USA TODAY



Several members of the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals took a little detour on the way to their victory parade.
Prior to the start of the Rams' game against the New Orleans Saints, they gathered on the sideline of the Edward Jones Dome with the World Series trophy and listened to the cheers of the crowd as the scoreboard camera moved from player to player.

Manager Tony La Russa was wearing a Sam Bradford throwback jersey. Chris Carpenter, in what turned out to be the most symbolic aspect of the day, had on a Steven Jackson jersey and participated in the coin toss.

Little did Carpenter and his teammates know what would happen between the sidelines during the game. Little did they know how Jackson had taken it upon himself before the game to address his teammates, not much different than when Carpenter called that fateful team meeting in late August after the Cardinals had fallen 10 1/2 games out of the wild-card lead.

Then, a passionate Jackson was on display during the game, most notably in the fourth quarter, when the Rams started lapsing into the self-destructive tendencies that had sabotaged the first six games of the season.

When it was over, the Rams had an inexplicable 31-21 victory, and Jackson had backed up his words by totaling 191 yards from scrimmage, including 159 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

As coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "If you're going to do that as a leader, you've got to lead. He probably put a little pressure on himself."

Asked what Jackson said, Spagnuolo answered, "I don't think it's right for me to share. If Steven wants to, that's OK, but it was good stuff."

Jackson said, "To be honest with you, I woke up at about 3:30 in the morning. I couldn't sleep, just something resonated in me. I was just asking myself and praying, to be honest with you, about what can I say to inspire this team to play 60 minutes of good football.

"I think we've all seen us play 30 minutes, 40 minutes of football. We have yet this season to put together a full game, a full four quarters of good football, so pretty much all I said was, 'If you have ever been in a fight where you ever get hit by a punch, you've only got two decisions. You can either run from the person, or you can dig deep inside and find the will in you to keep swinging and keep fighting. When that happens, you're challenged.'

"So I challenged them, not as football players. I challenged them as men. I said, 'You know what? We've been hit, we've taken a lot of shots, we will be hit in this game going against a potent offense, and when that hit comes, I challenge you to respond in a way that you have to dig deep inside to find something in you that you didn't know you had.' I think today, in that fourth quarter, we saw that. And the guys rose to the challenge, and I'm very proud of them."

Jackson said as much when he held a ball aloft in the raucous locker room. He said, "I challenged everyone in the locker room, coaches included, to come out and fight, and you did exactly that, so this game ball goes out to everybody."

A passionate Jackson told reporters afterward, "What we did last Sunday in Dallas was not what this team is made of. It's not what we've built here over the last three seasons under coach Spagnuolo and his staff. We wanted to go out and prove that what people were saying, what people were trying to put on us, labels, that we're not that. We're a much better team. Flat out, this was a team effort, a team win."

Similar to the team win fashioned by the Cardinals, there were numerous heroes aside from Jackson during those 60 minutes Sunday.

But while so many were trying to make a connection between the Cardinals' presence and the Rams' performance, and wondering if it served as motivation, Jackson put that notion into his perspective.

He said, "I think the Cardinals being here was great for the city." He then paused for five seconds and concluded, "Whoever showed up today, regardless if the place was empty; today was a day not to play the Rams. We came out with a mindset that we were going to fight, and we were going to fight for 60 minutes of football regardless who was in the stands or who was the opponent. And even if we made mistakes, we're not going to dwell on it, and I think we saw that today."

NOTES, QUOTES

—Entering play Sunday, the Rams had led for a total of 6:28 in the first six games of the season. They had never taken an offensive snap with a lead. The defense rarely got the opponent in long-yardage situations. As games careened out of control, the defense was gashed by the run, never more so that the 294 yards gained by Dallas the week before.

The script was different Sunday. Even though the Rams wouldn't take their first lead until there was 8:32 left in the second quarter, the explosive New Orleans offense never got untracked.

The Saints' first drive ended after a deflection by linebacker James Laurinaitis and good coverage by cornerback Al Harris. A Laurinaitis sack on the next possession moved the Saints back from the Rams' 36-yard line, and even after a 17-yard play on third-and-22 got New Orleans into field-goal range, John Kasay missed a 49-yard field goal.

In the first half, the Saints had third-down plays of 14, 19 and 22 yards. The game truly turned in a span of 84 seconds late in the second quarter.

Rookie defensive end Robert Quinn blocked a punt, and the ball bounced out of bounds at the New Orleans 15-yard line. Quarterback A.J. Feeley hit rookie receiver Greg Salas for 12 yards, and Jackson recovered a Salas fumble. For some reason, the Rams rushed to the line of scrimmage to run the next play even though the Saints had no timeouts left. When Jackson scored on the next play, there was still 1:10 left in the half, plenty of time for quarterback Drew Brees to move the ball down the field.

Yet, on first down, cornerback Josh Gordy had great position and intercepted Brees' pass at the 38-yard line.

