By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Dec. 04 2005

It's a simple game, really, and when you can't run the football - or stop the
run - you're not going to win many football games.

The Rams did neither Sunday, in a 24-9 loss to Washington that effectively
ended any hopes of reaching the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

While Clinton Portis and Rock Cartwright - yes, Rock Cartwright - were both
topping 100 yards rushing for Washington, Rams running backs managed only 27
yards rushing on just 12 carries.

Take it from straight-shooting interim head coach Joe Vitt: "I think the big
difference in the game was their ability to run the football on us, and we
couldn't get any running game generated."

In short, the Rams got bullied by classic NFC East-style football at the Edward
Jones Dome. It was as if Redskins coach Joe Gibbs was still stuck in the '80s,
loading up with three tight ends and running right at the Rams.

It worked back then, when the Redskins were on a run that brought them three
Super Bowl titles from 1982 through 1991. And it worked on Sunday, to the tune
of 257 yards rushing against a sloppy-tackling Rams defense, particularly in
the secondary.

The end result was that the Rams (5-7) were dominated by a mediocre Washington
team (6-6), one that had lost three consecutive games prior to Sunday. Although
the Rams mathematically have a shot at the playoffs, for all practical purposes
they are done. It almost certainly will take 10 victories to earn a wild-card
berth, and the best the Rams can do is 9-7.

It will be the first time in a while that the team isn't playing meaningful
football in December - or at least much of December.

"It's going to be a test of character and pride," offensive guard Adam
Timmerman said. "Pride in this team. Pride in this season to finish off and see
who's going to keep playing - playing hard. And who's going to hang it up."

Sunday's loss did mathematically eliminate St. Louis from NFC West title
contention. On the fourth day of December, Seattle clinched its second
consecutive West title without even playing. The Seahawks play Philadelphia
tonight.

"This is a devastating loss for our football team, obviously," Vitt said. "We
let it get away from us in the fourth quarter."

That they did. St. Louis trailed only 10-7 entering the fourth quarter. But
completions of 29 yards to tight end Robert Royal and 30 yards to Santana Moss
put Washington on the doorstep of the end zone at the end of the third quarter.

Rookie strong safety Jerome Carter, starting in place of the injured Adam
Archuleta (concussion), missed a tackle on Royal that would have stopped him
for a short gain.

On the pass to Moss, both Carter and nickel back Corey Ivy had good coverage,
but Mark Brunell's pass still made it to Moss.

"We had him doubled," Vitt said. "We didn't make the play. ... We had some
missed assignments on defense where we did not rotate the secondary. Our young
safeties struggled a little bit."

Moss' play carried to the St. Louis 9, and three plays later Portis was in the
end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the day. Hopes for yet another
comeback victory were revived early in the fourth quarter, when Brunell fumbled
out of his own end zone for a safety.

The two points narrowed Washington's lead to eight - 17-9 - and the Rams took
over with good field position at their 37 following the free kick. But on
second and 3 from the 44, rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick missed
connections on a handoff to Steven Jackson.

"I was going back to give Steven the ball," Fitzpatrick said. "I knocked
against the fullback's side. Completely my fault."

Washington defensive end Renaldo Wynn recovered on the Rams' 45. The Redskins
pounded away with eight consecutive running plays to either Portis or
Cartwright. Then, on third and goal from the 4, Brunell passed to a w-i-d-e
open Chris Cooley for a TD and a 24-9 lead with 5 minutes 50 seconds to play.

There were no miracle comebacks on this day. The botched exchange typified what
was a tough day for Fitzpatrick in his first NFL start after his stellar work a
week ago in the comeback victory in Houston.

Harassed immediately by the blitzes of Washington defensive coordinator Gregg
Williams - who's a candidate to replace Mike Martz in St. Louis - Fitzpatrick
never got in rhythm.

He completed 21 of 36 passes, but for only 163 yards on a day when the Rams
didn't have a completion longer than 19 yards or running play gain more than
nine. Although he scrambled his way out of several predicaments, including a
seven-yard dash for the Rams' only score, Fitzpatrick was high and off-target
on several throws.

"It's disappointing," Fitzpatrick said. "The worst thing about this, it's just
such a bad feeling because you feel you disappointed your teammates and let
them down a little bit. And that's not a great feeling."

The Rams were simply smothered all day by a Washington defense that was strong
up front but featured speedy linebackers, particularly the underrated Marcus
Washington. For the third week in a row, the combination of a defensive front
stacked against the run, and a blitz-heavy scheme, proved troublesome for the
Rams.

Despite ranking fourth in the league in total offense entering the game, the
Rams finished with only 191 yards in offense Sunday - their 10th-lowest total
since the move to St. Louis in 1995.

"We knew coming in, they were going to challenge us," wide receiver Torry Holt
said. "But we still felt like we could move the ball consistently in the air."

Not even close.

"We've had a lot of successes on offense," Holt said. "So anytime anybody slows
us down we wonder what's going on