Rams Gain Much from Win
Friday, August 27, 2010
By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

As New England kick returner Brandon Tate darted through the Rams coverage unit, taking the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, the immediate thought on the Rams sideline could easily have been something to the effect of “Here we go again.”

But in the process of learning how to win in the NFL, there must come a point whether it’s a minicamp practice in June, a regular season game in November or a preseason contest in August that those thoughts no longer become an option.

It remains to be seen if the Rams have reached that point yet but judging by their reaction to Tate’s opening lightning bolt, they are well on their way.

“I think we answered that kickoff return right away,” running back Steven Jackson said. “I think that was really big for the team and we didn’t get down or startled by it and put our heads down like we’ve seen in the past. I think we showed we have some resiliency in this locker room.”

So, what exactly, was the Rams’ reaction to that opening salvo fired by the Patriots? Nothing more than a blank stare.

With rookie quarterback Sam Bradford making his first NFL start in the third preseason game, generally the contest used as the best measuring stick for NFL teams in the exhibition slate, it would have made plenty of sense had the Rams come out on the first possession and took some time to catch their breath.

Before coming out of the locker room for the final time before Thursday’s game, Bradford said he took a deep breath and reminded himself not to let the emotions of the moment get in his way.

Surely, though, Tate’s return would be enough to rattle the rookie, right? Maybe not.

“To be honest, obviously you never like to see a kickoff return against you, but at the same time that meant I didn’t have to sit around and wait on the bench,” Bradford said. “And that means I was able to get on the field even sooner, which I like.”

Having Jackson in the backfield provided a sense of calm for the entire offense and Bradford made it clear he wasn’t intimidated by the moment or by the three Super Bowl champion banners at Gillette Stadium where the Patriots didn’t lose a game in 2009.

Bradford immediately went to work and completed all four of his pass attempts for 48 yards on the opening drive. He converted a key third-and-3 pass to Danny Amendola for 4 yards deep in New England territory to keep the chains moving.

And two plays later, he found tight end Michael Hoomanawanui for his first NFL touchdown pass.

“The offense was determined to answer what had happened and kind of rally, came back, scored and evened it up,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said.

It was no coincidence that the Rams used the momentum from that drive to play an inspired first half in which they outgained New England 241-106, put up 15 first downs to New England’s 4 and had the ball for 20 minutes and 25 seconds.

Even with the starters out in the second half and New England’s top groups still in, it appeared the confidence from the first 30 minutes carried over as Thaddeus Lewis promptly directed a touchdown drive to open the second half.

“I think what speaks volumes is not only coming out with a win,” Jackson said. “I think it speaks volumes that our number two offense was able to move the ball against their number one defense. I think that pretty much sums up the night. We came ready to play and I think we proved to ourselves and to a lot of people that was watching this game that we have some talent in this locker room and we are a team that is (on the rise). I feel really good about our performance.”

While the Patriots stormed back to take their first lead with their starters still in the game, the Rams remained unfazed and found a way to win in the end.

For a Rams team that hasn’t done much of that, especially on the road, it was the type of performance that can at the very least build a whole lot of confidence on a young team in need of it.

To do it against a packed house in New England with all of the recent history of that team added even more bounce to the Rams’ step according to Spagnuolo.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Spagnuolo said. “I stand up here when we get beat even in preseason and I say that anytime they keep score it counts. Probably because it is the New England Patriots and what they mean… I have a great deal of respect for them…so to come up here and have a little bit of success against this football team I think should give us some confidence; I know it does for me. They are a quality opponent no matter when you play them and so some of the things we did out there I think our guys should be proud of.”

For the game as a whole, there certainly was plenty for the Rams to be proud of.

On offense, they rolled up 462 yards, 30 first downs and had the ball for an astounding 43 minutes and 46 seconds. That unit also converted 11-of-17 third down tries, rushed for 136 yards and allowed a pair of sacks (only one of which came with the starters in).

And though it didn’t get as much recognition for its efforts, the defense, particularly the first team was every bit as good.

That group limited New England to 288 yards, 12 first downs and just 16 minutes and 14 seconds of possession. The Patriots were also just two-of-seven on third down and had only 28 yards rushing on 11 carries, an average of 2.5 per attempt.

Things were even more impressive with the first team defense on the field. That group came up with a trio of three and outs and a four and out. In the first half, New England had 106 yards, 76 of which came on three plays. On the other 15, the Patriots netted 26 yards.

Like the offense, the defense is stocked with plenty of young players still finding their way in the league but one only need to look at a youngster such as cornerback Bradley Fletcher going toe to toe with Randy Moss to see that the confidence is growing every day.

“It’s all about attitude,” Fletcher said. “You’ve got to come to work with the right attitude that you are going to get better today than you were yesterday and you’ve got to come out with the attitude that you are going to win whenever you take the field. I think that everyone has done a great job buying into that and feels like we can play with anybody in the NFL.”