The Rams make talk of the playoffs premature

Week 10: Rams (4-4) at 49ers (2-6)

Nov 14, 2010 3:00 CST

20   23 RecapPlay by PlayVideo

Joe freaking Nedney ices it. Photo by Ezra Shaw, Getty Images

You could characterize this frustrating, mistake-filled loss so many different ways. Either a sign of progress, or a reminder of how far the Rams still have to go. A single heartbreaking loss or a staggering portrait of a season that has been tantalizingly close to great. A requiem on the offensive coordinator and head coach, or … a reason for self-induced amnesia.

@RamsHerd I just came to. Banged my head against the wall after a phantom pi call gave 49ers ball at 20. Don’t remember ne thing after.

That wall, whether figurative or literal, has been a real problem. The Rams have already hit it three times in their last three road games, each one with a chance to jump above .500 and take sole possession of 1st place in the division. They’ve hit that wall hard, harder, hardest, but landed on the near side each time. But until they actually get over, around, or through that mental block, let’s officially declare a moratorium on talk of the playoffs, shall we?

The Rams did a lot of good work in building a 17-10 lead, and that work is worthy of a nicer post than the one I’m writing now. Chris Long had a transcendent game, abusing Vernon Davis and Anthony Davis all afternoon, and the Rams defense as a whole didn’t give up a single third-down conversion all game. Steven Jackson bulled for 148 total yards and a TD, gaining half that yardage as a receiver, and Sam Bradford was throwing darts all day long. But they wasted the fruits of that labor with a series of mental miscues and missed opportunities.

Turning Point #1: Rams fail to get points from a blocked punt

49ers OLB Manny Lawson apparently wasn’t aware who #50 on the Rams was, or that he needed to be blocked on a punt try by Andy Lee from deep in their own territory. So the little fireplug Bryan Kehl came free and got a hand on Lee’s punt, which traveled only 18 yards and set the Rams up on the outskirts of field goal territory. Rams are up 17-10, and have a prime opportunity to make this a two-score game, and turn the crowd firmly against their home team.

However, they could make only two yards of forward progress as both Steven Jackson and Laurent Robinson dropped catchable passes on 2nd and 3rd down. It was Jackson’s only drop of the game; one of four for Robinson, though, who will be wearing goat horns for yet another week. But this wasn’t as damning as what happened next.

As Spagnuolo debates whether to throw a challenge flag on Robinson’s near-catch, the Rams’ special teams unit dawdles onto the field for an apparent 51-yard field goal try. But the play clock winds down to zero, and sits on empty for several seconds before the snap … which goes directly to Brown, who then pooch-punts the ball inside the 10?!? It was a WTF moment for the ages.

Look, coach, it’s really simple. Kick the damn field goal. Get the damn points.

Rams go 3-and-out four consecutive times as their lead dwindles and disappears.

All day long, the Rams were passing to run the ball, lining up four wide to clear out zones and using short hitches and screen passes to make manageable gains. So when I tell you that the Rams passed the ball on 8 of their 12 offensive snaps in these four fateful drives, understand when I say that they were being way too conservative.

Each of these passes either classified as a dink or a dunk. Short left. Short middle. Short right. Not one pass traveled even ten yards in the air. This was the west coast offense’s equivalent of “three yards and a cloud of dust.” This was essentially 12 consecutive running plays, an attempt to run the clock out on the entire fourth quarter, holding a single score lead.

Do you know how much of the fourth quarter these four drives ate up? Not even six minutes. Was anyone surprised when the Niners came roaring back to put ten points on the board and take the lead with 2:10 to play? I can’t say I was.

This isn’t how games are won, coach. It certainly isn’t how playoff teams are made. You can’t put one bullet in a guy and crouch over him, feeling his pulse, hoping that he lays there politely and dies.

Rams can’t cover, tackle Frank Gore

Frank Gore had 3 catches all game, totaling 67 yards. Amazingly, all three came in one drive, erasing all the bad penalty karma that his team had suffered all day long. He broke four tackles and drew a face mask penalty on a 31-yard run after the catch to put his team on the Rams’ side of the 50. And he came out of the backfield completely uncovered on two consecutive plays to make a first down out of 3rd-and-32 and 4th and 18.

On the very next play, Troy Smith found Michael Crabtree for the go-ahead score. Sorry, I don’t have any pithy coaching advice here.

Daniel Fells lets victory fall from his fingertips.

Give props to the rookie: Sam Bradford very nearly willed his team to victory despite all these harbingers of doom. He ran a clinic in the two-minute drill, moving his team from his own 15 to the 49ers’ 15 in 8 plays spanning 95 seconds. It’s pretty amazing what this kid can do when the hobble is taken off his legs. But unfortunately, all he can do is throw the ball; he can’t catch it for his receivers, too.

Rolling out on 2nd down, he found Daniel Fells with a step on Takeo Spikes, and put the ball on a rope, hitting Fells right on the hands, perfectly in stride, with nothing but a balmy San Francisco breeze between Fells and the end zone.

A catch here bails out the coaches; it was a perfectly fine play call, and a great throw. And with under 35 seconds left on the clock, a score here silences the crowd and keeps control of their playoff fate in the Rams’ hands.

But there’s that word again. “Playoffs.” A dirty word right now. And like this pass from Bradford to Fells, control of our playoff destiny has hit the turf.

The refs call pass interference…

Just stop. Stop it already. The wall has doled out enough punishment for one night.