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    Anatomy of a Comeback

    Wednesday, January 5, 2005

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    In almost every great comeback in every major sport, the story is almost always the same. The situation, the result and especially the hero are usually the same.

    Take any great comeback the Denver Broncos ever had and quarterback John Elway was prominently involved. Same with San Francisco and Joe Montana and ditto for Dan Marino and the Dolphins.

    When the Rams found themselves down by 17 with 8:42 to go against Seattle on Oct. 10, any hope of a comeback appeared to rest squarely on the shoulders of the usual cast of characters. A long touchdown pass to receivers Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt or a scintillating play by running back Marshall Faulk would usually be in the offing.

    But the usual suspects were not the heroes, not on that day. Instead, young receivers Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis filled the roles of Bruce and Holt. Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna made the catch of his life. Quarterback Marc Bulger was the driving force, bouncing back from a rough three quarters and emerging as the kind of clutch player teams dream of having behind center.

    A 27-10 deficit turned into a stunning 33-27 win. It was the type of win that can turn a season that could have been ruined by a devastating loss to New Orleans two weeks prior into another division championship season. And this time, the story wasn’t written about the guys you would expect.

    Rams’ coach Mike Martz said many of his lesser-known players got a lesson in how to win big games on that day.

    “There were a lot of young players that learned how to compete, and stay in it,” Martz said. “We had some players show up in this game that made plays to help us win this game. Guys like McDonald, Curtis, of course Brandon with his touchdown catch.”

    The lesson learned that day by guys who before the game were role players went beyond any that could be gleaned in a film room.

    Seattle kicker Josh Brown booted a 34-yard field goal with 8:47 to play to give the Seahawks a 27-10 lead. At that point, any chance of a comeback for St. Louis seemed to sink away into Puget Sound. Instead, the Rams erupted like Mount St. Helens.

    On their ensuing possession, the Rams moved 66 yards on eight plays in 3:08 capped by Manumaleuna’s spectacular 8-yard touchdown catch in traffic. Kicker Jeff Wilkins’ extra point made it 27-17 with 5:43 left. It was a small glimmer of hope, but it was enough of an opening for St. Louis to take momentum.

    The defense earned a three and out, setting up a Seattle punt. The Rams took over on Seattle’s 41 after McDonald’s 39-yard punt return. St. Louis then connected on the quickest of quick strikes. Bulger threw a perfect, arcing spiral over the top of the Seahawks’ secondary to a streaking Curtis for a 41-yard touchdown. The one-play drive took all of seven seconds. The extra point made it 27-24 Seattle.

    The defense did its job again, forcing Seattle to punt with 1:25 to play. The Rams took over with 1:14 to play and Bulger went to work again. He hit receiver Dane Looker, another unlikely hero with a perfect 16-yard out pattern to set up Wilkins’ 36-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.

    By that time, it became almost certain the Rams were going to complete the stunning turnaround. It didn’t take long to finish it. St. Louis won the coin toss and five plays later, Bulger went for the win.

    After a sight adjustment at the line, Bulger dropped back and floated another perfect pass over the middle to McDonald, who ran right through the secondary for a 52-yard touchdown. The comeback and the game were over. The Rams won 33-27 and claimed soul possession of first place in the NFC West Division.

    McDonald said the play would always be one of his greatest football memories.

    “That’s the feeling I like,” McDonald said. “It’s something you dream about as a kid, doing something to end the game like that in a victory. Especially in a big game like that, a division game, and just to come back like that. It was a great victory for the team.”

    McDonald, Curtis and Manumaleuna all made plays, but it was evident after the game that none of it was possible without Bulger. He finished the game with a flourish. On the Rams’ final four possessions, including overtime, Bulger was 10-of-16 for 202 yards and three touchdowns.

    “I wish you all could know him the way I know him,” Martz said. “He does have ice in his veins, I swear he does. He just doesn’t ever get unnerved. He has got a short memory and he is excited about what he can do and the potential of what he can do in the passing game.”

    There is little doubt that Seattle will forget about the comeback anytime soon. The comeback ranks as the second best in the history of the league. It takes a bad first half to have a good comeback, but this one was a completely different beast.

    “I know the first half didn’t turn come out the way any of us wanted, but they didn’t give up,” Martz said. “When we went in at halftime, it was what we needed to do, it’s a step-by-step process, and here’s how we need to go about it, and they weren’t discouraged, and of course they were able to get the job done. When we had to make a play, somebody made a play.”

    Make plays they did, but on that day the names on the back of the jersey made the plays that best exemplified the resolve of the names on the front.



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  2. #2
    sbramfan Guest

    Re: Anatomy of a Comeback

    Wow, wasn't that catch by Manumaleuna vs. the Jets AMAZING!

    This article mentioned the catch of his life...maybe. This jet's one up the middle in double coverage was HUGE!

    Great throw by Bulger.

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