By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
SEATTLE — The foundation for Rams football under rookie head coach Steve Spagnuolo is supposed to be built on intensity, focus and attention to detail. Suffice it to say, the foundation still contains plenty of cracks, and it's going to take more than a little spackle to seal them.
Oh, the intensity was there in Sunday's 28-0 drubbing by the Seahawks at Qwest Field. Trouble was, it frequently got out of control. (See: Richie Incognito.)
But the focus and attention to detail? Apparently, those two qualities didn't make the trip to the Pacific Northwest.
Granted, for 1½ quarters, the Rams showed the kind of resiliency necessary to dig out of the franchise's recent doldrums. But one mistake after another eventually took its toll. When a blocked field goal for a touchdown by St. Louis was reversed by a penalty for too many men on the field the floodgates opened.
Seattle broke open what had been a 7-0 game before the blocked field goal play, scoring on three of its next four possessions. By game's end it looked like just another rout — complete with 10 penalties against St. Louis, 446 yards offense by Seattle and next to no production by the Rams' inept offense on third down and in the red zone.
Despite an offseason replete with change at every level of the organization, it looked very much like, you know, the same old sorry (bleep) Rams.
"I'm not going there," Spagnuolo said afterward. "This was the first game of the 2009 season. That's what it is. We didn't win. We're going to play the second game of the 2009 season next week."
Spagnuolo took the blame for all the penalties. "That's a discipline thing and that falls on the head coach," he said.
Similarly, he fell on the sword when it came to the blocked field goal, a play in which the Rams added new meaning to the mystique of Seattle's 12th Man. (When he wasn't in the stands cheering on the Seahawks, the 12th Man apparently was lining up with the Rams' field goal block unit.)
C.J. Ah You, playing in his first NFL regular-season game, blocked Olindo Mare's 49-yard field goal attempt, with Quincy Butler scooping up the football and racing 51 yards for a touchdown to tie the score 7-7 with 49 seconds left in the first half.
But there was a booth review on the play, which can happen when there is under 2 minutes to play in either half.
"In replay, under 2 minutes, the replay booth takes over the game," referee Pete Morelli told a pool reporter. "One of the categories they have the ability to review is 12 men on the field. ... They count every play."
They counted 12, with Ah You being the extra man on the field. A terrible play, to be sure, but the Rams had several chances to seize control of the game before that.
— On their second possession of the day, the Rams were near midfield trying to put a drive together when Incognito was flagged for unnecessary roughness. He shoved a Seattle player after the whistle.
"I just lost my cool," Incognito said. "A classic case of it. ... (There) was pushing, shoving back and forth, and I shoved him harder than he shoved me."
— A fumble recovery by rookie linebacker James Laurinaitis gave St. Louis possession on the Seattle 38 midway through the first quarter. But a holding penalty on Donnie Avery wiped out most of an 18-yard gain by Steven Jackson, resulting in a 20-yard loss of field position. The Rams ended up punting.
— At the start of the second quarter, a third-and-1 at the Seattle 9 turned into a fourth-and-11 at the 19 after a false start penalty on Randy McMichael and a delay of game penalty. Josh Brown then sent a 37-yard field goal attempt wide right. It was Brown's first miss inside 40 yards since 2006, and only his sixth miss in 92 career attempts inside 40.
Since the start of the 2005 season, there have been more false starts committed by the visiting team at Qwest Field than at any venue in the NFL. The Rams were generous contributors to that total with four on Sunday. (Besides McMichael, Incognito, Jacob Bell, and Jason Smith also were guilty of false starts.)
"It's definitely not acceptable," quarterback Marc Bulger said of the offensive miscues. "The defense getting the ball for us like they were, we've got to get points when they do that for us. It's on us. Whether it was penalties, or not executing. We have to get that corrected quick."
Continuing a trend established in the preseason, the St. Louis defense came up with three takeaways Sunday — all in the opening quarter. Besides the Laurinaitis fumble recovery, the Rams also got interceptions from safeties Oshiomogho Atogwe and Butler.
But the run defense gradually wore down, most tellingly on a 62-yard TD run late in the third quarter in which Seahawks running back Julius Jones was barely touched. And young linebackers Laurinaitis and David Vobora had coverage troubles, particularly when it came to shadowing tight end John Carlson, who scored Seattle's third TD on a 33-yard pass.
All in all, Spagnuolo called his debut as Rams head coach a tough pill to swallow.
"The reason it's a tough pill to swallow is because we think we're better than that," he said.
Seeing will be believing, starting next Sunday in Washington.