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Gordo's Quarter-by-Quarter Comments
By Jeff Gordon
11/13/2005 3:12 pm
The Rams were closer to full strength than they had been in a long, long time, on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Marc Bulger trotted back into action Sunday with an admittedly sore shoulder. Receivers Torry Holt (knee) and Isaac Bruce (toe) also made their way back from the injured list. running at nearly full speed.
After the bye week, the Rams were in terrific shape to face the Seahawks in a huge NFC West showdown.
Bulger came out firing, hitting tight end Brandon Manumaleuna for a 33-yard gain that immediately thrust the Rams into scoring range. Then he connected with Manumaleuna for an 11-yard gain to move the sticks again.
The Seahawks kept stuffing Steven Jackson on the ground, however, so the Rams ultimately had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins and an early 3-0 lead.
Seattle marched into scoring position on its first possession, thanks to a couple of big completions to tight end Jerramy Stevens. But when Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck tried to dial the big fella up one more time, Rams linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa knocked Stevens off his route with some blatantly illegal contact down the field.
The officials didn’t make that obvious call, however, so safety Mike Furrey was able to walk into an easy interception to maintain the Rams’ 3-0 lead.
On their second possession, the Rams stalled despite an 18-yard run by Jackson. But the Rams defense responded with a second stop — and nearly a second interception by Furrey, who couldn’t quite hang onto the ball after reading a third-down Seahawks pass perfectly.
On balance, this was an excellent way to start a road game against a tough divisional opponent.
Lookie there — it’s running back Marshall Faulk! Marc Bulger put him to work as a pass catcher in the second quarter and Faulk made consecutive big plays. He made a nifty one-handed catch to gain a critical first down, then he caught a nice play-action pass for a 13-yard gain that pushed the Rams into scoring position.
The Rams caught another break when Kevin Curtis lost the football trying to stretch for extra post-catch yardage on third down in the red zone. Fortuitously, the loose ball flew out of bounds, allowing the Rams to send in Jeff Wilkins out to bank another three points.
Inexplicably, though, interim coach Joe Vitt called for a fake field goal play. This gem had Wilkins taking the pitch from holder Dane Looker and running around the right end.
Wilkins runs like I do, however, so this play went very, very badly. He ended up under a pile of Seahawks.
The Rams should have taken the three points that were on the table. There was plenty of time to gamble later in the game. Why give the Seahawks a boost so early?
Naturally, the Seahawks took the ball back and ran with it. Literally. Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander finally got his power-speed running game going by busting a 21-yard run.
Then came a 47-yard bomb to D.J. Hackett to set up Alexander’s six-yard touchdown run. Just like that, a potential 6-0 Rams lead turned into a 7-3 Seahawks lead.
Back came the Rams, continuing to feature Faulk as a pass receiver. Where were these plays earlier this season? In the first 23 minutes of this game, Faulk had four catches for 45 yards.
A swing pass to tight end Cam Cleeland, of all people, earned another first down as the Rams moved into Seattle territory. But Curtis got knocked off his route by illegal downfield contact — again uncalled — and Bulger threw an easy interception to a wide-open Michael Boulware.
That gave the Seahawks the opportunity to build on their lead before the half. They have an excellent two-minute drill within their West Coast offense and it showed. A 27-yard pass to Bobby Engram moved Seattle into range for a 31-yard field goal by Josh Brown.
The Seahawks went into halftime with a 10-3 lead.
The Rams got off to a terrific second-half start. Linebacker Dexter Coakley fielded the ball off a lucky carom for a HUGE interception on first defensive play of the third quarter.
That gave the offense immediate field position. A couple of Steven Jackson runs advanced the ball inside the Seattle 10, but the Rams stalled once again in the red zone. Jeff Wilkins came in to nail a 36-yard field goal — mercifully, there was no fake this time — and cut Seattle’s lead to 10-6.
Seattle responded by throwing the ball to tight end Jerramy Stevens and handing it to Shaun Alexander. The Seahawks plowed right through the Rams with their power players, ultimately scoring on Alexander’s second touchdown run of the game.
The NFL’s leading rusher gained 50 yards on four carries during that drive. The Rams knew Alexander was coming, but they couldn’t stop him. The Seahawks rolled to 17-6 lead as the rain fell on the slick Seattle turf.
With the Rams in must-pass mode, the Seahawks could gamble with that 11-point lead and blitz like crazy. That led to a untimely three-and-out for the Rams offense as the game momentum shifted entirely toward Seattle.
An offside penalty call on linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa kept Seattle alive on its next possession. And quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took advantage by delivering the kill shot, a 31-yard touchdown strike to D.J. Hackett.
Hackett beat cornerback Travis Fisher, who got no help from safety Mike Furrey on the play. (Furrey, a converted receiver, guessed wrong with his read and went elsewhere.) So Seattle led 24-6 with 4 minutes, 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Rams gamely came back down the field, thanks to a bomb to Kevin Curtis that drew a pass interference penalty. Marc Bulger threw a touchdown pass to Brandon Manumaleuna, but a holding penalty on Alex Barron — who had a rough game — negated the scoring play.
Oh, well. The Rams had to keep plugging away. Steven Jackson made some advances by ground and by air, but Torry Holt couldn’t reel in Bulger’s would-be touchdown pass into the right corner of the end zone.
So Wilkins kicked his third field goal of the game to cut Seattle’s lead to 24-9.
The Rams started the fourth quarter with a defensive stop that held viewers to their televisions in Ram Nation.
Marc Bulger brought the offense back down the field, hitting Torry Holt with a 17-yard pass over the middle and Shaun McDonald with a 14-yard pass to the right sideline. A nine-yard completion to Marshall Faulk moved the ball to the Seattle 20.
A pass to Brandon Manumaleuna would have moved the sticks again — but Manumaleuna fumbled away the opportunity to score critical points.
Ouch. The Rams offense did a lot of good things between the 20s, but it became hapless whenever it reached the red zone.
Don’t blame the play-calling of Mike Martz, since he was watching on TV like the rest of you. Don’t blame his play-calling successor, Steve Fairchild.
Blame lousy execution at the critical points of the game.
After the Rams earned another defensive stop, aided by Seattle’s odd playcalling, Bulger bombed away for a 33-yard completion to Holt up the right sideline.
But the Rams sputtered in the red zone again. After a false-start penalty on fourth-and-six, the Rams had to go for broke on fourth-and-11 with 7 minutes, 4 seconds left in the game.
This was the end, right?
Not quite. Bulger lofted a fade pattern pass to Holt on the right side of the end zone with his deft touch.
With the extra point, that scoring pass cut Seattle’s lead to 24-16. Now the Seahawks were under pressure to move the ball and eat up the remaining clock.
On this possession, they decided to feed Alexander the football. What a novel concept! The big guy ground out two first downs on his own and forced the Rams to burn all their timeouts to preserve time.
In a third-and-seven sitation, the Seahawks drew Leonard Little offside to create a third-and-two situation. With the Rams sitting on the run, Matt Hasselbeck rolled to his right and completed a first-down pass to Bobby Engram.
That play seemed to break the Rams’ spirit. The Seahawks kept giving the ball to Alexander and he ultimately scored his third touchdown of the game.
What a performance. The Rams knew they had to muscle up and contain this guy, but they failed. Alexander just bowled right through them.
Seattle, 7-2, should roll to the NFC West title now. They should gain the home-field playoff advantage, too. Alexander ought to cruise to the MVP Award.
As for the Rams, well, they’ve got much work to do at 4-5, They can get into the NFC wild-card playoff hunt, but they are going to need some help. There are now a LOT of teams standing between the Rams and a postseason berth.
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