Seven plays later, after a 14-yard completion to Brandon Gibson on third-and-10 and a 6-yard run by Feeley, the quarterback hit Brandon Lloyd on an 8-yard touchdown pass. Suddenly, the score at halftime was 17-0.

Yes, there was a stretch in the second half in which the Rams let the Saints back in the game, and Jackson exhorted the offensive players to get their heads back in the game.

But it was safety Darian Stewart who made the defining play with the Rams leading 24-14 and the Saints on their own 20 with 3:01 remaining. Stewart stepped in front of a pass intended for tight end Jimmy Graham, and not only intercepted it, but raced 27 yards for a touchdown. It was the first return score by the Rams in 33 games since Oct. 18, 2009, against Jacksonville.

As Spagnuolo said, "I told the guys last night, there is going to be eight to 10 difference-making moments. I'll add them up when I watch the film, but my guess is that we made them this time. If you don't make them, it's hard to win."

—The Saints were coming off a 62-point explosion against Indianapolis, and they entered the game with the second-ranked offense in the NFL, averaging 467.1 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play, which ranked fourth. They gained just 283 yards (4.0 per play), and 80 came on a meaningless final touchdown drive designed solely to extend Brees' streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 35.

—After three quarters, the Rams led 24-7 and New Orleans had totaled just 130 yards on 41 plays (3.2 per play).

In seven previous games, Brees had been sacked 13 times. The Rams had six sacks Sunday, three by defensive end Chris Long.

The Saints were ninth in rushing yards per game (126.1) and seventh in average per attempt (4.6) prior to Sunday. Playing without Mark Ingram (heel), they rushed for 56 yards on 20 carries (2.8-yard average).

—The combined record of the Rams' first six opponents is 31-19. Starting with Arizona this week, five of the next six games and three of the next four will be played against NFC West teams. The next four opponents — Arizona, Cleveland, Seattle and Arizona again — have a combined record of 7-21, counting the Cardinals twice.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

—QB Sam Bradford is out of the boot he has been in since suffering a high ankle sprain against Green Bay on Oct. 16. He did some strengthening Monday morning, and it is hoped he'll practice some this week. "We'll slowly work him in," coach Steve Spagnuolo said.

—WR Mark Clayton was in a boot over the weekend for a sore Achilles, and it's not known yet whether he'll be able to practice this week. With Clayton currently on physically unable to perform (PUP), the Rams have to decide by Nov. 9 whether to active him, keep him on PUP for the rest of the season or release him.

—WR Danario Alexander, who was inactive for Sunday's game against New Orleans because of a hamstring injury, is expected to be back practicing Wednesday on a limited basis.

—CB Justin King (groin) was inactive Sunday against the Saints although he could have been available in an emergency if the decision had been made to make him active. King is expected to be fine for practice Wednesday.

—C/G Tony Wragge is having an MRI for a hyperextended knee that he fought through in practice last week.

—WR Greg Salas has a sore ankle, but he is expected to be OK for practice this week.


REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus — QB A.J. Feeley managed the game well and didn't throw an interception, although he coughed up the ball on a sack, and the ball was recovered in the end zone for the Saints' first touchdown of the game. Ten of Feeley's 20 completions did result in first downs, and WR Brandon Lloyd scored his first touchdown with the Rams on an 8-yard pass. The longest pass play in the game for the Rams was 17 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A — RB Steven Jackson rushed for 159 yards and scored two touchdowns. A 32-yard run on a fourth-and-2 play set up one of his two 3-yard scoring runs. Jackson had five runs of 15 yards or longer in the game.

PASS DEFENSE: A — The final numbers for QB Drew Brees (30-for-44 for 269 yards) don't look bad, but 10-for-13 for 88 yards came on the final, meaningless possession. The Rams sacked Brees six times for 42 yards in losses, and they had two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Brees, who entered the game with a 104.1 passer rating, had a rating of 73.0 Sunday.

RUSH DEFENSE: A — Saints running backs ran 21 times for 57 yards (3.0 per rush) after entering the game averaging 4.6 yards per carry. No matter who carried the ball, the Rams shut them down, allowing a long run of just 9 yards. Pierre Thomas had seven carries for 23 yards, Darren Sproles six for 16 and Chris Ivory six for 18.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A — While Sproles did have a 36-yard kickoff return, he was held mostly in check, averaging 24.2 yards on five kickoffs and 6.3 yards on three punt returns. P Donnie Jones had a solid net average of 39.9 yards. The biggest play was a blocked punt by rookie DE Robert Quinn near the end of the first half that led to the first touchdown of the game.

COACHING: A — Despite the team's 0-6 record, coach Steve Spagnuolo and his staff had the Rams ready to play, and the coaches adjusted to the loss of more players to injury. Six of the seven inactive players had injuries, and five were starters.