving the Rams more downhill sledding — and the Redskins little breather.
However, and this proved to be the difference in the game, the Rams failed to go for broke. Two runs and an incompletion set up a 4th-and-2, a virtual marathon of a fourth down conversion, but one the Rams had to have with momentum on their side and only nine minutes left to make up the critical points. You can’t sneak for that distance, but you can earn it with an honest run, or even a play action fake. Haynesworth was still huffing and puffing, and the Rams should have smelled blood in the water.
With a make here, and points on the board, they could have erased Donnie Avery’s mistake. But instead, they employed an embarrassing strategical half-step … a faked fake-punt, intending to draw a bemused Redskins defense offsides for the critical yardage. Then, a real punt that sailed too far. The next time the Rams touched the ball on offense, they began inside their own five yard line with less than two minutes to play.
But for the Rams, many lessons were learned, including a master class in toughness delivered by the unlikeliest of tutors: our quiet-as-falling-snow quarterback, Marc Bulger. Bulger took no sacks, but suffered plenty of hits and took them with with moxie, including an elbow to the head from Haynesworth — if not a dirty play, at least a smudgy one — midway through the Rams’ marathon drive that left him in obvious pain. However, he continued to throw with accuracy and determination, but not for much distance in a gameplan sharply limited by the small windows of time he had upright in the pocket.
However many leadership points Bulger accumulated in the locker room, though, we may not know the full cost of this iron-man effort until the postgame injury reports are released. It appeared that Bulger hit his still-healing hand sharply on a Redskin helmet, following through on his penultimate throw of the game. After the break in the preseason, Bulger stated: “If this was the regular season, I would play with it.” He may have to live up to that promise, as it turns out.
And in the meantime, this quote from Bernie Miklasz should be printed out and posted in the locker of every offensive lineman charged with protecting #10: “The Rams have invested millions of dollars into the offensive line, and so far the stimulus package is failing.”
Or, to paraphrase Chris Rock: So the offensive line only got three penalties this week. So you scored a touchdown. So you came close. What do you want, a cookie?