By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
For anything less than the serious Rams fan, it really did take a program to keep track of the participants running around the turf of the Edward Jones Dome.
The almost-annual Governor's Cup game against cross-state rival Kansas City turned into the Bubble Bowl on Thursday night. It was a night for backups to get some work and for players on the fringe fighting for jobs.
When all was said and done, the Rams eked out a 10-3 victory, ending preseason play with a 2-2 record. It marked only the second time in six years the Rams have avoided a losing record in exhibition play. As a topper, the Governor's Cup is coming back to St. Louis. Before Thursday, the Cup had resided in Kansas City for four of the past five preseasons.
"I tell you, the greatest part about getting the Governor's Cup means you won the game," Scott Linehan said.
Linehan literally was speechless when handed the trophy by Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt. Nothing personal, governor, but Linehan just wanted to walk off the field Thursday night and head into the regular season.
"Obviously, I feel very good about winning any football game," Linehan said. "But the biggest thing we wanted to impress upon our team, we wanted guys to take it up a notch. We wanted our tempo to be better than it was last week and the week before.
"We worked very hard on that in practice. Regardless of the group that was in there, we wanted to show the improvement that way, and I thought our tempo and intensity in all three phases was much improved."
In last year's preseason finale against Miami, Linehan rested 20 of 22 starters. He went a couple of steps further Thursday. All 22 projected starters for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Carolina were rested against Kansas City.
No, there wasn't even a one-play cameo appearance by running back Steven Jackson this time. And there wasn't even a pretense of playing by many of the Rams' veterans. Linebacker Will Witherspoon and return man Dante Hall, for example, had baseball-style caps on several minutes before kickoff. Wide receiver Torry Holt went one better: Although in uniform, Holt didn't bother to put on his shoulder pads.
For the most part, those who did play displayed the intensity and tempo Linehan wants. Defensively, the Rams allowed a modest 259 yards, and the tackling was generally crisp. The coverage units bounced back by allowing no kickoff return longer than 23 yards and no punt return longer than six yards.
The offense wasn't spectacular — or anything close to spectacular — but there were no turnovers and quarterbacks Gus Frerotte and Ryan Fitzpatrick misfired on only nine of 32 passes. Frerotte, who sat out last year's preseason finale, started Thursday.
He wrapped up an impressive preseason by completing 11 of 14 passes for 97 yards in two series before giving way to Fitzpatrick in the second quarter.
The Rams moved 52 yards on 11 plays off the opening kickoff, with Frerotte completing seven of eight passes. But two penalties stalled the drive in Kansas City territory, so the Rams settled for a 36-yard field goal by Kevin Lovell. Jeff Wilkins, who kicked against Miami last year, was held out Thursday.
In a contest that featured the NFL's two lowest-scoring teams this preseason, the Rams and Chiefs played up to that billing. Lovell's first-quarter field goal stood as the game's only points until late in the third quarter.
That's when the Rams scored only their fourth TD of the preseason, when Fitzpatrick threw a 20-yard scoring pass to Marques Hagans with 2 minutes, 47 seconds remaining in the quarter. Under heavy pressure on the play, Fitzpatrick stayed firm in the pocket and ended up on the ground with Kansas City linebacker Rich Scanlon on top of him at the end of the play.
All told, Fitzpatrick completed 12 of 18 passes for 105 yards and also finished as the Rams' leading rusher with 26 yards on seven scrambles. The 10-0 lead held up with Kansas City able to muster only a 40-yard field goal by Justin Medlock in the fourth quarter.
"I thought Fitz got better as the game went on," Linehan said. "It helped for him to play more extended time. If you give a guy a chance, especially at the quarterback position, to play through some things, he's going to improve. And I was happy to see that."
Kansas City coach Herm Edwards didn't go quite as far as Linehan in terms of resting regulars. The Chiefs started a mixture of starters and reserves on defense. And star running back Larry Johnson, fresh off his contract holdout, started and carried three times for 12 yards on the Chiefs' opening series.