By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
08/17/2008

The Rams tackled better, rushed the passer and did a much better job against the run.

On offense, they nearly doubled San Diego's first-half yardage output 193 to 98.

Even the coverage units on special teams were crisper. But by the end of the half, once the starters were done for the night, the Rams had nothing to show for it. At least on offense.

Yes, the August gridiron nightmare continues. In 10 exhibition games under coach Scott Linehan spanning 2 preseasons, the Rams still don't have a touchdown from their first-team offense.

"Our goal was to improve and get a win," Linehan said after a 7-6 triumph at home over San Diego. "And to be honest with you, we accomplished our goal. ... So you can ask me anything you want and I'm a happy man."

OK, well, what about the continuing trouble scoring by the first unit? Linehan seemed so bound and determined to score a touchdown with his starters, he went for it twice on fourth and goal early in the second quarter inside the San Diego 10.

"It wasn't so much to break the preseason touchdown spell, or whatever it is," Linehan said. "It was more kind of a determination check. I was really proud of offensive line. Our backs ran well."

And in the end, the Rams persevered. Keep in mind, the Rams' two best offensive players running back Steven Jackson and wide receiver Torry Holt weren't on the field. Jackson's still holding out; Holt rested a tight back. Even so, you'd think the Rams somehow would stumble into the end zone against a San Diego defense that was resting half of its starters.

"We didn't score, and that's obviously our No. 1 goal," right guard Richie Incognito said. "But we moved the ball well enough to come away satisfied with this win."

Things went from shaky to surreal to scary for quarterback Marc Bulger and the Rams' offense. After a three-for-nine passing performance last weekend in Tennessee, Bulger wasn't much better Saturday night in the Rams' exhibition home opener, played in a half-filled Edward Jones Dome.

"I've been playing a long time, and I know this business is wins and losses," Bulger said. "You either score a touchdown or you didn't. As far as myself and the first unit, we didn't. So we're going to keep working on that."

He completed seven of 14 passes but threw interceptions on the Rams' first two possessions. A hard hit by linebacker Jyles Tucker ended Bulger's evening late in the second quarter. There was some early concern about a rotator cuff injury, because Bulger was hit while trying to follow through on his throwing motion. But he said after the game that he was fine.

"It was just a quick, scary thing," Bulger said. "(Tucker) got me when my arm was coming forward, and I wanted to make sure my rotator cuff was still in place. Just for a minute there it felt weird. I threw a little bit in the third quarter (on the sidelines) and it felt fine."

The Rams picked up two quick first downs after the opening kickoff. But on second and 7 from the San Diego 49, Bulger overthrew tight end Randy McMichael on a deep route over the middle. The ball deflected off McMichael's hands and into the grasp of Chargers rookie cornerback Antoine Cason, who raced 53 yards with the return to the Rams' 30.

That led to a Chargers field goal. On the next Rams offensive play, Chargers corner Cletis Gordon stepped in front of wide receiver Drew Bennett on a sideline route for another interception. The crowd responded with boos for Bulger.

Once again San Diego took over in Rams territory, but again the Chargers settled for a field goal.

Perhaps wanting to settle Bulger down, offensive coordinator Al Saunders went to the running game almost exclusively on the next drive. Making frequent use of two-tight-end sets, the Rams pounded away behind an offensive line that included Nick Leckey starting at center in place of the injured Brett Romberg (broken hand).

"It's always fun when they dial up (the run), and we run the ball well," Incognito said. "That's what we did. We matched up really well, and pounded on them."

Antonio Pittman ripped off runs of 14, 15, and 18 yards on the drive. Brian Leonard bounded outside for a gain of 10, then later spun off would-be tacklers for a 9-yard advance.

Would this be the day the Rams would get into the end zone with their starters in the preseason? Alas, even though Linehan went for it twice in the red zone on fourth down, the Rams were stopped 2 yards shy of the goal line early in the second quarter. They didn't get on the scoreboard until Travis Minor's 3-yard TD run and Josh Brown's extra point gave them a 7-6 lead with 5:46 left in the third.