Big-play Rams beat Bucs


BY JEFF GORDON
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
Monday, Oct. 18 2004

Ah, big plays.

The Rams made them on offense and defense while dispatching the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers 28-21 on Monday Night Football.

Sure, they gave up some yards to the mediocre Brian Griese-led Buccaneers
offense. That was a bit disconcerting. And Rams quarterback Marc Bulger
suffered a couple of costly turnovers.

But defensive end Leonard Little recovered a fumble that set up one touchdown;
safety Adam Archuleta forced a Buccaneers fumble and returned it for a
touchdown; cornerback Jerametrius Butler intercepted a pass in his end zone;
on the final Buccaneers drive, safety Aeneas Williams stripped receiver Tim
Brown of the ball and Butler recovered it.

And, oh yeah, Bulger went up top on a couple of touchdown passes to Torry Holt.

So the Rams built on last Sundayís comeback win at Seattle with a solid
home-field performance on the big stage.

At 4-2, the Rams lead the NFC West. The hapless Miami Dolphins are up next.

Just think, things looked so bleak just a few weeks ago . . .


THE GOOD


* The Rams come out throwing to Marshall Faulk and handing the ball to Steven
Jackson. There is nothing wrong with using two feature backs at once,
especially when they have those skills.


* Talk about timing and touch! Bulger led Holt beautifully on a 52-yard
touchdown pass; when Holt made his last move and turned for the ball, there it
was. In a nanosecond, the Rams led 7-0.


* Back off Holt and heíll catch a little curl pass, then beat you with a move
for a 23-yard gain. And Tampa Bay is supposed to have a GOOD secondary.


* On their second defensive series, the Rams stuffed Michael Pittman twice to
force a three-and-out. That was more like it.


* Hello, Mr. Little! After getting a little eager and jumping offsides, he
pounced on a Griese fumble to give the Rams the ball at the Tampa Bay 5. That
was a HUGE moment in the game.


* We loved coach Mike Martzís decision to take his shot on fourth and goal
from inside the Tampa Bay 1. Faulk muscled the ball over the goal line with a
nice second effort and the Rams tied the game at 14.


* With the Buccaneers poised to take the lead in the third quarter, Archuleta
pried the ball away from Pittman, then got up with the ball and ran 93 yards
for an enormous defensive touchdown.

Suddenly the Rams led 21-14.


* On a third-and-14 play, a screen pass to Jackson went for 28 yards as he
showed his moves, acceleration and power in one flourish.


* How about Bulgerís 36-yard touchdown pass to Holt? That was a quality deep
throw into the end zone on an aggressive third-and-four play.


* Yes, that was Erik Flowers benefiting from a blitz to tunnel in for a
fourth-quarter sack on Griese.


* Another blitz Ė this time safety Rich Coady went flying in on Griese Ė
forced an incompletion. Then the Rams dropped eight men back into coverage and
cornerback Jerametrius Butler picked off Griese in the end zone to help seal
this victory.

* Receiver Kevin Curtis showed his speed after catching a pass, Then, he
showed it again on an end-around run. He and shifty Shaun McDonald had a big
impact once again as Air Martz diversified.


THE BAD


* Just when you had reason to believe in the Rams' special teams, the kickoff
coverage squad allowed Torrie Cox to bust a 59-yard return. That sent the
Buccaneers rolling toward a game-tying touchdown, scored by Mike Alstott
walking in from a yard out.


* The Rams knew the Buccaneers would come after Bulger, so they didnít want to
allow a possession-ending 12-yard sack just as they were closing in on scoring
position again.


* On third-and-five from midfield, the Rams cannot allow Griese to hit a
44-yard pass play to Michael Clayton. Since when is this kid Randy Moss?


* That set up a five-yard TD pass to running back Pittman, which gave the
previously punchless Buccaneers a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.


* Another third-and-long situation, another Buccaneers sack of Bulger to kill
a Rams possession . . . the protection schemes must be better.


* Cornerback DeJuan Groce wishes he had held onto a should-be interception
near the goal line five minutes into the second quarter. Fortunately,
Buccaneers kicker Martin Gramatica took him off the hook by blowing the ensuing
field goal attempt.


* Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna negated a key run with a holding penalty . . .
thatís the sort of mistake the Rams cannot have while trying to play catch up.


* Why would Jeff Wilkins put a kickoff out of bounds in the last two minutes
of a half? Tampa Bay got started at its 40 as a result, which put them a few
passes away from scoring territory.

Fortunately for him, Gramatica blew another field goal attempt and the game was
tied at halftime.


THE UGLY


* McDonald busted an 82-yard punt return, a rare electrifying moment for
special teams . . . and of course, it was nullified by an illegal block penalty
called on Dwight Anderson. So the Rams were backed up deep in their own zone
instead.


* Throwing off his back foot, Bulger threw an interception directly to
Buccaneers linebacker Ian Gold dropping back into coverage in the third
quarter. Gold returned it to the Rams 16 to put Tampa Bay in scoring position.


* Right tackle Grant Williams got dusted by defensive end Greg Spires for
another sack, but on this third-quarter breakdown Spires also stripped Bulger
of the ball.

Cohort Anthony McFarland recovered the ball and the Buccaneers punched the ball
into the end zone moments later on a bootleg pass to tight end Will Heller that
baffled Archuleta. Just like that, the game was tied 21-21.