Sunday, September 10, 2006

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

On a day when the Rams struggled to find an offensive rhythm that would carry them into the end zone, it turned out that kicker Jeff Wilkins would be all the offense they would need to beat the Broncos.

Wilkins accounted for all of the Rams’ points in the team’s 18-10 win against the Broncos on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. While the defense was enjoying a renaissance against Denver’s offense, the Rams’ special teams apparently turned the corner as well.

And nobody was more important to that alteration than Wilkins.

“I now understand why they call Jeff Wilkins “Money,” head coach Scott Linehan said. “We made him kick six field goals and he only missed one of them because we kept backing him up or else he would have made all seven. That is impressive.”

For the game, Wilkins was six-of-seven on field goal attempts with a long of 51 yards. His lone miss came on a 44-yard attempt after he hit from 34 yards out. That play was called back for a holding on fullback Madison Hedgecock, but Wilkins was made at himself more than anyone for not connecting.

“I’m still ticked off at myself for earlier,” Wilkins said of the kick that hit the right upright. “I should have had seven, so it’s on me. I thought I hit it good. Then, when I looked up at it, and thought ‘You have got to be kidding me.’ It was coming in, but I left it out too far.”

While Wilkins stews about the one that got away, the rest of his team and the fans sat back in awe of his dynamic performance. Wilkins’ six field goals set the franchise record for most in a game, breaking the record of five he shared with Bob Waterfield, who hit that many against Detroit on Dec. 9, 1951. Wilkins made five against San Diego on Oct. 1, 2000.

With his second field goal of the day, Wilkins set another franchise record by becoming the first Ram to reach 1,000 points scored. The six field goals tie a personal best for Wilkins, who hit six with San Francisco in 1996.

Wilkins said he sets a weekly goal for himself, but never imagined he’d hit two hat tricks against the Broncos.

“I always try to predict for myself to try and get ready, but six wasn’t anywhere near the prediction this week,” Wilkins said. “But I’ll take it. I love the opportunity.”

Meanwhile, the rest of the special teams picked up on the cue from their captain by coming up with suffocating kick coverage and solid return work.

Denver’s average starting field position was its 23-yard line and the Broncos average starting position after seven kickoff return tries was the 20. Included in that was a trio of touchbacks and a long return of just 21 yards.

“Our coverage teams were outstanding and we could see that during the preseason we were becoming a better coverage team,” Linehan said.

The Rams even had some impressive returns. New returner J.R. Reed didn’t break any touchdown returns, but he had a 29-yard return in which he broke a number of tackles and dragged tacklers for extra yards.

“The play I will always remember is J.R. Reed returning that kick and then just willing himself into 15 more yards,” Linehan said. “I think our special teams were pretty special today.”

CENTER OF ATTENTION: The news wasn’t all good for the Rams on Sunday despite the victory. Center Andy McCollum left the game about halfway through the second quarter after injuring his left knee.

The initial diagnosis was that it was a sprained knee, but after the game Linehan intimated that it could be worse.

“Andy McCollum has a left knee issue that doesn’t look very good,” Linehan said. “We will get the MRI and check it tomorrow.”

Larry Turner replaced McCollum in the middle. Turner has been in the NFL for two seasons and though he is a center by trade, his only league experience before Sunday came on special teams and at left guard.

Quarterback Marc Bulger was impressed with how Turner held up in the heat of the battle.

“He made some mistakes, we all did, but coming off the bench, Andy hasn’t missed a game in however long and he never gets hurt,” Bulger said. “To come in and play with his first NFL snaps, I thought he did a good job.”

INACTIVES: The Rams inactives against Denver included quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, guards Adam Goldberg and Mark Setterstrom, tight end Dominique Byrd, cornerback Jerametrius Butler, defensive end Brandon Green, safety Dwaine Carpenter and linebacker Jon Alston.

Denver’s only inactives of note were running back Cedric Cobbs and defensive end Courtney Brown. Tatum Bell started at running back instead of Mike Bell.

RAM BITS: Wilkins wasn’t the only Ram to reach milestones against the Broncos on Sunday. Receiver Isaac Bruce had five catches for 64 yards, moving him into 11th in career receptions past receivers coach Henry Ellard and Shannon Sharpe with 818. He also moved past Jimmy Smith for 11th in receiving yards with 12,287…Bulger’s 18 completions put him past 1,000 completions for a career at 1,005…Cornerback Fakhir Brown made his first career sack and Tye Hill had his first career interception...Safety Corey Chavous hit the 20-interception milestone with his pick.