Rams grind out win in Oakland
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
OAKLAND, CALIF. — As the Rams huddled up early in the fourth quarter, Marc Bulger eyed his offensive teammates and said: "Look, they know we're going to run. We know we're going to run. Let's just do that."
And so they did. Bulger took the snap, handed off to Steven Jackson, who ran through a gaping hole in the middle of the line. He didn't stop until he had reached the end zone known in NFL lore as the Black Hole. Jackson's 19-yard touchdown run closed out the scoring in a 20-0 Rams victory over the Oakland Raiders.
Jackson was greeted in the end zone by a plastic football and by what Jackson described as "a dark drink" tossed "by a little old lady." But nothing could slow down Jackson on Sunday, not even debris tossed from the stands at McAfee Coliseum.
By day's end, Jackson had carried a career-high 31 times. Despite Oakland's efforts to stop the run by crowding the line of scrimmage with extra defenders, Jackson finished with 127 yards and two touchdowns.
"It was a lot of fun," Jackson said afterward. "It really felt like they finally put the game in my hands, and I enjoyed it."
With a bruised Bulger and a reshuffled offensive line, giving Jackson a heavy workload was the surest path to victory — the Rams' first road victory since Oct. 8 and second victory overall in 10 weeks.
"It's been a tough stretch," coach Scott Linehan said. "We've lost some tough games, and we've lost some not-so-close games."
But mainly, they've lost.
"It would have been easy for us to 'sack the bats,' so to speak," Linehan said, using an awkward baseball analogy. "Maybe not on purpose, but subconsciously. But our guys refused to do that, and I think our leadership showed, both within the coaching staff and the players."
At 6-8, the Rams remained mathematically alive for a wild-card berth. But the last thing on the Rams' minds late Sunday afternoon was the postseason. They were just happy to win. Finally.
"It's about time," said defensive end Leonard Little, who registered two sacks and forced a fumble. "I think it was a great effort by this team, offensively and defensively, to show people that we'll never stop playing, no matter what the circumstances are."
They did it with a lot of Jackson, five takeaways and the first shutout by the Rams since the 2003 season (a 36-0 triumph over Atlanta).
"It's always a big thing for a defense to pitch a shutout," linebacker Will Witherspoon said. "Get that goose egg on the board at the end of the game. It's a wonderful feeling."
With backup Andrew Walter finishing up for the benched Aaron Brooks at quarterback, the Raiders reached the Rams' 7 in the closing seconds but couldn't get another play off before time expired.
This is no misprint: The Rams allowed a season-low 57 yards rushing, and just 3.2 yards a carry. Only one offensive play by the Raiders went for more than 19 yards. And the defense came up with four of the Rams' five takeaways — on three interceptions and one fumble recovery..
"I'm just glad to see we got back on the right track again," safety Corey Chavous said. "It's just good to be able to have something that we can all be proud of."
Two time-consuming drives produced only a pair of Jeff Wilkins field goals and a 6-0 halftime lead. But the Rams got some breathing room early in the second half when Oakland's Chris Carr fumbled a Matt Turk punt, with Chris Massey recovering for the Rams at the Raiders' 24. Four plays later, Jackson was in the end zone for his first TD and a 13-0 St. Louis lead.
By Linehan's count, there was only one play — all day — in which Oakland's sixth-ranked defense didn't stack the box with extra defenders to stop the run. But the Rams kept calling runs and working Jackson. Bulger threw only 22 passes, completing 11 for just 137 yards.
"I can't remember the last time I threw for under 150," Bulger said. "I don't think I've ever done it. But to win a game like that, you know your defense is playing good."
Other than games in which he left because of injury, Bulger hasn't thrown for fewer than yards since 2003 (110 yards against Baltimore). He hasn't attempted fewer passes since '03 as well (20 against Minnesota). In typical Bulger fashion, he wasn't about to get carried away over one road victory. Especially in what remains a disappointing season.
"It's nice," Bulger said. "But you've got to put it in perspective. We didn't beat the New England Patriots today in Foxborough."
No, just the 2-12 Raiders. Then again, as Bulger pointed out, "We lost to a team (Arizona) with two wins a couple of weeks ago. ... We'll take anything we can get right now."