Rams Win in a Flashback
Sunday, November 27, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

HOUSTON – This time, no stop at the local video store was needed. Rams coach Joe Vitt didn’t need to conjure the best of Jim Valvano or draw inspiration from Russell Crowe in Gladiator.

In fact, he had to do was pull out a tape of something that wasn’t too far removed for their inspiration for another magical comeback win.

“Ironically, Joe showed us the comeback from Seattle last year,” linebacker Trev Faulk said. “He showed us that last night. Isn’t that crazy?”

Well, maybe it isn’t too crazy. What was crazy, though, was the Rams’ ability to nearly replicate or surpass that comeback against the Seahawks on Oct. 10 of last season with a stunning 33-27 overtime win against the Texans on Sunday. St. Louis snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 5-6 with the victory. Houston falls to 1-10 with the loss.

In that comeback, the Rams rallied in the fourth quarter to force overtime before receiver Shaun McDonald’s game-winning touchdown catch. Although Sunday’s rally was similar in many ways – the win against the Seahawks also ended in a 33-27 final – this game had many footprints that would be completely untraceable to last year’s comeback.

This comeback had few of the same cast members from last year’s version, but was just as stirring. With many of their stars already banged up and left tackle Orlando Pace struggling to make it through the first half, quarterback Jamie Martin became target practice for the Texans.

When Martin left the game after a blow to the head, rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick took over. Fitzpatrick hit receiver Kevin Curtis on a screen for a 56-yard touchdown to win the game in overtime. It was just one of a number of amazing plays that led to a win for a team that didn’t seem capable of amazing things.

“This is a great win for our football team to come back from a halftime deficit that we had,” Vitt said. “Playing a rookie secondary, playing a rookie quarterback, playing a makeshift offensive line. You have to give the guys great credit for their passion, their resolve. It wasn’t pretty but we got it done. There are a lot of ways to win a football game in the National Football League. Anything can happen.”

And anything did happen on a muggy day in Texas.

After a first half that was a continuation of the nightmare that started last week in a loss to Arizona, the Rams trailed 24-3 heading into the locker room. A Houston team widely regarded as the worst team in the league was pushing St. Louis around on both sides of the ball.

“We got down early, we couldn’t score any points, we couldn’t stop anybody,” receiver Torry Holt said. “We came in at the half and we as players made some adjustments, said some things to one another, got back on track and came out that second half and played the type of football we came out here to play.

“Guys were very intense. We were very unhappy with our performance in the first half. We felt like we needed to correct some things as far as players as far as playing hard, making the plays we can make, executing.”

That halftime meeting featured what Faulk would refer to as a “heart to heart” conversation among the players. It was an emotional meeting for a team that was essentially dead to rights.

The Rams started the second half with a solid drive, pounding away with running back Steven Jackson and mixing in some passes for Fitzpatrick to increase his comfort level. Fitzpatrick hit Holt for his first touchdown pass from 19 yards out and a 24-10 deficit with 10:39 to go in the third quarter.

But that would be all of the scoring for either side in the quarter, seemingly leaving the Rams with little hopes of any kind of comeback.

That was before the beginning of a wild, unpredictable fourth quarter. On the third play of the quarter, linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa came up with a tipped ball for an interception, giving the Rams their first glimmer of hope.

After a long, 13-play drive, Jackson finally punched it in from a yard out on fourth-and-goal to make it 24-17. Suddenly, the Rams had an opportunity to be in the game.

Like so many times this season, though, the defense couldn’t get the stop it needed, allowing Kris Brown’s 35-yard field goal to give Houston what seemed like an insurmountable 27-17 edge with 2:41 to play.

Soon after, Fitzpatrick and kicker Jeff Wilkins officially decided that the Rams wouldn’t be losing the game.

“The thing we said from guys here last year is we have been in this position before. It’s no over until double zero,” Holt said. “We have to keep playing. We didn’t want to lose to Houston. We did not want to lose to Houston. We had to make some plays there late.”

As the clock wound down, the Texans fans began to clear out and more than one television was turned off. What would occur in the next 30 seconds will go down in Rams’ history.

On fourth-and-6 at Houston’s 43 and 34 seconds to play, it seemed anything the Rams could do would be nothing but stat padding. Yet, there was Fitzpatrick, floating a perfect pass to the right corner to Isaac Bruce for a 43-yard touchdown catch and a 27-24 deficit.

Faulk said at that point, he knew the Rams could pull off a comeback greater than the one they had just watched.

“I don’t know,” Faulk said. “I think this has to top it because we were pretty much left for dead out there. Twenty-six seconds, fourth and six? Fitzpatrick throws another perfect ball, Ike makes a big catch…I don’t know how to put it into words.”

The next stage of the comeback would also leave at least one Texan speechless. Wilkins proceeded to pound a perfect onside kick, hitting it just so it would hop high into the air, leaving the return man open for a free shot from the onrushing coverage units.

Sure enough, there was Faulk and linebacker Drew Wahlroos bearing down on Marco Coleman as he leaped in the air to catch the ball. Wahlroos went low, Faulk went high and the ball came out just as planned.

“I was just running down there, expecting to have to dodge somebody, but nobody blocked me so I was like ‘OK 42, you are about to get it,” Faulk said. “I think Drew Wahlroos hit him low first and I caught him high. The ball was sitting on the back of my neck for awhile and I didn’t even know. I was looking around and all of sudden I see Torry scooping it up.”

Holt did scoop it up, giving the Rams the ball on Houston’s 48 with 23 seconds to go and needing about 15 yards to be in field goal range. Fitzpatrick promptly hit Holt for a 19-yard gain and Wilkins trotted on to the field for the potential tying field goal.

Wilkins’ nickname isn’t “Money” for nothing. Wilkins converted and sent the game to overtime tied at 27.
With all of the momentum on their side, the Rams surprisingly lost the coin toss and put the game in the hands of the defense. This time, though, that unit was able to get off the field when rookie safety Oshiomogho Atogwe came up with a sack on third-and-5 at the Rams 47.

St. Louis took over at its 10. Fitzpatrick hit Holt for a big third-down conversion and followed two plays later with a 19-yard strike to Holt. The next play, Fitzpatrick hit Curtis for the game winner and stunning victory.

“I know you all think I am crazy and nuts, but there wasn’t a player in our locker room at the half, there wasn’t a player on our sideline that ever lost faith,” Vitt said. “We are really proud of the way they competed.”

That way of competing featured some amazing performances along the way. Fitzpatrick finished 19-of-30 for 310 yards and three touchdowns with an interception for a rating of 117.4. Jackson tallied 110 yards on 25 carries with a score. Holt had 130 yards on 10 catches with a touchdown and Bruce passed 12,000 yards for his career with a 94-yard, four-catch performance.

All of that, combined with a solid second-half defensive effort helped the Rams to a comeback that tied for third largest in the history of the franchise. And the first big one since that fateful October day in Seattle.

“I don’t know man,” Faulk said. “Joe might be a little prophet or something because that’s too strange for him to show us that. He was talking about perseverance and persistence, keep pushing and fighting and that’s what today was about.”
Another good read