Sunday, October 2, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Just when it seems the Rams have finally corrected a hole, another leak seems to spring up.

Such was the case Sunday at Giants Stadium, where New York combined a dominant offensive display with some opportunistic and fortunate defensive play en route to a 44-24 win against the Rams.

The win improves the Giants to 3-1 while St. Louis drops to 2-2 with the loss. Records and numbers aside, it was the thorough dominance of New York’s offense that should cause the Rams to ring the emergency bell yet again.

After having its defense of all units bail it out, St. Louis began to get excited about the possibilities of a solid defense to go with an offense that was on the verge of a breakout.

In fact, the Rams’ defense had essentially come up with the biggest of the big plays in each of the team’s victories. Against Arizona in week two, Adam Archuleta came up with a sack late in the game to preserve the win and he followed it with an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown last weekend against Tennessee.

But none of that seemed to matter much to the Giants on Sunday.

“The past doesn’t really mean anything,” Archuleta said. “It’s what we do today. We can’t sit here and say we did this last week. We have a job to do on Sundays and we have to go out and play as good as possible. We didn’t do that.”

No, the Rams didn’t do that. The Giants torched St. Louis all day, using a mix of run and pass but having the most success through the air. By the time it was said and done, New York had 456 total yards, led by the combination of quarterback Eli Manning and receiver Plaxico Burress.

Those two connected 10 times for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Things got so bad for the Rams that at one point they trailed 27-7 early in the second quarter. Manning found Burress early and often and that became a trend that continued throughout the day.

Of course, the St. Louis secondary was no match to the taller, more physical Burress. More often than not Manning would just float one anywhere near Burress, who would make the play and take it to the end zone.

“We couldn’t stop him,” cornerback Travis Fisher said. “He’s a big, tall receiver and that’s to his advantage.”

Burress wasn’t the only Giant taking the name on his helmet a little too literally against a smaller St. Louis secondary. Amani Toomer caught a fade for a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter during New York’s early run on points.

While the defense was busy struggling in a way similar to the defense of 2004, the Rams appeared to find the future at right tackle. Rookie Alex Barron did a better than average job in protecting quarterback Marc Bulger, who would eventually need as much protection as he could get.

That same old sinking feeling of attempting to come back crept across the face of Bulger in the second half and he finished with some ridiculous numbers.

When the dust cleared, Bulger had thrown 62 passes, 40 of which were complete for 442 passing yards. That is to be expected, though, when Bulger is once again trying to help the Rams get back into the game by throwing it downfield.

“We are in that situation so much it seems like, when you are down, you keep chipping away,” Bulger said. “We did a good job of fighting back but then you’re down two or three touchdowns at the end. That’s when you start winging it and hoping for the best.”

Indeed, the Rams did a fine job of fighting back and chipping away at New York’s lead after falling behind 27-7. A couple of nice drives to end the half brought St. Louis within 10.

After Jeff Wilkins missed a field goal to make it a one-possession game before halftime, the Rams came out hot to start the second half. St. Louis promptly marched the ball into New York territory before facing a third-and-3 at New York’s 6.

At that point, St. Louis was certainly thinking of a nice come back win, but the third down play didn’t quite turn out how the Rams wanted.

Bulger flipped the ball to Steven Jackson, who carried the all around end. On his way to the side, he flipped it to receiver Shaun McDonald even though it appeared Jackson had room to run. But that was the way the play was called, according to Jackson.

The ball never safely made it to the hands of McDonald and it was recovered by New York’s Fred Robbins at the St. Louis 13. New York promptly marched down the field for a touchdown and a 34-17 lead that proved insurmountable.

“It was my fault,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t Shaun Mac. It was my fault. I threw it a little bit behind him and I was indecisive because being the player I am I kind of wanted to keep it myself. At the last minute, I decided to go on and throw out the play and I threw it behind him.”

Although Jackson was eager to take the blame for the ill-fated play that led to a decisive 14-point swing, coach Mike Martz said that there was an interesting twist to that play that might have made a difference had it been executed properly.

“Marshall (Faulk) always does it and Marshall wasn’t in the game,” Martz said. “We’ve always practiced it with Marshall. And he’s supposed to be in the game at that time so there was some confusion.”

Faulk had no definitive answers for the question of why he wasn’t in the game at the time, but Jackson said it was a play he still has to execute correctly, regardless of who normally takes the repetition on that play in practice.

“I have practiced the play,” Jackson said. “There are no plays in this offense that I don’t do so there’s no excuse saying that Marshall usually runs the play. We are all professionals here so I have to know it just as much as Marshall does.”

While the offense was giving Bulger enough time to attempt a team-record 62 passes and complete a team-record 40 (he finished with 442 yards), the Rams still finished with five turnovers, a poor complement to the zero that the defense was able to create.

The Rams have had their fair share of close finishes this season, but this one wasn’t close and just when it seemed the Rams had the answers to their problems, a new one showed up.

“We have to be better,” Archuleta said. “This is unacceptable.”