Rams finally shake their funk
Bulger caps impressive 80-yard drive in final minute with game-winning touchdown pass to Curtis
BY STEVE KORTE
ST. LOUIS - In what coach Scott Linehan termed "a gut-check game," the St. Louis Rams summoned enough fortitude to pull out a much-needed win.
Marc Bulger threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Curtis with 27 seconds left, capping an 80-yard drive and lifting the Rams past the San Francisco ***** 20-17 Sunday before 65,517 fans at the Edward Jones Dome.
For the Rams (5-6), the win snapped a five-game losing streak.
"The term used pretty well all week by us was 'gut-check game,' and our guys passed the test in all phases -- offensively, defensively and special teams," Linehan said. "This was more of a team win than we've had all year."
The win was a big boost for the Rams' morale as they got to celebrate for the first time since beating the Green Bay Packers 23-20 on Oct. 8.
"It's just a sigh of relief," Rams defensive end Leonard Little said. "We've been fighting and fighting for a win, and we finally had things go our way today."
Linehan shook things up on offense by letting offensive coordinator Greg Olson call the plays.
"I can spend more time being a head coach," Linehan said of handing off the play-calling duties. "My presence needed to be felt in all phases for us to continue to improve. I have 100 percent confidence in Olson. He did a great job today."
Linehan said he still spends most of the week working with the offense and devising a game plan.
The ***** gashed the Rams' run defense for 171 yards, including 134 yards by Frank Gore.
San Francisco ran the ball nine straight times on a late drive, moving the ball down to the St. Louis 7.
On third-and-1, short-yardage running back Michael Robinson was stopped for no gain. The press box statistics credited the tackle to linebackers Brandon Chillar and Raonall Smith, though there was a swarm of players involved in the play.
"Defensively, we didn't look good on that last drive, but we got the stop when we needed to," Linehan said. "We played our best football from that third-down stop on."
Gore was not in the game for the crucial carry after rolling his right ankle four plays earlier.
On fourth-and-inches, ***** coach Mike Nolan opted to kick a field rather than go for the first down.
"I thought about it," Nolan said. "Run it hard, but we're on the road. Three points. Go up by four, make it a touchdown game. I wouldn't change anything."
The Rams began their last drive at their own 20. Bulger was 9-for-9 passing as they moved the ball down the field with surgical precision.
Bulger's final pass was rifled to Curtis despite tight coverage in the end zone.
"In that situation, there is not a big margin for error," Linehan said. "You have to keep the ball down. It has to be a perfect throw, and it's a tough catch."
There was a booth review on the play, but the instant replay showed Curtis made the catch.
"I knew it was low, and I asked Kevin," Bulger said. "If you go to the receiver and he gives you, 'Yeah, I think so,' then you know he probably dropped it. He gave me a look like, 'Yeah, it was definitely a touchdown."'
The ***** got the ball with 21 seconds remaining, but free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe capped the Rams' comeback with an interception on the final play.
Bulger completed 23 of 34 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown. His passer rating was 80.6.
Rams running back Steven Jackson had 192 yards from scrimmage. He rushed for 121 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown run, and he caught nine passes for 71 yards.
Olson displayed a conviction for running the ball that wasn't present last Sunday when the team had only eight running plays in a 15-0 loss to the Carolina Panthers. He called three straight running plays to start the Rams' opening drive.
The Rams had the ball inside *****' territory when Torry Holt was called for an offsides penalty and then San Francisco linebacker Manny Lawson intercepted a sideline pass intended for Holt.
Linehan challenged whether Lawson got two feet in bounds on the interception, but referee Terry McAulay said the replay showed that Lawson got his left elbow inbounds.
In the second quarter, Linehan opted for a field goal in the scoreless game rather than going for the first down on fourth-and-1 at the San Francisco 6.
Jeff Wilkins booted a 24-yarder to put the Rams up 3-0.
A turnover on special teams -- Will Witherspoon knocked the ball out of San Francisco punt returner Arnaz Battle's hands and Dwaine Carpenter fell on it at the San Francisco 36 -- helped the Rams increase their lead to 10-0.
On the Rams' first play after the turnover, Jackson broke loose on his 36-yard touchdown run.
The ***** marched 73 yards in just 1:36 to get on the scoreboard with a 12-yard touchdown run by Gore.
Bulger left the game after being hit by Young on a pass that was intercepted with 22 seconds remaining in the first half.
The interception was negated by an offside penalty on San Francisco's Roderick Green, and Rams backup quarterback Gus Frerotte got the team in position for a field goal with a 27-yard pass to Kevin Curtis with three seconds left.
Wilkins connected on a 51-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to put the Rams ahead 13-7.