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End zone remains foreign soil to top offense
First string still has not scored a touchdown
BY NORM SANDERS
ST. LOUIS - While they continue to insist the touchdowns will come, the St. Louis Rams instead relied on an aggressive defense and the accurate leg of kicker Jeff Wilkins.
Wilkins set a franchise record Sunday with six field goals and the Rams' defense produced five turnovers in an 18-10 win over the Denver Broncos.
"It was our defense that won the game, but there's no such thing as an ugly win," said Rams running back Steven Jackson, who ran for 121 yards on 22 carries.
Meanwhile the offense -- once the star attraction at the Edward Jones Dome -- remains a work in progress under new head coach Scott Linehan.
Linehan's first-team offense didn't score a touchdown in the preseason and came up empty Sunday on 12 possessions, including five trips inside the Broncos' 20-yard line.
"A win's a win," said Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who completed 18 of 34 passes for 217 yards. "Denver's a good football team, they were in the AFC championship (game) last year. Our defense definitely won it for us today, but at the same time we didn't turn the ball over."
Bulger knows touchdowns are better than field goals, so he discussed Wilkins' kicks in golf terms.
"The way I look at field goals is we went down and got par, par, par," Bulger said. "We've got to work on it, we're nowhere near where we need to be."
Among the bright spots on offense was the running of Jackson. He started strong, struggled at times in the middle and then finished strong again with 121 yards on 22 carries.
He did it against a defense that ranked second in the NFL against the run last season, one that helped spur a 13-3 record.
The Rams also ran the ball 28 times and threw 34 passes, showing more balance than the "Greatest Show on Turf" days of former head coach Mike Martz.
"My offensive line stuck with me a couple times in the game where they got the best of us on some drives," said Jackson, who broke loose for a 37-yard gain late in the fourth quarter that helped seal the win. "Hats off to Coach Linehan and the offensive coordinator, they stuck with the run. That's something we're not used to around here."
The Rams could have had at least three touchdowns at halftime thanks to great field position following turnovers.
But their opening drive stalled at the 8, they failed to take advantage of a fumble recovery that gave them the ball at the Denver 3 and a drive early in the second quarter bogged down at the 11.
"They just showed up in the red zone," Jackson said. "They got stingy; they brought some pressure and sometimes we just didn't make the play when we had a chance to.
"That's Week 1, you've got to get those jitters out."
While some of Bulger's passes were off the mark -- most notably a fourth-quarter pass behind a wide-open Torry Holt in the back of the end zone -- he chided a reporter who asked if his timing was off.
It seemed like a fair question since Bulger has completed 65 percent of his career passes.
But Denver also has two of the NFL's best cover cornerbacks in Champ Bailey and Darrent Williams.
"Where was the timing off?" Bulger said. "There's a couple you miss and it's because they bring two corners. I missed Torry (Holt) in the end zone because Champ Bailey's waiting if I lead him."
Bulger said the days of filling the air with footballs under Martz are past.
"There's a different way we're going to approach the games now," Bulger said. "We're going to be careful, safe and err on the side of caution. Hopefully it will work."