Loss leaves Rams second guessing
By Michael Rushton, NFL Contributing Editor
(Sports Network) - It's tough to point out a single play and say that it lost you the game. Regardless, Dante Hall was still probably hiding the box score from his friends and family on Monday.
Hall, normally electric when returning kicks, was brought in by the St. Louis Rams this offseason to bring a surge of energy to the team's return game. However, he suffered a brown out Sunday against San Francisco.
The Rams had all the momentum against the ***** this past weekend. A big sack and fumble recovery by Clifton Ryan set up Jeff Wilkins' 53-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter that gave St. Louis a 16-14 edge.
The defense then held strong, forcing San Francisco to punt. Hall was back waiting, but muffed the kick and the *****' Marcus Hudson recovered. Four plays later, San Francisco was ahead, 17-16, and went on to win by that margin.
Though hindsight is 20/20, Hall admitted after the game he should have called for a fair catch.
"I knew they were coming down on me, it was just a bone-head play," said Hall. "I have no excuse. That's a routine play for me -- fair catch it. It's frustrating, trying to make a play and I should have just fair caught it."
While Hall may be frustrated with the decision, Rams head coach Scott Linehan wasn't ready to second guess his player on Monday. It will be important for Linehan to support Hall's decision-making so the miscue doesn't linger in the veteran return man's head as the season goes on.
"We trust his judgment and we'll always trust his judgment," said Linehan. "It's easy to say now that we rather he caught it and returned it. Fair catch or not -- a lot of times what people do is push and distract the returner by pushing the blocker into them, which is a legal play. That's really what happened.
"He got distracted. I'm not making excuses for him or anything like that. He's trying to make a play there."
Linehan is right to trust Hall, who is a two-time Pro Bowl kick returner. Even at the age of 28, Hall brings an element to St. Louis' special teams that it lacked last season.
And with the Rams now 0-2 on the season, they are going to need all the help they can get.
CAN WE TRY THAT AGAIN?
Twice when down in the final quarter, the Rams were forced into fourth-down decisions.
The first time came on the drive following the Niners' go-ahead field goal. St. Louis quickly faced 4th-and-7 on its resulting drive and elected to go for it at their own 43-yard line.
However, Marc Bulger couldn't hook up with tight end Randy McMichael, giving the ***** the ball back with 2:35 to play.
St. Louis' defense eventually stopped San Francisco, getting the Rams the ball back at their own 20 with 1:53 to go. Bulger would move St. Louis across midfield on a 12-yard pass to Drew Bennett and decided to spike the ball to stop the clock with 1:15 to go.
That was big, because Bulger was sacked on the next play to set up a 3rd- and-17. He then hit Issac Bruce for a 14-yard gain and the Rams had another decision to make.
Linehan elected to go for a 56-yard field goal, but Wilkins' kick was short and the ***** ran out the clock to seal the win.
The Rams head coach said he wasn't second guessing that choice after the game.
"No. I would go for the field goal again in that situation just because of our kicker, based on how he hit his first 53-yarder," said Linehan. "It really carried pretty good. Because of Jeff, the adrenaline, the situation of the game, the person kicking and indoors, I would do it again."
However, he wasn't sure about spiking the ball so early in the drive.
"The biggest thing I was thinking about after the game -- I've been going back and forth, having an extra down. In general, without any timeouts in a two- minute drill when you're down there, at some point you have to stop the clock. I always liked as a play caller, when you didn't have timeouts, to have two to three downs to just organize your thoughts after you get the mark for the first down."
INJURY UPDATE: BULGER SORE
Bulger was sacked six times in the game, which left his ribs feeling sore afterwards. However, the injury isn't serious.
"He just has sore ribs. He's been hit a lot," Linehan said on Monday. "It's not just the line not blocking. We've been in some situations where we got (into) third down and (the *****) got free on a couple of their blitzes."
Of bigger concern is the injury cornerback Tye Hill suffered last Thursday. Hill injured his back in practice and did not play on Sunday. He made eight tackles in the Rams' opening weekend loss to Carolina.
Linehan said that Hill, the 15th overall pick of the 2006 draft, is week-to- wee and called reports that he would be out 4-to-6 weeks false. Lenny Walls started in his place.
Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (ankle) and guard Richie Incognito (ankle) both were inactive on Sunday and are questionable for this weekend's game.
The Rams also lost defensive tackle Claude Wroten for the San Francisco contest after he was suspended by the league without pay for four games after violating the NFL Substance Abuse Policy.
Wroten, a second-year pro out of Louisiana State, played in 15 games last year for the Rams and recorded 11 tackles with one sack. He will be eligible to return to the team's active roster on October 8.
WHO IS HOT
Bruce continues to refuse to show his age. The 34-year-old made eight receptions for 145 yards and has 11 receptions with a team-high 165 yards on the season
WHO IS NOT
Steven Jackson still hasn't gotten it going this season. The star running back ran for only 60 yards versus the ***** and has yet to find the end zone through the club's first two games.
Certainly impacting Jackson is the loss of Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace, who is out for the season because of a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder. Normal right tackle Alex Barron is replacing Pace on the left side.
UP NEXT: OFF TO FLORIDA
The Rams take their 0-2 selves on the road for the first time this season, as they head to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers.
St. Louis is 9-6 all-time against Tampa Bay, but the Bucs have won four of the last five regular-season meetings. However, the Rams posted a win when the clubs last met on October 18, 2004. Torry Holt had two touchdown catches in the win, with his second score breaking a tie and lifting the Rams to a 28-21 victory.
Re: Loss leaves Rams second guessing
The Dante' Hall muff is very concerning. He said it, It was a bonehead play. With 5:54 left in the 4th quarter the Whiners punt to us. We lead 16-14. Hall has to have the game situation in his head. Fair catch or let the ball land where it may. Trust that our offense can get a few 1st downs and run some major time off of the clock.
Leave it to the whiners to be scrambling against the clock. Plus our defense had been playing pretty solid all game.