Carolina intercepts Rams' playoff bid
By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
Sunday, Dec. 12 2004
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Just when the Rams needed him most, Chris Chandler came up
with probably the worst performance in his 17 NFL seasons.
And no one felt worse than Chandler, who threw six - that's right, a half dozen
- interceptions in the Rams' 20-7 loss to Carolina.
"After everything I did good last week to help this team win (against San
Francisco), I can take all the blame for this loss," Chandler said.
When Carolina cornerback Ricky Manning Jr. gains more yards off Chandler passes
than Isaac Bruce, you know it's a long day. But that's exactly what happened
Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Manning, a Rams nemesis last season in the playoffs, picked off two Chandler
passes and returned them for 46 yards. Bruce had three catches for 27 yards.
"Chris made some real poor 'judgment throws' where the ball didn't come out
when it should," coach Mike Martz said. "On some of those things he was
throwing the ball too quickly instead of letting the guy get into the hole."
Martz theorized that some of that may have been because Chandler was reverting
to old habits from past teams. The Rams ask their quarterbacks to approach
things differently in terms of how they go through their reads.
"A little bit," Chandler said. "But it's not anything that's too different. I
had no answers. No excuses, either. It was just not good."
The Rams entered the game in first place in the NFC West, holding the No. 4
seed in the playoffs. But at 6-7, the Rams are now on the outside looking in.
Seattle (7-6) took over the division lead by winning in Minnesota. And Carolina
(6-7), with its fifth straight victory, now holds the sixth - and final -
playoff spot. (It has the tiebreaker edge over the Rams because it defeated the
Rams head to head.)
But all that was on anybody's minds early Sunday evening were interceptions,
not playoff scenarios. The six interceptions were a career high for the
39-year-old Chandler - his previous high was four against San Diego, way back
Chandler's interception total tied for the second most in Rams franchise
history, trailing the seven thrown by Bob Waterfield against Green Bay in 1958
and Parker Hall against Green Bay in 1942.
The tone was set on the Rams' opening possession. Facing a third and 3 on the
Carolina 27, Chandler was flushed out of the pocket, had Dane Looker open over
the middle for a first down, but overthrew him with Manning coming down with
Two additional interceptions came on deflected balls. Two others came on
crossing patterns over the middle in which Chandler didn't appear to see
linebackers dropping back in coverage.
And one came in the closing seconds of the first half, when Chandler threw into
double coverage in the end zone and appeared to throw the ball behind Torry
Holt as well.
"This is really tasting bad right now," Chandler said. "The defense played
outstanding. Everyone played well enough that we should've won this football
game. I didn't hold up my end of the bargain. It's that simple. There's lots of
ways you can say it, but that's what happened out there."
The fact that Chandler threw two interceptions in the red zone continued a
disturbing trend for the Rams. All told, nine Rams interceptions have come in
the red zone - with eight of the nine coming from the 7-yard line and in.
While Chandler's description of the Rams defense as "outstanding" may be a
stretch, that unit played well enough to win Sunday, getting out of several
tight jams in the second half, and keeping the Rams close.
"Too bad they don't (count) those, huh?" linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said. "It's
either win or lose, so that's all that matters in the league."
No, close doesn't count. Carolina scored on its first two possessions to take a
14-0 lead, going three for three on third-down conversions in the process. But
despite all those Rams turnovers, the Panthers managed only two additional
field goals and were held scoreless in second half.
Still, the Rams could get nothing going offensively, save for a 75-yard
touchdown pass from Chandler to Holt with 6 seconds remaining in the opening
Martz passed on a couple of field-goal opportunities, which in theory could
have cut the Carolina lead to 20-13:
With no timeouts and 10 seconds remaining in the first half, Martz
passed on a 46-yard field goal attempt by Jeff Wilkins to take a shot at the
end zone. Had that pass fell incomplete, Martz then planned to kick a field
goal. But the result was that INT into double coverage.
"That's why in the playoff game last year, double overtime, that's why you
don't do that stuff to win a championship," Martz said. "Do you understand what
I'm saying to you all? Because those are the things that do happen."
Last season, Martz was roundly criticized for NOT taking a shot in the end zone
at the end of regulation in the double-overtime playoff loss to Carolina.
Martz also passed on a 45-yard field goal early in the fourth
quarter. Instead, he sent Arlen Harris up the middle on fourth and 2, with
Harris pinned for a one-yard loss by former Rams linebacker Mark Fields.
"I felt like we had to get seven at that point," Martz said.
It was the ninth straight carry on the drive by Harris, who replaced the
injured Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk in the starting lineup Sunday.
The only other glimmer of hope for the Rams offense came early in the third
quarter when a dazzling 52-yard run-and-catch by Bruce was nullified by a
holding penalty against offensive guard Adam Timmerman.
"They had a (stunt) on, and I was just trying to get in front of the guy,"
Timmerman said. "I didn't know if Andy (McCollum) was there or not, so I'm
trying to do whatever I can to get the guy from getting to the quarterback."
It was that kind of day for the Rams. And it has been that kind of season.