NFL@L.A.: Wrap-up

Wrap-up: 49ers 34, Rams 27

January, 1, 2012
Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams during their Week 17 game at the Edward Jones Dome, a 34-27 victory for San Francisco:

What it means: The 49ers played to win in securing the NFC's second seed in the playoffs and the first-round bye that goes along with it. Securing the bye was hugely important for the 49ers given their injury situation. Coach Jim Harbaugh showed how much this game meant to the team. He allowed Patrick Willis to play for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury. He approved a fake field goal when the 49ers led by 10 points late in the third quarter. The 49ers needed to play well because the Rams put together a furious comeback -- a potential last stand for coach Steve Spagnuolo. The Rams emerged with the No. 2 overall choice in the 2012 draft when Indianapolis also lost.

What I liked: Both teams played aggressively to win. Even the interception St. Louis threw on an ill-fated trick play showed Spagnuolo wasn't going to go quietly in what could have been his final game. The 49ers adjusted to their personnel issues by making Vernon Davis a bigger part of the passing game. Davis topped 100 yards. The fake field goal they executed was brilliant for the way it tricked the Rams into overlooking Michael Crabtree's presence on the field as a wide receiver. The Rams, meanwhile, put up a great fight in coming back from a 27-10 deficit even though they lost Steven Jackson to injury. Kicker Josh Brown provided a perfect onside kick that the Rams recovered. Third-string quarterback Kellen Clemens found Brandon Lloyd for the touchdown that pulled St. Louis within 34-27. And the 49ers, though reeling in the final minutes, came through with the defensive play they needed when NaVorro Bowman sacked Clemens and knocked him from the game with a leg injury at the 2:46 mark.

What I didn't like: Rams rookie tight end Lance Kendricks showed great promise in training camp, but his regular-season struggles continued in this game. The pass Kendricks dropped near the first-down marker with 6:15 left in the first half left the Rams in a third-and-10 situation. They fumbled the snap on their next play, setting up the 49ers to stretch their lead from 17-7 to 20-7. The 49ers gave up a rushing touchdown for the second week in a row. Willis, playing for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury Dec. 4, could not get around Rams tight end Stephen Spach when Jackson broke through the line for a 27-yard gain. The injury to Clemens was horribly unfortunate, but also an indication of the protection problems the Rams have had all season. The 49ers' defense, though facing the most limited offense in the NFL, blew a chance to set a franchise record for lowest points per game allowed. They needed to allow 15 or fewer points to break the 1976 team's NFL-era franchise record. They needed to allow 13 or fewer points to break the all-time franchise record, set in the AAFC era.

What's next: The 49ers have a week off before playing in the NFC divisional playoff round. That game will be at Candlestick Park. The Rams hold the second overall choice in the 2012 NFL draft.

Wrap-up: Rams 13, Browns 12

November, 13, 2011

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 13-12 road victory over the Cleveland Browns in Week 10:

What it means: The Rams improved to 2-7 and made it impossible for the San Francisco 49ers to clinch the NFC West title with victories in Week 10-11. Their second victory of the season put them two games ahead of still-winless Indianapolis for those charting whether the Rams could finish with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft. The Rams' special teams earned some redemption after a rough game last week. The Browns' inability to execute a clean snap for the go-ahead field goal proved costly.

What I liked: Brandon Lloyd continued to provide the Rams with the top-shelf receiving threat they've been lacking in recent years. The one-handed grab he made along the sideline comes to mind. The Rams lead the NFL in dropped passes this season and haven't been able to make the spectacular play. Lloyd is changing those dynamics. His touchdown reception helped the Rams take a 10-9 lead into halftime. Steven Jackson continued running with authority, plowing over defenders and even teammates when necessary. He topped 100 yards rushing for the third game in a row. Newly signed linebacker David Nixon forced Josh Cribbs to fumble during a fourth-quarter punt return, setting up the Rams inside the Cleveland 30-yard line.

What I didn't like: Bradford struggled with tipped passes and had one of them picked off by Scott Fujita. With Jackson and Lloyd performing at a high level, Bradford should be more productive even at less than full strength. This was his 12th game in a row with fewer than two touchdown passes. Injuries were also a downer for the Rams in this game. Left tackle Rodger Saffold did not return after suffering a blow to the head. Bradford, playing with a bad left ankle, left the game for one play. Safety Darian Stewart, one of the team's top young defenders, suffered a neck injury in the second half and left the game. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui left with a knee injury.

