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Thread: Easy Pickings
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
MINNEAPOLIS — It's not as if the Rams lacked for chances. On 11 possessions Sunday in the Metrodome, St. Louis reached Minnesota territory.
With a revived commitment to the running game, the Rams controlled the ball 7 1/2 minutes longer than the Vikings did. They gained 78 more yards than Minnesota as well.
The St. Louis defense did its part, too, and that's something that hasn't been said too often this season. The Rams' defense had seven three-and-outs, and limited Minnesota to two of 12 on third down.
But five interceptions (by Ryan Fitzpatrick) can wipe out a lot of good intentions. And that's what happened Sunday in a 27-13 loss to Minnesota.
The defeat officially eliminated the Rams from playoff contention. Following games Sunday, five teams in the NFC have at least nine victories.
At 5-8, the best the Rams can do is 8-8. Even if Minnesota (8-5) loses its final three games to finish 8-8, the Vikings would clinch the sixth and final NFC playoff berth over St. Louis by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
"It's a situation I haven't quite gotten used to," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "I'm used to winning around here. Used to the locker room being a lot of fun."
But there is no joy in the Gateway City these days, at least not on the gridiron. For only the second time since 1998, there will be no postseason in St. Louis. In addition, the Rams will fall short of a winning season for the third time in the past four seasons. At the moment, the team goal is much smaller.
"Our small goal now is to win a game," Holt said. "We gotta win a game."
Just two weeks removed from his miracle comeback in Houston, rookie quarterback Fitzpatrick from Harvard played like, well, a rookie quarterback from Harvard.
On this day, there were no excuses offered for Fitzpatrick. There were no extenuating circumstances. It was just a very bad day at the office.
Seven Rams players caught at least one Fitzpatrick pass Sunday. Trouble was, four Vikings caught at least one as well. Playing against one of the league's better secondaries, Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions to Brian Williams, and one apiece to Darren Sharper, Fred Smoot and Antoine Winfield.
Before the game, at least one Minnesota player said the Vikings were licking their chops at a chance to get after the Rams' rookie quarterback. Turns out, that sentiment was well-founded. Fitzpatrick threw high, behind and short to his receiving corps.
"We were in and out of coverages," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "And with a young quarterback, when you're in and out of coverages it tends to confuse them a little bit and make them hold the ball a little bit."
It's not as if the Vikings did anything out of the ordinary in terms of coverage schemes, or blitzing.
"Nothing at all," Holt said. "We saw exactly what we saw on film."
Nonetheless, Fitzpatrick did seem to be slow making his reads and delivering the ball - and the Vikings made him pay all day.
"It was a disappointing day," Fitzpatrick said in understatement. "You have to give credit to the Vikings defense. I made some mistakes out there, and it seemed like every time I made a mistake, they capitalized on it.
"I can't put my finger on one thing that happened on all five of those (interceptions). It was a combination of things, but obviously, I've got to take responsibility. It's my fault for throwing those balls.
Even when Fitzpatrick was on target, the Rams' receiving corps didn't give him much help. Isaac Bruce dropped two passes he normally gets. Kevin Curtis couldn't hang on to what would have been a touchdown pass with 2 minutes 49 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.
"I think we protected the passer better than we have in a long time," interim head coach Joe Vitt said. "Turnovers are killing us. ... Some were bad throws. Some were catchable balls."
The game looked very winnable in the third quarter. After spotting Minnesota a 13-3 lead, the Rams tacked on a Jeff Wilkins field goal to end the first half, then drove 49 yards on six plays for a touchdown on their first possession of the second half. On a bootleg to his right, Fitzpatrick scrambled 14 yards for a TD, tying the score at 13-13.
"I really felt like we were controlling the game," offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "We cut back on some mistakes we made in the first half. I thought we were rolling. We had some opportunities."
The momentum was short-lived. Minnesota scored TDs on its next two possessions - the second of which was set up by a Williams interception, which was returned to the St. Louis 21.
Despite reaching Minnesota territory on four subsequent possessions, the Rams didn't score another point.
"When you get field position like that, you really have to capitalize - and we didn't do that," said offensive tackle Orlando Pace. "That's the frustrating part about it."
Re: Easy Pickings
RW this what i have been trying to get across ! The Rams D didn't play that bad! If the Offense would have done their job we would still be alive!