By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
11/26/2006

Rams coach Scott Linehan notes that many great head coaches have called the plays for their teams.

But Linehan is just a rookie head coach, not a great one. So he was wise to pass his play-calling duties to Greg Olson this week.

The Rams didn’t look dramatically different as they rallied past the ***** 20-17 Sunday. But the change was significant, since it proved Linehan’s willingness to adapt on the fly.

After losing five consecutive games, things had to change. And that started at the top, where Linehan helped prepare the game plan – then entrusted Olson, his top offensive aide, to implement it.

“I thought he did a great job of doing that,” Linehan said. “It allows me to spend more time in all three phases of the game.

“I wanted my impact felt as a head football coach. It was time.”

Olson re-established the running game, giving Steven Jackson and Stephen Davis 21 first-half carries and 28 overall. He also orchestrated the decisive final drive, as quarterback Marc Bulger marched the Rams to victory.

The winning play came on a five-yard pass to Kevin Curtis with 27 seconds left to play.

“It was an out on the sideline,” Curtis said. “I was just trying to get inside the cornerback and Marc kept it low and away in a place where the corner couldn’t make a play. Marc put it in a place I could get it.”

Here is what else stood out in this game:

* The Rams defense got pounded on the ground, as usual. Frank Gore rushed for 134 yards before suffering an ankle injury and Maurice Hicks gained 32 more.

* Given that success running the ball, it was a bit odd to San Francisco coach Mike Nolan pass on a fourth-and-inches play on the Rams 7 late in the fourth quarter. A conversion there would have allowed the ***** to eat some more of the game clock and try to take an eight-point lead.

They settled for a 17-13 lead instead. “We hadn’t scored in the second half,” Linehan said. “I understand the thinking there.”

Which was . . .

“I thought about it at the time, run it hard, but we’re on the road,” Nolan said. “Go up by four, make it a touchdown game – I wouldn’t change anything. I would have liked to see us get it on third down, to be honest with you. Third-and-one, you’ve got to get it.”

* After taking an avoidable 10-yard sack, Bulger faced a second-and-20 situation from the Rams 10. From there, he was able to march his team to the winning score.

“He was going everywhere he needed to go,” Linehan said. “He had a such a great tempo, such a great demeanor in that situation. He made the all the throws we expect Marc to make.”

* Jackson was the real hero, though, since his catch-and-run on third down gave the Rams their chance to stay alive. He turned a short pass into a 13-yard gain, then converted the resulting fourth-and-one play himself.

Jackson rushed for 121 yards and caught nine passes for 71 more yards. “Steven Jackson is the total package,” gushed Rams center Brett Romberg. “Today I enjoyed myself blocking for the guy. He is a great back to block for. The effort and intensity he brings to the football field is great.”

* The Rams managed to win with a makeshift offensive line. Romberg filled in for Richie Incognito, who left the game with a sprained foot. Todd Steussie moved from left guard to left tackle for this game and Mark Setterstrom filled in at left guard.

“We had some new guys in there and we’re rolling linemen a little bit,” right guard Adam Timmerman said. “Everybody that played really did a great job. Steussie came out early. He messed up his nose, even though I didn’t think you could mess it up any worse. Adam (Goldberg) came in and Mark did a great job with his first start. I'm very proud of the guys.”

* Bulger continued to favor “check-down” passes to Jackson and Davis over downfield throws against a lot of the defenses he sees.

But that is what Linehan wants from Bulger. “He got the ball to the playmaker who was open, and let him do the work,” Linehan said.

* The Rams clinched the win with O.J. Atogwe’s interception. Tye Hill also had an interception and Dwaine Carpenter recovered a fumbled kick as the Rams got back on the high side of the turnover ratio.

Jim Haslett’s unit also delivered some key stops, such as the one on third-and-1 that prompted Nolan to kick the final field goal.

Overall, Linehan was just thrilled to finally win a game.

“It was a gut-check game,” Linehan said, “and our guys passed the test in all phases.”

And that started at the top, where the head coach fired himself as the play-caller for the good of the team.