Results 1 to 2 of 2
Thread: Inside Slant
The Rams knew their chances for the post-season ended Saturday night when the Giants defeated the Redskins. Thus, there were many curious how the team would play in the season finale against Minnesota when they had prepared all week hoping a win would give them a chance for a playoff spot.
The answer came quickly. First, cornerback Ron Bartell intercepted a pass and returned it 38 yards for a touchdown just 1:22 into the game. By the end of the first half, they led 24-7 and were on their way to a 41-21 victory. The Vikings' final two touchdowns came in the fourth quarter after the Rams had built a 41-7 lead.
"I was pretty proud that we came out and played like that," coach Scott Linehan said. "They weren't thinking about the disappointment. There was no letdown."
If there was disappointment, it was with the fact that a three-game winning streak to end the season with the offense clicking left the team believing they could have success in the playoffs.
"I really wish we could've gotten into the playoffs because I think we could've been a dangerous team," strong safety Corey Chavous said.
But Chavous realized why the season ended the way it did.
"You just can't lose seven out of eight games," he said of a stretch of games that followed a 4-1 start. "You lose seven out of eight games, you're putting yourself in a foxhole and it's hard to get out of there."
Linehan obviously agreed.
"That's the only disappointing thing as I stand here right now is that we can't keep playing," he said. "But we've learned some lessons there. You've got to take care of business during the year."
Despite that disappointment, players believe the strong finish bodes well for the second year of Linehan's tenure as head coach. In the last two games, the Rams totaled an astounding 995 yards, while running back Steven Jackson had 89 rushes for 819 yards and three rushing touchdowns in the last three games.
"It was a great year, an exceptional year," Jackson said. "A year that I could build off of. Hopefully, we can put some years consecutively together and (I can) be a consistent running back."
Jackson ended up with a league-leading 2,334 yards from scrimmage and rushed for 1,528 yards. His 90 receptions set a club record for running backs.
Said quarterback Marc Bulger, who passed for 4,301 with only eight interceptions, "Being 8-8 and missing the playoffs, you could think that the season was all for naught. But I think we found out a lot about our team and where we're headed."
—Second-year DB Ron Bartell has played three different positions this season: cornerback, safety and in the slot as the nickel back. His confidence has grown, and it showed Sunday when Bartell had two interceptions, including a 38-yard run for a touchdown.
"Easiest touchdown I ever had," Bartell said. "It's nice to get my first one in the NFL."
Said free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe, "He's been making plays like that all year in practice. Ronnie's a phenomenal athlete; it just took awhile for him to figure out the (nickel) position. He's going to be an asset for this team for years to come."
"I'm a lot more comfortable," Bartell said. "It's definitely gotten easier for me."
He expressed gratitude to SS Corey Chavous, who has helped him with the nuances of the different spots.
"Corey's been like a big brother to me, a big influence," Bartell said.
Said Chavous, "He's a guy with a lot of ability who takes well to the coaching, and he adds some flavor to his game in terms of how to mix it up. I'm very proud of him."
—The Vikings entered the game having allowed 817 rushing yards, fewest in the league, and 2.6 yards per attempt. If they allowed the Rams less than 153 yards Sunday, the Vikings would have broken Baltimore's record for fewest rushing yards allowed in a season since the 1970 merger.
Despite Minnesota's excellence against the run, the Rams kept at it and when RB Steven Jackson scored a 59-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, the chance for the record ended. Jackson ended up with 142 yards on 25 attempts, and the Rams had 168 yards in the game, averaging 4.7 per attempt.
The Rams did it with a young interior offensive line that featured rookie LG Mark Setterstrom (sixth start), C Brett Romberg (third start) and RG Richie Incognito (third start there and 16th overall this season) battling Vikings DTs Kevin and Pat Williams.
"It was a long, long day," Romberg said. "I had my lunch pail and my hard hat with me the whole time. They were a handful."
—In addition to their six games against the NFC West, the Rams will play all four teams from the AFC North and NFC South next season. At home, the Rams will play Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland and Pittsburgh in that division. On the road, it's New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Cincinnati. The other two games are against second-place teams from the NFC East and NFC North. The Rams will travel to Dallas and play Green Bay at home.
—RB Steven Jackson's 1,528 rushing yards were the fourth-most in franchise history. Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson had three seasons with more yards (2,105 in 1984; 1,821 in 1986 and 1,808 in 1983). Jackson's 2,334 combined yards from scrimmage led the league, with San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson second at 2,323.
—QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, the team's No. 3 quarterback, took the final snaps in the fourth quarter rather than backup Gus Frerotte. With Rams LB Isaiah Kacyvenski and Minnesota C Matt Birk also playing, Fitzpatrick's appearance made for the first time in league history that three players from Harvard played in the same game.
—QB Marc Bulger had career highs in 2006 with 4,301 yards, 588 attempts, 370 completions and 24 touchdown passes. He also played in all 16 games for the first time. "I think it's my most complete year," Bulger said. "But we didn't win, so I'll have to go back and evaluate where I could've done better ... just see where I could help us improve so we can get to the next step." Bulger had only eight interceptions, and didn't have an interception in 10 games.
—CB Jerametrius Butler saw his disappointing season end by being inactive for the ninth time. It's unlikely Butler will be back with the team in 2007, and he has reportedly already sold his St. Louis house.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus — QB Marc Bulger had his eighth game this season with a passer rating better than 100, passing for 248 yards, one touchdowns and no interceptions. WR Torry Holt has nine receptions for 90 yards.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A — The Rams rushed for 168 yards, led by Steven Jackson's 142 on 25 attempts. Jackson also had three rushing touchdowns against a team that had allowed just six rushing scores in 15 previous games.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus — The Rams had two interceptions of QB Tarvaris Jackson and sacked him four times. Jackson passed for 213 yards, but much came in the fourth quarter after the Rams had gone out to a 41-7 lead. Fifty yards came on a pass and run by RB Mewelde Moore in the fourth quarter.
RUSH DEFENSE: A — The Vikings didn't run much because the Rams raced to an early lead, but when they did, there was little success. RBs Chester Taylor, Artose Pinner and Moore combined for 48 yards on 15 carries. Taylor rushed 15 times for just 29 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — The Rams allowed a 65-yard kickoff return, which was the worst moment. P Matt Turk averaged 47.5 yards on three punts and had a net of 41.3. KR Willie Ponder averaged 25 yards on two returns, while PR Shaun McDonald (2-16) and Dane Looker (1-9) had decent returns. PK Jeff Wilkins, who missed a game-winning 41-yard field goal the week before, made kicks from 42 and 53 yards. It was Wilkins' third successful field goal in as many attempts this season from 50 or more yards. Since 2003, Wilkins has hit an astounding 15 of 17 attempts from 50 or more yards.
COACHING: A — Head coach Scott Linehan admitted Saturday night it took him "about an hour" to get over the Giants' win over Washington because it meant the Rams had no chance to be in the post-season, no matter what happened Sunday. But when it was time to play the next day, Linehan was able to convey his message that winning is still what's important. The Rams took an early lead over the Vikings, and won going away for the first time this season. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson stayed with the run even when it didn't work, and the result was the most rushing yards against the Vikings this season, and only the third time a team gained 100 or more yards.
Re: Inside Slant
I'm so happy the season ended on a positive note. 3 wins in a row, the last game the blow-out we've all been waiting for.
Better days are coming!