By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Sep. 08 2008
STALLED OFFENSE • Rams fail to convert on all 11 third-down opportunities.
SHREDDED DEFENSE • 3 Eagles get 100 yards receiving for first time in 48 years.

* * * * * *

PHILADELPHIA — It took two plays for their first penalty. Four plays for their
first injury. Four of the five offensive line starters had false start
penalties — before halftime.

They couldn't block. They sure couldn't cover. And boy, they really couldn't
convert on third down.

Wait a minute. Wasn't the theme for the 2008 Rams that things would be
different this season?

It sure looked a lot like the 3-13 Rams of a year ago, except maybe worse if
you can believe that. Sunday's 38-3 loss to Philadelphia was the most lopsided
opening-day defeat in 71 years of Rams football.

The 35-point margin of defeat was the worst for the club since Scott Linehan
took over as head coach in 2006. It took a 46-yard field goal by Josh Brown
with 9 minutes left in the game to avoid the franchise's first opening-day
shutout since 1965.

And hopefully, punter Donnie Jones put his kicking leg on ice Sunday night.
Jones' 10 punts at Lincoln Financial Field fell just two short of the Rams'
single-game record.

When the best news of the afternoon is a painful blow to the ribs, you know
it's not your day. (Left tackle Orlando Pace suffered only sore ribs, and not
another shoulder injury, with 10½ minutes left in the game.)

So all in all it was a discouraging day.

"I think 'discouraged' is not a very good word," Linehan said. "I don't like to
use it, and refuse to use it. I'm very disappointed, though."

OK, how about "embarrassing"?

"I would think so," cornerback Fakhir Brown said. "I wish we could play
tomorrow. Try to make up for this."

But as quarterback Marc Bulger points out, there are no mulligans in the NFL.

"That's about as bad as you can get beat in the NFL," Bulger said. "We realize
it. And we don't have any excuses."

The Rams began their offseason conditioning program 5½ months ago. They are six
weeks removed from the start of training camp at Concordia University
Wisconsin. But all that work and preparation unraveled in a hurry.

"To put it in simple terms, we got our butt whipped today," tight end Randy
McMichael said Sunday. "There's no way you can sugarcoat it."

The Rams won the coin toss but elected to defer receiving the ball until the
start of the second half. That was the first of many bad moves for St. Louis.

Philadelphia scored on its first two possessions to take a 14-0 lead late in
the first quarter. Rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson, whom the Rams bypassed
in favor of Donnie Avery last April in the draft, went up over cornerback Tye
Hill on the second play of the game for a 47-yard reception. Fifteen yards were
tacked on to the play because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the
Rams' bench.

Apparently a Rams player — believed to be wide receiver Torry Holt —
accidentally made contact with a member of referee Peter Morelli's officiating
crew on the sideline. Linehan said he wasn't sure what happened. Holt left
without speaking to reporters.

In any event, the Eagles suddenly found themselves on the St. Louis 18. A
couple of minutes later, quarterback Donovan McNabb threw the first of his
three touchdown passes — a one-yard shovel pass to Brian Westbrook. Just a
couple of plays earlier, defensive end Leonard Little left the game with a
hamstring injury.

That drive set the tone for the game. What could go wrong did go wrong. Over
and over. Wide receiver Drew Bennett left on the Rams' first offensive series
with a foot injury.

Hill was beaten on a double-move by Greg Lewis on Philly's second possession,
setting up McNabb's second TD pass. Hill was benched from the base defense
after that play, playing only in the nickel package thereafter.

Before calling it a day early in the fourth quarter, McNabb had 361 yards
passing — the highest opening-day total of his career. By game's end, Jackson,
Lewis and Hank Baskett all had 100 yards receiving — the first time that's
happened for Philadelphia since 1960.

And that was with the Eagles' two starting wide receivers — Reggie Brown and
former Ram Kevin Curtis — sitting out the game with injuries.

Baskett got most of his 100 on one flick of McNabb's arm. After those two quick
early scores by Philly, the Rams appeared to have stopped the bleeding. They
still trailed by 14-0 in the final minute of the first half, with the clock
running.

But on third-and-8, Baskett ran right by cornerback Ron Bartell, who said he
was blitzing on the play. Baskett was open by maybe 20 yards when he hauled in
a deep ball from McNabb and outraced Corey Chavous for a 90-yard TD.

"They had the perfect call for what we were running," Bartell said.

So it was 21-0 going into the half, and the rout was on.

The Rams averaged only 2.4 yards a carry on the ground, with Steven Jackson
gaining a modest 40 yards on 14 carries. Bulger was sacked four times and
harassed on several other plays. The Rams didn't convert a third-down
opportunity all day — the first time that has happened since 1991. They were
zero for 11 Sunday.

"There were a litany of problems," Bulger said. "I didn't throw the ball well.
We probably could've blocked better at some points. There's a lot of blame to
go around. But I realize it starts with me. And if your quarterback doesn't
play well, the rest of your offense won't."