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Flag Football: Game slips away from Rams
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Over the years, there have been more shocking defeats for the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. More disappointing ones to be sure. But when it comes to the bizarre, the absurd, the illogical, Sunday's 17-16 loss to Philadelphia just may be the topper.
The Rams had just about everything going their way midway through the third quarter. They had the lead, 16-7, and the football, thanks to a DeJuan Groce interception.
They were running the ball well on offense. And save for one botched play in the opening quarter, they were playing some of their best defense of the season. But somehow, it slipped away in the final quarter and a half - just as this season has slipped away, from one of promise to the current 5-9 free fall.
The offense quit functioning. The penalty flags kept flying. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched.
In the end, before thousands of empty seats in the dome, there was the astounding sight of a healthy Marshall Faulk standing on the sideline with Arlen Harris at running back in the Rams' two-minute offense.
"The penalties are disappointing - 15 penalties, I think it was, and eight false starts," said interim head coach Joe Vitt, crankier than usual in defeat. "The big yards in the return game are unacceptable. The one big run that they had during the first half, we missed four tackles - we had them for no gain. That is unacceptable."
Of course, to many observers and fans, having Harris in the game at the end instead of Faulk might be deemed unacceptable. Steven Jackson, after topping 1,000 yards rushing for the season, was sidelined by a hip pointer in the third quarter. He was in and out of the game for a while but finally gave way to Faulk.
Which didn't seem like a bad thing, because Faulk was running as if it were 1999. By day's end, Faulk had 87 yards rushing on 16 carries in what easily was his best rushing day of the season.
"He's got 10 more years in him, probably, based on what he did today," safety Mike Furrey said.
Why then was Faulk on the sideline for the Rams' final desperation possession after they took over at their 11 with no timeouts and 2 minutes 48 seconds to play?
Here is Vitt's explanation: "Arlen had worked some of the protections that we were sighting, and he also knows one run that we call 'truck' that he felt comfortable with, so we just let him run it."
Faulk wasn't too illuminating when quizzed and prodded on the subject.
"Well, we're platooning here now," Faulk said. "That's all."
So it was just a coaching decision?
"That's just how it is here," Faulk told reporters. "I don't know what you guys have been watching. You know, Steven plays like first and second downs. And when the four receivers come in, then I normally come in.
"If I'm playing first and second downs, when the four receivers come in, Arlen comes in - if (Steven's) down. That's how it is."
Huh? Save for a 2-point conversion catch Nov. 20 against Arizona, Harris hadn't touched the ball all season from scrimmage before Sunday.
But even in his one-man revival show Sunday, Faulk was stopped cold on one of the most critical plays of the game. On fourth and 1 from the Philly 37 with 3:17 to go, Faulk was dropped for a 2-yard loss by Eagles linebacker Dhani Jones.
Jones got penetration on the left side of the St. Louis line, which featured tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, tackle Orlando Pace and guard Claude Terrell on that play.
"I haven't seen the replay, but their guys were in the backfield before (Faulk) took the handoff," Vitt said.
And then, in a not-so-veiled shot at the blockers on that side, Vitt added: "I've seen enough of that on the left side, I'll tell you that."
Terrell, who struggled with three false starts Sunday, said Rams coaches changed blocking assignments on the play.
"If you look at the game tape, we ran that play three or four times (Sunday) and had success throughout the game," Terrell said. "I had been pulling on that play all day."
This time, Pace pulled instead of Terrell. But the Eagles were ready.
"They just dialed up the right defense and were able to stop us," Terrell said.
It was that type of day, and it has been that type of season for the Rams. They went a rare (for them) plus-3 in turnover differential and limited the Eagles to 201 yards of offense. Yet still did just enough to lose:
Defensive end Tyoka Jackson and defensive backs Furrey and Corey Ivy missed tackles on Ryan Moats' 59-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
After Jeff Wilkins' third field goal of the day, giving St. Louis a 16-7 lead, Rams special teams yielded a 53-yard kickoff return to Roderick Hood. The Eagles didn't score on that possession, but the swing in field position resulted in a David Akers field goal that began the Eagles' comeback.
Fitzpatrick interception late in the third was returned to the Rams' 28, setting up the game-winning touchdown pass from Eagles quarterback Mike McMahon to tight end Mike Bartrum on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"We all feel like we had that game," center Andy McCollum said. "We should have finished them off earlier."
In years past, the Rams would have done just that. But take it from Faulk, those days are gone.
"The teams that you're talking about, they're not here anymore," he said. "Nor is the coach, or anything like that. So we've got to put that behind us and start rebuilding."