They were down. They were out.
Before players could recognize the sheer gruesomeness of what was unfolding, they found themselves on the wrong side of a 21-6 deficit late in the second quarter - an early blowout that was simply insurmountable for a league’s worst offense.
Then, it happened.
With resiliency, pride and a newly found sense of attitude, the St. Louis Rams showed that they would not quit, and proved that they are a vastly different team from previous years.
This is no longer a franchise that will lower its head and bow down at first sign of turbulence. For Jeff Fisher’s Rams, the game is not over until the clock reaches double zeros. On Sunday, the NFL took notice.
In all too familiar fashion, the Rams left the gate in a manner that likely had 100 percent of fans slamming their fists on the table. First play, first drive, ten seconds into the game, Danny Amendola fumbled the ball away, handing the Washington Redskins an easy go-ahead touchdown. I could not have imagined a more devastating beginning.
Sam Bradford effectively led the charge to answer, but a "hard to say" out of bounds call on third down left the Rams and Brandon Gibson without a tying touchdown. This was merely the "calm before the storm" of what can only be described as utter disappointment and disdain for the NFL’s replacement officials from Ram fans.
A few drives later, a Redskins’ possession was nearly a great one for the Rams defense. Just shy of forcing a three-and-out deep in Washington territory, quarterback Robert Griffin III scrambled right and stumbled out of bounds after contact with defensive end Eugene Sims. Needless to say, flags flew, leading to an unnecessary roughness call that allowed the drive to continue. Several plays later, RGIII ran it again, this time into the end zone. Surely the Rams would answer, right? Sort of.
Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola - who rebounded like a champion - were every bit as impressive as fans could hope for, moving the ball with excellence. To cap off a 13-play, 65-yard drive, the Rams found themselves at the goal line. To quickly sum up what happened next, Jackson started with the ball, dove for the line and a Washington defender came out of the pile with possession. That would have - kind of - been alright, had the play been justified. However, as the NFL rule book states, "all turnovers are to be reviewed." This one was not. Jeff Fisher was forced to use a challenge (which apparently should have been a penalty) and the play was reversed. Don't worry; I'm confused, as well.
Next, with the only logical play call being to hand to ball off to the workhorse back again, they did, sending him right behind right guard Harvey Dahl, and seemingly reaching the end zone. The only problem: no touchdown, no hands raised in the air and no points. This arguably should have been challenged, but it was not. Jackson subsequently spiked the ball in frustration and was flagged for un-sportsman-like conduct, moving the team from mere inches away to the 15-yard line. The Rams would settle for what was the second of three Greg Zuerlein field goals.
Obviously, the Redskins and their newly coveted franchise quarterback were not yet finished. After three up-and-down plays which netted a first down, Ram fans were given an all too familiar glimpse of the past. RGIII faked the hand-off, dropped back, planted his foot and hurled the ball down field. Deep in Ram territory - burning roookie corner back Janoris Jenkins - ran Leonard Hankerson, who effortlessly caught the ball and danced for a 68-yard touchdown. "Here we go again," echoed throughout the St. Louis fan base.
The scoreboard read Rams - 6, Redskins - 21 with just over six minutes remaining before halftime.
What happened next seemed absolutely magical. The team answered, responded and answered again, all before the mid-time break. Remember that Sam Bradford guy that the Rams drafted a few years ago? As it turns out, he's pretty good, both at managing a game and taking control of it. That "cabin fever" theory now seems more like home, sweet home.
In response to Griffin's marks on the stat sheet, Sam was ready for his own. Several plays after connecting for Danny Amendola's longest play of the day (56 yards), Bradford found - you guessed it - "Blankie" in the slot for a quick 1-yard touchdown pass. For a second, I thought I was watching 2010 highlight film.
Surely the defense would not allow itself to be shown up by the offense, right? Right. One week after forcing three first-half interceptions in Detroit, the unit finally came away with Robert Griffin III's first in his young career, when Cortland Finnegan picked the ball off at mid-field. Unfortunately, time was left in short supply, and a holding call negated any chance for a final attempt at the end zone, but "Gee-Zee," "The Leg" came through with his last of three field goals.
*Special shout out and thanks to Mike Shanahan for "icing" him on the initial try, which was wide left.
Last Monday, Jeff Gordon of the Post Dispatch gave the Rams extra credit just for posting some of their highest marks in over a year. Today, it makes no difference, because they made honor roll and Dean's list. Some may call it drinking the Kool-Aid; I call it being 1-1 for the first time since 2006. Yeah, that's right.
Clean Even slate.
For the first time that I can recall, the Rams began a second half like a winning football team, making the necessary adjustments and keeping absolute focus. St. Louis kicked the ball off, forced a quick three-and-out and capitalized. One play after a big gain to Steve Smith, every fans' favorite receiving enigma, Brandon Gibson, hauled in a 34-yard touchdown, giving the Rams their first lead in the game. If you are still not a fan of Gibson, too bad. He is Bradford's No. 2 target, and has looked every bit the part.
Of course, not all would remain so wonderful. Griffin marched down the field and, again, ran the ball himself to retake the lead. The following Rams possession, after a huge 53-yard gallop by Daryl Richardson took them inside Washington's red zone, Sam Bradford's otherwise perfect day was tarnished. Locked on to Steve Smith in the back of the end zone, Sam tossed the ball directly into the waiting arms of former Ram and future Hall of Famer, London Fletcher.
Besides a few costly turnovers and head-scratching penalties, the Rams came away from this contest with a stellar straight 'A' performance. There was not much negativity to recall after the fact, only the lingering heart-pounding anticipation that had fans on the brink of panick.
The defense dominated to pull Sam out of the hole which he had just dug himself into, forcing another quick three-and-out. To keep the ball in Redskin territory, tight end Matthew Mulligan - who had the game of his life - blocked the ensuing punt. Just several plays later, Mulligan was found standing all alone in the back of the end zone for his first career touchdown and Bradford's third on the day.
The rest is pretty much self-explanatory. As they seemingly always do, St. Louis nearly found a few ways to cough up what should have been a guaranteed win in the fourth quarter. With three minutes remaining, and Steven Jackson sidelined with a groin injury, Richardson took the hand-off and London Fletcher took it away. All the Redskins needed was a field goal to tie, and, with 2:40 left in the game, that seemed like a certainty.
Fortunately for the Rams, one of the league's biggest trash talkers and instigators now resides in St. Louis. Cortland Finnegan, after making the tackle on Josh Morgan to save a first down, once again got in his opponents head. Morgan jumped to his feet and threw the ball right at Finnegan. Yellow flags flew right back.
What should have been a typical 47-yard field goal attempt now stretched back 62. Good thing the Redskins don't have Greg Zuerlein. Billy Cundiff never had a chance.
Now the Rams must prepare for a difficult trip to Chicago to face an angry Bears squad. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs this win to fend off critics, and a powerful defense led by Brian Urlacher will do anything to assure that he gets it. It's never right to look at injuries in a positive light - especially when your team knows their damages all too well - but it comes as decent timing that the Bears will likely be without their top offenseive weapon, Matt Forte, who appears to have a high ankle sprain. We'll take it, right?