What's next: The Rams are home against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 11.

Wrap-up: Cardinals 19, Rams 13 (OT)

November, 6, 2011

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals following the Cardinals' 19-13 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 9:

What it means: Rookie Patrick Peterson is becoming a legend already after his 99-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Cardinals an overtime victory. This was his third punt return for a touchdown in eight games and it came when the Cardinals were desperate for a victory. The last time they won, against Carolina in Week 1, his punt return score was the difference. In the bigger picture, this game hurts Arizona's chances for securing a higher choice in the draft, but the payoff was sweet for the Cardinals.

What I liked: Calais Campbell continued to demonstrate his value on the field-goal block team. His third career block made sure the game went to overtime. Campbell also dominated from his spot at right defensive end. The Cardinals got No. 2 receiver Andre Roberts more involved in the offense. Adrian Wilson made an aggressive play in the Rams' backfield to foil a third-and-1 rushing attempt, forcing the Rams to settle for a field goal and a 6-3 lead. Arizona's John Skelton made a good touch pass to Larry Fitzgerald for the tying 13-yard touchdown in the final five minutes. ... Sam Bradford toughed it out on his sprained ankle, a starting point in his return to the Rams' lineup. Steven Jackson continued his physical running and topped 100 yards on the ground for the second week in a row. He has at least 96 yards in three of his last four games and at least 70 in all four. Rams rookie Greg Salas caught seven passes. Rams safety Darian Stewart was again active, getting a hand on passes well down the field.

What I didn't like: Skelton became the first NFL player since Aaron Rodgers in 2008 to take two safeties in the same game. Both were avoidable. Both were costly in a low-scoring game dominated by defense. The Cardinals had 58 yards and four first downs in the first half. Beanie Wells did not appear healthy and had a hard time getting anything going against the Rams' defense. Bradford took too many sacks. Salas suffered what appeared to be a serious leg injury and was carted off the field. Later, medical personnel carted off Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams after a scary collision that appeared to put his head and neck area in jeopardy. Peterson continued having problems with penalties, including with the game on the line.

Controversial call: The Rams went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 33 with 1:48 remaining and did not get it. They were within range for a 51-yard field-goal attempt. Their kicker, Josh Brown, had made all three attempts Sunday (48, 37, 41 yards). Brown had made 15 of 19 tries from 50-plus yards since signing with the Rams. Field conditions in Arizona appeared excellent. Yes, Jackson was running well, but that was partly because the Rams had done a good job mixing up their play calls. Arizona knew what was coming in this situation. The fact that Arizona blocked the Rams' field-goal try later in the game doesn't validate Steve Spagnuolo's decision.

What's next: The Cardinals face the Eagles in Kevin Kolb's return to Philadelphia. The Rams visit Cleveland.

Wrap-up: Packers 24, Rams 3

October, 16, 2011

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 24-3 road defeat to the Green Bay Packers in Week 6:

What it means: The Rams fell to 0-5 despite showing small signs of improvement. They probably haven't hit bottom in the standings, either, given that Dallas (road) and New Orleans (home) are next on the schedule. But expectations were low against the unbeaten Packers. This result could have been much worse.

What I liked: Sam Bradford was much more efficient early than in previous games, a positive step for the offense. Sacks weren't nearly the problem they had been previously this season. Rookie tight end Lance Kendricks snapped out of a slump with a 45-yard reception. The Rams' coaching staff made the right call by benching Mike Sims-Walker, holding him accountable for a drop-filled performance against Washington before the Rams' bye. That was the right call and a good reason to give younger receivers a chance. Bradford topped 300 yards and Steven Jackson threatened 100 yards on the ground. The Rams finished with 424 yards.

What I didn't like: Bradford threw an interception in the end zone when the Rams finally had a good scoring chance in the third quarter. He had thrown only one pick all season. Left tackle Rodger Saffold was shaken up late in the game. I'm not going to dwell on negatives in this game because they were relative negatives. Green Bay should have won big -- and arguably bigger than 24-3.

What's next: The Rams visit the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7.

