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Last-second field goal trumps Rams' rally
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Here we go again. Clock running down. Game on the line. And backed into a corner. This has become a way of life for the Rams this season, and on four out of five occasions before Sunday, they found a way out of it.
So it was that defensive end Leonard Little stripped Seattle running back Maurice Morris of the football, with the Seahawks moving in for at least a victory-clinching field goal Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
Defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy recovered for the Rams at the St. Louis 7 with 2 minutes, 48 seconds left to play.
"Once we got that fumble recovery, it was like, 'All right, we're going to win,'" linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa said.
Never mind that the Rams were 93 yards away from a touchdown, trailing 27-21. But just when you think you've seen it all from wide receiver Torry Holt, you find out he's a world-class receiver -- and a juggler.
Holt outfought Seattle safety Peter Boulware for a Marc Bulger deep ball at the Seahawks 20. That's approximately where Holt tipped the ball with one hand, and then he juggled it for the next five yards or so en route to a spine-tingling 67-yard touchdown.
The dome has seen some amazing plays since the Rams came to town in 1995, but Holt's catch has to rate near the top.
"That's probably as excited as I've been in awhile," offensive guard Adam Timmerman said. "That was just an awesome catch. Just the concentration and everything that went into it."
Jeff Wilkins' extra point gave the Rams a 28-27 lead with 1 minute, 44 seconds left. After Holt's heroics, Little said, "I thought we had not a good chance, but a great chance of winning this game ... with our players on this team. And the players we have on defense."
Not this time. Just when it looked as if the Rams would pull yet another rabbit out of their helmets, Josh Brown kicked the stuffing out of the rabbit.
His 54-yard field goal as time expired gave the Seahawks a 30-28 victory over their NFC West rivals.
"This is a shock right now, because we're so used to pulling it out at the end," Kennedy said.
Not this time. Six of the last eight meetings between the Rams and Seahawks have been decided by seven points or fewer. But Sunday's game may have topped them all in terms of dramatic, bizarre conclusions. How bizarre was it?
Well, a good 30 minutes after the game, Tinoisamoa said: "Part of me still feels like we won."
After Holt's TD, the Rams' kickoff coverage team pinned Seahawks return man Willie Ponder at Seattle 17. Just 98 seconds remained on the clock, and Seattle was out of timeouts.
But in a blink of an eye -- make that two blinks -- Matt Hasselbeck passed 14 yards to D.J. Hackett and 19 yards to Darrell Jackson. Suddenly, the Seahawks had the ball at midfield with 1 minute to go.
Four plays later, the Seahawks were at the Rams 32 with 17 seconds remaining after a Hasselbeck spike stopped the clock. That already was well within range for Brown, who earlier in the fourth quarter had crushed a pair of 49-yard field goals.
But Seattle coach Mike Holmgren opted to call a running play to Mack Strong. After a one-yard gain by Strong, with the clock ticking down, the Seahawks frantically tried to gather themselves, get lined up properly and spike the ball to bring out Brown before time expired.
They couldn't quite pull it off, or so it seemed. Seattle was flagged for an illegal formation penalty with 4 seconds remaining after the Hasselbeck spike.
"Game over! Game over!" Rams coach Scott Linehan shouted on the sideline, anticipating the customary 10-second runoff following offensive penalties in the closing minute.
But hold on. "I always just look for the refs -- and they weren't convinced," said quarterback Marc Bulger, who had another superb game with 360 yards passing and 3 TD passes. "And then, when Ed (Hochuli) turned around and kind of pushed us back, I knew it wasn't good."
After a brief conference with members of his crew, referee Hochuli announced there would be no 10-second runoff. Later, he told a reporter that an illegal formation penalty was not subject to the 10-second runoff.
So the five-yard penalty was marked off, four ticks still remained on the scoreboard clock and out walked Brown. His 54-yarder allowed Seattle to take over first place in the West at 4-1, with the Rams dropping to 4-2.
Hochuli's ruling was baffling to the Rams.
"I guess that's kind of a loophole around the rule, safety Corey Chavous said. "It'll probably give some team some ideas now if they get in that situation."
In other words, don't worry about having the required seven men on the line of scrimmage before a snap. Just get reasonably close to the line and stand still for a second, so there's no false start penalty.
"To me, it doesn't make sense," Rams special teamer Isaiah Kacyvenski said. "I assume the NFL's probably going to look at it."
Not that it will change Sunday's outcome.