MNF Recap: Rams can’t make up their mind to win, end up losing

Week 2

Monday Sep 19, 2011

STL 16 TEN 28

Danario Alexander skies for a catch against the Giants
Danario Alexander skies for a catch, then gets up and runs for more yardage. Photo by Tim Farrell/THE STAR-LEDGER.

The St Louis Rams waited a long time to take the field on Monday night, and as they waited to re-present themselves on the national stage, three competing narratives swirled about the national media. “Josh McDaniels is going to transform this offense” vs “Steve Spagnuolo is putting his aggressive stamp on the Rams defense” vs “The Rams? Dude, they totally blow!”

Most frustrating for Rams fans? All three were true.

The Rams appeared to grossly outplay the Giants in the first half, with only a fluke play and a bad call by the referees enabling a 7-6 New York lead. The crowd was mostly indifferent as the Rams flew down the field against a defenseless Giants secondary toward a go-ahead score. The path to a dominating Rams victory seemed assured.

Until Josh McDaniels sent in a fatefully bad play-call: a halfback option to Cadillac Williams on a third and eight on the Giants’ 25 yard line. It was a play that, once witnessed, Rams fans will never be able to unsee.

Bradford’s pass was not a good one. Cadillac’s hands, so good in the passing game, were made of stone. His field awareness, something that is supposed to be as mature as a thirty-year-old scotch by this point in his NFL career, was lacking as the ball skipped away, an obvious fumble.

The Giants’ Michael Boley scooped up the ball and ran. That was all he had to do to seize the moment, and rob the Rams of every shred of positive momentum they had built up in this game, this offseason, this attempt at a nation-wide renewal of face.

Big risks, some rewards, but not enough payoff.

This is a hard one to wrap your head around. Rarely has a Rams loss this embarrassing been intermixed with so many positive plays, so much tantalizing potential. Sam Bradford abandoned the dink-and-dunk playbook and followed the new script of the games’s young QBs. He took risks.

Bradford sent deep passes toward Mike Sims-Walker, Danario Alexander and Brandon Gibson. He completed less than half of his passes for the first time in his career, and set a career high in passing yargage. The Rams gobbled up huge chunks of yardage on four scoring drives that ended with three short field goals and a single touchdown catch.

The Rams’ risk-reward formula seemed far outside the norm of a Spagnuolo team, but the result was the same in the red zone. Disregarding everything else that happened, the lack of ability to push the ball over the 0-yard line came back to kill the Rams’ hopes of victory. The team will spend a lot of time on the flight home thinking about that last yard. 

Battles won and lost. 

Meanwhile, the Giants gradually found their offensive identity as a sea of yellow flags — some earned, some highly dubious — propped up their sagging confidence. Eli Manning didn’t look remotely like a competent quarterback until his team had established a two-score cushion. Then, suddenly, he was aces. Where even the hint of an odd-man rush in the first half drove an Eli pass into the turf, a full big-blitz crashing down in the second half was handled with surgical precision.

Several individual Rams stood out for their play: Bradford, Alexander, and Sims-Walker on offense, Laurinaitis, Long, Quintin Mikell and rookie Robert Quinn on defense. Others stood out as well, but not for good reasons.

The Giants’ complete defensive line play reduced Cadillac and Norwood to non-factors and generally won more battles against Saffold and Smith than they lost. The Rams’ rookies on offense — Salas and Kendricks in particular — continued to struggle with their hands and their confidence as hot balls in crucial situations came their way, and fell harmlessly from their hands.

In the end, one storyline emerges. The Rams are an exciting team that is willing to take risks, but clearly still a work in progress. This game is lost and can’t be gotten back. But the amount of progress they make over the next few games will determine the shape and outcome of their season.