It's their eighth loss in nine games, but the St. Louis Rams played their best game of the year against the undefeated, heavily favored Saints today. And, no, there's not a bit of sarcasm dripping from that statement. The Rams played hard to a man and took it right down to the wire. That was truly a moral victory. If the Rams can play like that down the stretch, they'll win more games. Guaranteed.
It's an unusual Sunday afternoon when you don't feel like pointing fingers. At various times late in the game, the Rams overcame plays that would have surely marked the end of the game any other week. Not this time. An 11-point lead suddenly seemed like it might not be enough.
Ok. I'm giddy with delight. Let's nab a bit of rationality before we celebrate. Why? Because the Rams could have won this game. Should have won this game. A mistake free outing is rare even for the best teams - case in point, New Orleans - but the Rams had a couple of moments where they could have sealed the deal.
- Special teams should have had the kick return that broke the tie to open the second half. It looked to me like they all overran the returner, leaving Josh Brown as the only guy who even got a hand on him.
- They had a tough time getting holes for Steven Jackson after the half, when the Saints made adjustments. Credit the Saints some for that, but a misdirection play could have helped a little.
- I'm not bashing Bulger. He played with heart. However, he seems to have lost his ability to adjust and find open receivers. He also made a few throws that would have been INTs had Sharper been playing.
- Randy McMichael, have your hands turned to stone?
- I realize that Pat Shurmur doesn't have much to work with, but some of the playcalling still befuddles me. Why the predictable call on 4th down? Why not open it up a little more with Avery and Gibson or Fells when the Saints were keeping SJ39 in check?
Steven Jackson - He made things happen. Though, unlike last week, he had plenty of help, help from...
The Offensive Line, Mike Karney and the TEs - This unit is really starting to come together. The right side was particularly fearsome. When Jason Smith, who has made the Rams first two round picks in this draft look absolutely brilliant, moves to the left side, Adam Goldberg deserves the first shot at RT. I think he'll earn it too.
Donnie Avery - This is the Donnie Avery we need to see on a weekly basis. Clearly the bye week helped, but credit the play calling for getting him down the field. Slightly better passing might have given Avery a 3 TD day.
Brandon Gibson - Hello, new guy. 7 catches, 93 yards, good God. He studied the routes and showed some nice hands this week, i.e. the grab on the ground that let the Rams take it to the very last play of the game. Too bad we only have three WRs now.
Marc Bulger - Not the Marc Bulger we used to know, but you can't question his efforts this week...notice the nice scramble for the first down at the end of the game?
Oshiomogho Atogwe - He's baaaaaack. Togs got his turnover mojo back today, getting a key INT, forcing a fumble and breaking up a 4th quarter TD pass to give the Rams new life with a touchback.
Jame Butler - Made up for an INT that turned into a safety by just getting an INT, no safety today. This guy played well, and when he and Atogwe are on their game, the Rams have some of the best safties in the league. If they had stud corners this would be a fearsome secondary.
The Defensive Line - They weren't perfect, but they made the best with what they had. They got pressure, they tipped passes, and Chris Long recording his second sack of the season.
I could go on and on, but these are the guys that really stood out to me. Who else belongs on this list? And finally, the game ball.
Game ball goes to...Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo. He had this team born again hard this week, playing damn near air-tight football. The passion, the commitment to what he's been selling....it all came together this week. This guy will have this team competing, by next season. Hats off to you coach, this was a win in every way but one. The next seven games should be some great football. The new era has arrived today.