Wrap-up: Redskins 17, Rams 10

October, 2, 2011
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' home loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 4:

What it means: This would have seemed unfathomable not long ago, but the 2011 Rams have often appeared as bad or worse than the 2009 team that finished with a 1-15 record. They are 0-4 and reeling heading into their bye week, with a trip to Green Bay waiting for them on the other side. It's tough to blame the Rams' problems solely on injuries. In other words, they are not Danny Amendola and a cornerback away from contending. The Rams will need to dominate their division schedule late in the season to dig their way out.

What I liked: The Rams did not fall behind immediately, as they had against Baltimore a week earlier. This game was closer than that one. The Rams' pass defense prevented Rex Grossman from enjoying the spectacular success Joe Flacco enjoyed when repeating hitting deep passes for touchdowns. Cornerback Justin King, beaten deep by the Ravens, picked off a pass in the second half when the Rams needed a boost. Sam Bradford's 15-yard scoring pass to Steven Jackson in the fourth quarter made this a one-score game with 5:45 remaining. James Laurinaitis followed with another interception for the Rams, setting up in Washington territory in the final minutes.

What I didn't like: Rarely did the Rams pose a threat on offense until it was nearly too late. Bradford found himself under pressure again, too often unable to find anyone open. He continued taking far too many sacks. And when he did find receivers down the field, they too often couldn't make plays for him. Steven Jackson's return to a more prominent role made little impact. Jackson had trouble getting anything going on the ground when the Rams needed production early in the game. The defense wasn't all that bad on the touchdown reception Santana Moss made to open the scoring. Moss made a good play on the ball. The Rams don't have anyone making those types of above-average-but-not-great plays. Meanwhile, the Rams' disappointing run defense continued to have problems, enabling Ryan Torain's fourth career 100-yard rushing performance. The Rams' defense would be in much better position if the offense would score a few points on occasion.

Told you so: The Rams shrugged off concerns about their talent at receiver. It was going to be more about Josh McDaniels' system than raw talent at wideout. But with so many returning receivers coming off injuries, the Rams could have done more to protect themselves. It's not like having a healthy Amendola would strike fear in opposing defenses. The Rams need more offensive firepower.

What's next: The Rams have a bye in Week 5 before visiting Green Bay in Week 6.

Wrap-up: Ravens 37, Rams 7

September, 25, 2011
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' Week 3 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in the Edward Jones Dome:

What it means: The Rams are 0-3 and falling far short of reasonable expectations, even when taking into account significant injury issues. They are 0-2 at home and already two games behind in the NFC West race. Their late-season schedule is packed with division games, so there's no sense in writing off the Rams at this early stage. But there have been too few signs the Rams are close to getting things going. They are floundering. This was a big step backward for a team already heading in the wrong direction to open the season.

What I liked: Steven Jackson was active for the first time since suffering a quadriceps strain early in the season opener. Rookie first-round pick Robert Quinn had two quarterback hits, as did Chris Long. Long now has three sacks in three games. Sam Bradford found Brandon Gibson for a 34-yard scoring reception.

What I didn't like: The Rams looked like a lost cause on both sides of the ball. This was the third consecutive game a Rams' opponent has returned a Bradford fumble for a touchdown. The Rams' 32nd-ranked run defense continued giving up far too many yards, including runs of 53 and 28 yards. Their pass defense was worse, making Ravens rookie Torrey Smith look more like retired Rams legend Torry Holt. Smith's three first-quarter scoring receptions from Joe Flacco covered 74, 41 and 18 yards, blowing open the game. Smith had never caught a pass in the regular season before Sunday. He caught four passes for 20 yards during the preseason. Sure, the Rams have injury-related issues in their secondary. The occasional breakdown is going to happen. This performance was inexcusable.

Playing from behind: The Rams' offense has yet to take a snap this season while the team led its opponent on the scoreboard.

Disappearing Danario: Rams receiver Danario Alexander made big plays downfield against the New York Giants on Monday night. The Rams targeted him frequently in this game, with disappointing results.

What's next: The Rams face the Washington Redskins at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 3.



Philip Rivers
570 379 4286 31
B. Oliver 160 582 3.6 3
R. Mathews 74 330 4.5 3
M. Floyd 52 856 16.5 6
A. Gates 69 821 11.9 12