By Jeff Gordon
Post-Dispatch Online Sports Columnist
The Rams made plays on the big “Monday Night Football” stage. In fact, they made dozens of them.
For stretches, they played impressively against a red-hot, playoff-bound opponent on the road.
But the Rams, now 5-6, couldn’t muster a winning performance at Green Bay. They committed a turnover here, allowed a big run there and failed to stop quarterback Brett Favre when the Packers got in scoring range.
So the result is what most experts predicted: A 45-17 Packers victory that kept the Rams from climbing back into the NFC West lead.
The Rams had no trouble piling up yardage on the Packers. But protecting the ball and finishing drives, that’s where they fell short.
They handed the Packers the game’s first touchdown on Isaac Bruce’s fumble. Then their first two first-half forays into the red zone netted just three points.
Green Bay was able to race to a 21-3 lead while hardly breaking a sweat. The Rams tried to battle back in the second half, but quarterback Marc Bulger threw a third-quarter interception into the Packers end zone to kill the rally.
Then the Rams tried a fake field goal that backfired and, well, things just never got better up at Lambeau Field. The painful loss was capped by still another Bruce fumble that led to still another Packers touchdown in the game’s final minute.
--Rookie defensive tackle Brian Howard delivered, dumping running back Najeh Davenport for no gain on the first Packers possession, helping the defense score a quick three-and-out stop. That was about the only time the Rams would stop the bulldozing Davenport in this game.
--Coach Mike Martz had an interesting offensive game plan for this game, featuring both Steven Jackson and Marshall Faulk as runners and receivers. His play-calling also caught the Packers in their base defense early on with some four-receiver sets.
Too bad the offense didn’t do a better job in the red zone during the first half, when the game was still in question.
--Hey, a crunching kick coverage tackle – delivered by linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa on return man Antonio Chatman in the second quarter. Ouch!
--With the Rams desperately needing points late in the first half, Bulger completed four passes to young wide-outs Shaun McDonald (two) and Kevin Curtis (two). These youngsters can play.
Those completions set up Bulger’s last-minute touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce in the first half, which cut the Packers halftime lead to 21-10. At that point, the Rams had 225 yards offense and the 11-point deficit to show for it.
--Tight end Brandon Manumaleuna played big with his 26-yard reception over the middle in the third quarter, going up to catch the ball in traffic.
--Down by 18, the Rams continued to pile up yardage on plays like Bulger’s 56-yard pass to Bruce. Then they caught the Packers short of defensive backs, again, and converted with an eight-yard TD pass to Faulk.
--On their second possession, the Rams marched smartly into the red zone, using most of their weapons . . . and then abruptly stalled. A holding penalty on center Andy McCollum was hurtful.
So was the third-down sack Bulger absorbed and the 42-yard field goal Jeff Wilkins pulled wide left. That is NOT winning football.
--Trailing 7-3, the defense yielded on the ground and through the air as Favre, making his 200th consecutive start, marched the Packers 75 yards for their first offensive touchdown.
Who could have guessed the Packers would finish with a TD pass to tight end Bubba Franks?
--A premature snap by McCollum led to a critical Bulger sack and the demise of a Rams possession in the second quarter. Little things turn into big things on the road.
--Safety Rich Coady had another “Ole” moment in the open field as Davenport rambled for 31 yards on a sweep to the left side. That play was the highlight of a quick 83-yard Packers drive that pushed the lead to 21-3.
--As the game progressed, Faulk was unable to make any impact on the ground. Was it the blocking or are his legs finally betraying him.
--Poor Aeneas Williams couldn’t do much with Donald Driver on Favre’s third touchdown pass of the game, a 16-yard completion that pushed the Green Bay lead to 28-10.
--Bruce was stripped of the ball by Joey Thomas after his first catch, then watched helplessly as Ahman Carroll scooped up the loose ball and raced 40 yards for a Packers touchdown. Just like that, the Rams fell into a 7-0 hole.
--Another red zone mishap killed the Rams early in third quarter. Carroll blanketed Bruce on a route up the right sideline and picked off a Bulger pass in the end zone to keep the Green Bay lead at 21-10.
--The Rams tried to trick the Packers with a fake field goal try, but the Packers were having none of it. Wilkins took a pitch from holder Dane Looker and was immediately gang tackled.
Had Wilkins kicked the 42-yard field goal, the Rams could have cut the lead to 21-13. Instead, the Packers exploited the turn of events to score still another touchdown.
--Davenport’s late 40-yard touchdown burst on fourth-and-one capped a 178-yard rushing performance that left the Rams defense in shambles. What would have happened had No. 1 back Ahman Green played?