Dismal second half dooms Rams
BY JIM THOMAS | Posted: Monday, September 20, 2010 12:20 am

OAKLAND, Calif The Rams gained 12 count 'em 12 yards in the third quarter. The running game went AWOL. Quarterback Sam Bradford started firing blanks. And the defense couldn't get off the field.

All in all, the second half of Sunday's 16-14 loss to Oakland was just short of disaster. After a field goal by Sebastian Janikowski with 9 minutes, 50 seconds to play, Oakland led by nine points. Somehow it seemed like 90.

But even with everything going wrong, the Rams trailed only 16-14 after Bradford's second touchdown pass of the day to Mark Clayton came with 3:18 remaining.

Pinned at its 18 after the ensuing kickoff, Oakland gained only one yard on first down. On second down, no one was open on a pass play, so Raiders quarterback Bruce Gradkowski scrambled out of the pocket and threw the ball away. Just one more defensive stop and the Rams figured to get the ball back at around their 40, with 3 minutes of clock and two timeouts in their pocket.

But wait ...

There was a flag back where Gradkowski had thrown it out of bounds. Most eyes at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum had followed the flight of the ball, but not referee Tony Corrente. Replays showed that defensive tackle Fred Robbins shoved Gradkowski little more than a love tap. Gradkowski made like a World Cup soccer player and embellished the act. But the shove was clearly late.

Just like that, the Raiders had a first down at their 34. The Rams never got the ball back. They burned their remaining timeouts, and then crashed and burned in their second wrenching loss in as many weeks this season.

"I saw him break contain," said Robbins, who has otherwise been a bright spot on defense. "I felt I was close enough to him. I gave him a little shove, but I didn't think it was ... (Corrente) called it. You've just got to play smarter."

In the midst of all their other problems in the second half, the Rams didn't play smart. And that more than anything is what irked coach Steve Spagnuolo about the Rams' 44th loss in their last 50 contests.

"(Oakland) played well in the second half," Spagnuolo said. "But as I told the football team, you can't win in the NFL when you beat yourself."

Spagnuolo was referring to the Rams' penalties they had eight for 92 yards Sunday but specifically three personal foul flags on the defense in the second half.

With chants of "Bruce! Bruce!" cascading down from the crowd of 48,396, Gradkowski replaced an ineffective Jason Campbell to start the second half. He helped energize the crowd and his team early in the third quarter and was part of two field-goal drives and a TD march in the second half. At the end of the day he completed just 11 of 22 passes, with a TD pass, an interception and a pedestrian passer rating of 70.6.

But two of those three personal foul penalties helped keep Oakland scoring drives alive. And the third the one committed by Robbins helped prevent the Rams from getting the ball back.

"The disappointing thing is I have not seen or felt that this was an undisciplined football team," Spagnuolo said afterward. "But how can you not think that after a game like that?

"I think we've just got to learn that you can play tough and physical football, and be smart doing it, if you know what I mean."

Spagnuolo added: "It's too hard to win when you're giving them free 15-yard plays."

Of the three 15-yard flags, a roughing-the-passer penalty against safety Oshiomogho Atogwe was the least egregious. On an incomplete pass by Gradowski that would have left the Raiders with a third-and-6 at their 47, Atogwe came in hard but high on a blitz. In today's NFL, you simply can't hit the quarterback high that is, around the head and that's what Atogwe appeared to do. The resulting penalty helped put Oakland in position for the Janikowski field goal that made it a two-score game at 16-7.

One that occurred earlier, on the opening series of the second half, was a little harder to explain. On a first-down running play by Darren McFadden from the Oakland 31, Rams cornerback Ron Bartell was called for unnecessary roughness after an apparent altercation with an Oakland receiver.

The play was well away from the ball, didn't show up on a TV replay, and may not even show up on game tape. So what happened?

"It was a chippy game and I kind of lost my head a little bit," Bartell said. "It happens. That's it. It happens."

Bartell defined "chippy" as "a little shoving, a little face-mask grabbing, a little punching. But it's to be expected. You come to Oakland, they're a chippy team. You've got to be prepared to be chippy back. But we've got to keep our heads. We can't have those penalties, because at the end of the day, they cost us."

But if all of that was going on all day, why was the call made against Bartell?

"'Cause I got caught," Bartell said.

Just like the Rams were caught on the wrong side of the scoreboard again.