By Howard Balzer
Monday, October 27, 2008

It might have been the first loss with Jim Haslett as head coach, but the Rams' 23-16 loss at New England Sunday was one where, to a man, the team knew they had opportunities to win and are now in a different place mentally than they were four weeks ago when 25-point losses were the norm.

For a while, the Rams were just concerned with keeping games close. Now, they expect to win and are disappointed when they don't. Even without running back Steven Jackson.

Said rookie defensive end Chris Long, who had two sacks in the loss to the Patriots, “This was a team that a year ago was 18-0 at one point, a great team. I certainly respect the way they do things. For us to come in here and play a tough ball game, you can take some consolation. But we wanted to win the game. It’s disappointing, but we lost to a good team. These guys in the locker room had a lot of good energy and we will be back next week to play hard.”

Added linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa, “This is a great team we played, and we knew we had to play perfect, and we didn’t play perfect. We were still in it to the end so that attitude’s not going to change throughout the year.”

What disappointed Haslett and had players shaking their heads were two trips to the red zone inside the 10-yard line that netted only field goals, plus a recovered onside kick, two interceptions and a fourth-and-1 stop that led to just six points.

In addition, normally outstanding punter Donnie Jones had two poor punts in the fourth quarter that gave the Patriots excellent field position and led to a field goal and touchdown that turned a Rams 16-13 lead into the 23-16 loss.

Asked if anything is gained by the loss, Haslett said, "I thought we battled them. I thought we played them toe to toe. Again, I think it boiled down to the field position in the fourth quarter. We just lost it and couldn’t get it back. But, I don’t know. What do you gain from it? Guys fought hard. They played hard. They did everything we like. We have to cut out the penalties and we have to somehow get field position back.

"They do have very good special teams and they probably outplayed our special teams today. (But) there is a lot of good that happened in this game."

The missed opportunities had to have this team kicking itself Sunday night.

*On the first possession of the game, after a 75-yard kickoff return was brought back to the 32-yard line because of holding on linebacker Chris Draft, the Rams proceeded to march down the field. Haslett went for a first down on fourth-and-1 from the 41-yard line and Antonio Pittman gained two yards.

A subsequent 35-yard pass from quarterback Marc Bulger to wide receiver Donnie Avery set the Rams up at the 9-yard line, but on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Bulger overthrew wide receiver Torry Holt. The Rams had to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.

*Holding a 10-7 lead in the second quarter, an 18-yard run by Pittman gave the Rams a first down at the New England 23-yard line. However, a Jacob Bell holding penalty on first down and a sack on the next play resulted in second-and 33 from the New England 46-yard line. That took the Rams out of field-goal range.

*At the start of the second half, the Rams successfully executed an onside kick and took possession at their own 41-yard line. On a three-and-out, they gained just six yards.

*On the Patriots' next possession, safety Oshiomogho Atogwe registered his 11th interception in 15 games, and the Rams gained possession at the New England 43-yard line. On second-and-7 from the 30-yard line, tackle Alex Barron was whistled for holding. The Rams did get enough yards back for Josh Brown to hit a 44-yard field goal that tied the game at 13.

*On the Patriots' next possession, Fakhir Brown intercepted quarterback Matt Cassel and returned the ball to the Rams' 42-yard line. The officials ignored an obvious late hit on Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Again, the Rams failed to capitalize, going three-and-out.

*At the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, Bulger hit Avery for 44 yards to the New England 20-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 7-yard line, it appeared someone ran a wrong route putting two receivers too close to each other. Bulger fired the ball out of the end zone, and the Rams settled for their second red-zone field goal.

In their wins over Washington and Dallas, the Rams had won the field-position battle, largely because of special teams play. It betrayed them Sunday, especially in the fourth quarter.

After taking a 16-13 lead early in the fourth quarter, Patriots kickoff returner Ellis Hobbs squirted out of the pack at about the 25-yard line and was finally pulled down by Brown at midfield. The Patriots went three-and-out, but the change of possession gave the Rams the ball at their own 20.

The Rams went three-and-out and Jones punted out of bounds at the Patriots' 48-yard line, a mark Haslett vehemently disagreed with. The defense eventually stiffened, but a field goal tied the game at 16.

After another Rams three-and-out, Jones punted just 46 yards with a 38 net, and the Patriots started from their 47-yard line. After a Long sack on first down, the big play for the Patriots was a 23-yard pass to Randy Moss on second-and-18. Five plays later, New England scored the winning touchdown.

The Rams still had hope as they drove to the New England 33-yard line. But the big play was not the third-down interception by Bulger, but rather wide receiver Keenan Burton failing to recognize a hot read on second down. Bulger threw it to where Burton should have turned around, but Burton kept going and the pass fell harmlessly to the ground. On the interception, it appeared Burton and Avery were too close to each other on their routes, which made it appear Bulger was throwing into triple coverage.

Concluded Haslett, "Every time we would get something out we had a penalty and that was really the demise of the team in the third and fourth quarter."

Still, despite having a 2-5 record, the Rams are tied with Seattle for second place in the NFC West, just two games behind first-place Arizona. The Cardinals come to St. Louis Sunday, which will be the first of five remaining division games for the Rams on the schedule. A victory would move the Rams to within one game of Arizona at the season's halfway point for both teams.

Said Haslett, You still have to play that team twice. We still have to play Seattle and San Francisco twice. So, this loss wasn’t pleasant, but everything you’ve got is still ahead of you."

JACKSON A NO GO

Running back Steven Jackson gave his injured quadriceps a shot in pregame warm-ups, but it seemed the more he did, the worse it got. Said Haslett, "He just couldn’t go. Every time he planted and tried to cut on it, it grabbed. So, we thought for him and what is best for this team was not to let him go."

Pittman did a solid job, rushing for 83 yards on 19 attempts. However, on two carries on first down in the red zone, Pittman was stopped for no gain and a loss of two yards. Jackson's presence could have made a difference on those two red-zone trips that resulted in field goals.

ONE FLAG ON PATRIOTS

The Rams were incredulous that in a hard-fought game, officials only called one penalty on the Patriots. And, that was a holding call on tackle Matt Light on a Long sack that was declined.

The Rams lost 63 yards on nine penalties, and were flagged another three times that were declined.

Said guard Richie Incognito, when told the Patriots were assessed no penalties, "I have never, ever, ever played a perfect team before. That's all I'm going to say on that one."

Conspiracy theorists will note that referee Scott Green was the back judge in Super Bowl XXXVI when the Patriots' defensive backs totally mugged the Rams receivers all game, eventually leading to the league making it a point of emphasis for officials to actually call defensive holding.

SIMPLY NOTING

*Defensive end Leonard Little left the game in the second half with an injury to his right hamstring and did not return. It was the same hamstring Little injured in the season opener that caused him to miss the next two games. Afterward, Little said he believes he will be able to play next Sunday against Arizona. He is scheduled to have an MRI today.

*Defensive tackle Adam Carriker, who suffered an ankle injury against Dallas, did not make the trip to New England.

*What was he thinking?: Kick returner Dante Hall made one ill-advised kickoff return, trying to bring a kick out from three yards deep in the end zone and reaching just the 12-yard line. Who knows what he was thinking on New England's final punt of the game (a play that started with 19 seconds on the clock) when he fielded the ball at the back of the end zone, then ran around for several seconds before taking a knee for a touchback with just five seconds remaining in the game.

Hall has made far too many bad decisions on kicks this season.