Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Fans Voices program. I've been given a device and six months of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the service. [Details]
Call it sloppy. Call it a glorified practice against a team in the Teddy Bridgewater draft sweepstakes. Call it an afterthought for St Louisans compared to the Cardinals' playoff series vs Pittsburgh and the opening weekend of Blues hockey.
The Rams will call it a win. And for a few embattled coaches, they'll call it another week of job security.
In looking at these two teams before the game, I saw a lot of similarities between the Rams and Jaguars and their struggles. I may have underestimated the true depth of the Jaguars' inability to play football. As it turns out, Las Vegas pegged it exactly right. The oddsmakers dialed up a seemingly ridiculous 12-point line favoring a 1-3 team that had been blown out two weeks in a row. The lowly Rams came home with a 34-20 win and those same oddmakers pocketed a good deal of cash, no doubt.
And yet, even the worst NFL team can still put a fright in the St Louis crowd.
Such was the case when Justin Blackmon streaked into a disinterested Rams secondary, running as free as a naked child in a country field. No matter how bad a quarterback Blaine Gabbert is at the pro level, he was able to make that throw. The Rams' first appearance on the NFL Red Zone channel on my Droid Maxx was chasing the back of Blackmon's jersey into the end zone.
That play in the first quarter was one of many that underscored the continuation of a series of frustrating problems in each phase of the game. Incomprehensible coverage calls and play. Unconscionable special teams penalties. Zero rhythm on offense that saw Sam Bradford open the second quarter with a single passing yard to his name.
If this game had continued on those same terms, if the Rams had not bounced back with a series of big plays, it would have been time for torches and pitchforks outside Rams Park. Vats of tar and bags of feathers were at the ready. And the only question would have been which assistant coach's name to call for first. (Special Teams coach John Fassel may still not be safe, after penalties wiped out 81 yards of Tavon Austin return yardage, and gave Jacksonville an additional 30 yards of field position. Yes, that's more than a full length of the football field that Coach Bones' unit cost his team.)
However, the Rams did bounce back. And give due credit to the game's heroes: Zac Stacy, Austin Pettis, and the captains of the Rams' defense.
Stacy single-handedly re-established a running threat, getting better than five yards per carry running behind the same offensive line that has bottled up Daryl Richardson and the rest of our backfield options over the past four weeks. He finished the day with 14 carries for 78 yards, though as Ben Frederickson notes, he was on the sidelines with a rib injury as the Rams ran out the clock. Here's hoping he can bounce back and take over the starter's job.
Pettis didn't catch a lot of passes, but was Bradford's most reliable target on the day. Three of his five targets turned into first downs or touchdowns. The fourth was a nine-yard catch on first and ten that set up a Rams TD. When the Rams' increased talent on offense is mentioned, players like Pettis and Kendricks are rarely mentioned. But they benefit from the coverage that other talent draws, combining for 8 catches on 10 targets for three touchdowns.
Chris Long and James Laurinaitis had difference-making plays during the game, backing up the Rams offense. Long racked up a strip-sack and two tackles for loss while working against a replacement-level offensive tackle. Laurinaitis led the team in tackles, and snuffed a Jacksonville scoring drive with an end zone interception after coach Gus Bradley inexplicably took points off the scoreboard to go for a fourth-and-goal try.
While Bradford had an uneven day in the pocket, he did stretch the field and force the opposing defense to play honest. And his numbers — 3 TD passes, no interceptions and a traditional quarterback rating north of 100 — will look better than the process of watching him get there.
For now, we'll hold off on calling this win "progress," though. Let's just call it what it is. A win. And let's move on.
I was unable to attend the game, or even watch its first half, being tasked with taking my five year old son to a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese. In the midst of the flashing lights, clattering game tokens and animatronic pop song butchery, having the NFL Red Zone channel playing on my Verizon Droid Maxx was my personal refuge. I have hit a few coverage dead spots around the St Louis area, including at the little coffeeshop outside my work, but the feed was strong today. Thank goodness.