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Fitzpatrick's Day: Rookie leads Rams to dramatic OT win
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
HOUSTON — Ever since the glory days of the Greatest Show on Turf, through thick and thin, the Rams never feel like they're out of a game.
They've had more than their share of improbable comebacks. See: Seattle, Oct. 10, 2004.
And near comebacks: See: New Orleans wild-card game, Dec. 30, 2000.
Now, along comes their 33-27 overtime victory over Houston on Sunday.
"This might top it," offensive guard Adam Timmerman said.
Linebacker Trev Faulk elaborated. "We were pretty much left for dead out there," he said. "Twenty-six seconds? Fourth and 6?"
And down by 10.
But the Rams found a way, with a victory that managed to trump the near-miracle comeback last season in Seattle.
"You know what?" Timmerman said. "We even watched those clips (Saturday) night in the hotel."
Yes, interim head coach Joe Vitt struck again with his motivational film clips. On the day before past games, Vitt has shown scenes from the movie "Gladiator", the movie "Miracle", and from Jimmy Valvano's "Never Give Up" speech.
On Saturday night in Houston, he showed highlights from comeback victory last year in Seattle.
"I don't know, Joe might be a little prophet or something," Faulk said. "It's too strange for him to show us that."
How strange? Well, the final score was the same Sunday as it was in '04 in Seattle: 33-27.
"Same score?" Faulk said. "Crazy."
Wait, it gets crazier.
Last year in Seattle, the Rams trailed 27-10 with just under 6 minutes to play in regulation.
Sunday in Houston, the Rams trailed 24-10 with just over 6 minutes to play in regulation.
Last year in Seattle, the Rams scored the game-winning TD on a pass play of 50-plus yards in overtime.
Sunday in Houston, the Rams scored the game-winning TD on a pass play of 50-plus yards in overtime.
But there was one big difference. Last year in Seattle, the Rams won with Marc Bulger leading the comeback. Sunday, it was a kid from Harvard at quarterback, plucky Ryan Fitzpatrick.
When asked if he'd ever had any big comeback wins in college, Fitzpatrick calmly replied: "Yeah, my first time I ever played at Harvard was against Princeton. I came in down, and we won the game. And then my next game, which was my first start, we were down I think 21-0 at halftime to Dartmouth and we came back to win."
Princeton, Dartmouth ... and now, Houston.
Afterward, Fitzpatrick's play received downright giddy reviews from the Rams, including battle-tested veterans such as offensive tackle Orlando Pace and wide receiver Torry Holt.
"Oh man, man, man," said Pace, not normally one to gush.
"He was really cool in the huddle," Holt said, emphasizing the "cool."
In the second quarter, Fitzpatrick replaced injured Jamie Martin, who started in place of injured Marc Bulger. Prior to Sunday, Holt had not even been in a practice huddle with Fitzpatrick, much less in a game.
Through three quarters, Fitzpatrick's play was hardly the stuff of legend. Entering the fourth quarter he had completed six of 13 passes for 77 yards with one TD, one interception and a pedestrian passer rating of 58.8.
Taking a page from Arizona's playbook last week, the Texans were blitzing a lot. The Rams were shuttling substitutes in and out of their injury-depleted offensive line, which is hardly the best antidote for a pass rush.
At one point, center Andy McCollum looked over in the huddle, saw guard Larry Turner there, and wondered: What are you doing here? Turner had just been signed off the street 10 days ago.
"Larry was in there for a couple plays before I even knew it," McCollum said. "I didn't know who was over there."
Somehow, in the midst of all this confusion, the Rams settled down and rallied from a 24-3 deficit, making this the third-biggest comeback victory for the Rams in franchise history.
"We didn't want to lose to Houston," Holt said. "We did not want to lose to Houston."
Fitzpatrick somehow went bananas in the fourth quarter and overtime, completing 13 of 17 tosses for 233 yards and two TDs. Steven Jackson's 1-yard TD run with 6:37 to play narrowed the the Rams' deficit to seven points - 24-17. Then Seattle, uh make that Houston, tacked on a field goal for a 27-17 advantage with just 2:49 to play in regulation.
With a half-minute left in regulation, it came down to one play. On fourth and 6, Fitzpatrick threw a laser to Isaac Bruce for a 43-yard TD with 26 seconds remaining. Next came a successful onside kick by Jeff Wilkins, followed by a 47-yard field goal by Wilkins that tied the score 27-27 with 4 seconds left in regulation.
In overtime, a Houston drive stalled at the St. Louis 47, forcing a Texans punt. The Rams took over on their 10, and won the game six plays later on a 56-yard wide receiver screen from Fitzpatrick to Kevin Curtis. It was Curtis' first catch of the day.
"I caught the ball, and just tried to hit the crease," Curtis said. "All I saw was that whole left side just kind of get caved out. So obviously, the guys made their blocks."
No flag was thrown, but after the play, referee Ed Hocchuli's crew met and discussed whether the Rams had lined up in an illegal formation.
"It kind of interrupted the celebration," Curtis said. "But I'm glad it held up."