Rams romp over Colts in exhibition opener

By Jim Thomas

It didn't take long for several of the new Rams to show their stuff in Saturday's preseason opener against Indianapolis. And there was a lot to like from them, and others, in the Rams' convincing 33-10 victory over the Colts.

Safety Quintin Mikell, the free-agent pickup from Philadelphia, picked off the second pass of the game by the Colts' Curtis Painter and returned it 25 yards to the Indy 16. Four plays later, rookie tight end Lance Kendricks caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford, shrugging off a would-be tackler at the 1 to muscle into the end zone.

With Pro Bowler Steven Jackson sitting this one out, new backfield backups Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood combined for 77 yards rushing on 19 carries, including a 1-yard TD run by Williams.

After missing time because of a triceps muscle injury, new defensive tackle Justin Bannan was in the starting lineup and did what he was hired to do - stuff the run - on a couple of plays before retiring for the evening.

"He wanted to play in the game, we couldn't keep him out of it," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "That tells you a lot about him."

Not to be outdone by the newbies, Josh Brown booted four field goals - including a 60-yarder to end the first half. It all added up to one of the most one-sided preseason victories for the Rams since the move to St. Louis in 1995.

"It was tons of fun," Kendricks said.

But don't start camping out for playoff tickets just yet.

One of the top quarterbacks of this or any era - Peyton Manning - is on the physically unable to perform list following neck surgery May 23. No team is dependent on any one single player as the Colts are on Manning, who was on the sidelines in street clothes. And one of the game's elite pass rushers, defensive end Dwight Freeney, also sat out for the Colts.

"I try to bear in mind, you know, Peyton Manning didn't play," Spagnuolo said, adding tongue-in-cheek, "I'm sure that would make a little bit of a difference. I'm sure they had some of their (top) defensive guys out of there. So I don't want to get too excited. I'm happy for the guys, you work two solid weeks of what they've been going through, it's nice to feel this kind of enjoyment. But we get it out of our system (Sunday) and move on."

Even so, for one night anyway, just about everything went right for the Rams.
"Obviously it was nice to come out and put two touchdowns on the board," said Bradford, who played four series and left with a 20-3 lead early in the second quarter. "I thought we did some really good things. I thought our line played great early. They opened some big holes for our running backs, got the run game going, and kept me clean. Other than that, we've got to keep getting better."

Mikell's interception return gave the Rams their first possession at the Indy 16.
Then after a three-and-out, Craig Dahl's interception and return - again to the Indy 16 - led to a three-play field goal "drive." So after three series, Bradford and the first-team offense had only 10 plays under their belts.

So Spagnuolo gave the starting unit one more series, which just happened to be a 14-play, 7-minute 14-second drive that culminated in Williams' TD run. Kendricks, who also had two dropped passes in the game, made a couple of third-down grabs to keep this drive alive. Later in the drive, fullback Brit Miller gained three yards on a fourth-and-1 from the Indianapolis 23.

"I played about what I thought," said Bradford, who completed seven of 12 passes for 45 yards with one TD and a 94.1 passer rating. "We had some short drives to start the first half, so I had a feeling I was going to play the whole first quarter, even a little into the second."

Bradford wasn't sacked, and was under duress on only a couple of passes behind an offensive line bolstered by the addition of right guard Harvey Dahl in free agency.

"It felt good to get that out of the way and take some live bullets and go hit somebody beside our own teammates," Dahl said. "We had good communication and put the ball in the end zone a couple times. Tonight's just something to build on and work on the little things and get ready for Philly."

The Rams open the regular season Sept. 11 against Philadelphia.

Brown's 60-yarder gave the Rams a 23-3 lead at halftime. They added a five-yard TD run by Keith Toston and a 53-yard field goal by Brown in the second half. The 33 points were the fifth-highest preseason total for the Rams since the move to St. Louis.

The first look at the new offense of coordinator Josh McDaniels didn't reveal much of the playbook. There were few long passes, and the Rams had a modest 187 yards of offense at halftime when their starters and top backups were in the game.

But the takeaways in Colts territory by Mikell and Dahl helped set the tone.

"So far so good," said Mikell, a longtime Philadelphia Eagle. "It's good to come out and get some turnovers in the first game and play physical. That's really what we wanted to do was play physical and get some turnovers."