By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Friday, Aug. 11 2006

RAMS 19, COLTS 17

Up next: 7 p.m. Aug. 19 vs. Texans

Rams start Linehan off with a win


There are few firm conclusions that can be made from August football. But this
much is certain following Thursday's exhibition opener between the Rams and
Indianapolis:

The Rams' second-team on both sides of the ball is much better than
Indy's.

Peyton Manning is, well, still Peyton Manning.

It took Manning, the Colts' all-world quarterback, a grand total of 137 seconds
to get his team on the scoreboard Thursday at the Edward Jones Dome. But in the
end, Scott Linehan's head-coaching debut ended in a 19-17 victory for the Rams.

"I'm very happy with the first effort," Linehan said. "It's always good to win.
We ran the ball well and stopped the run well. It's an easier game when you're
able to do those two things."

All told eight Rams ballcarriers combined for 202 yards rushing Thursday,
including a long for 54 yards by long-shot roster candidate Fred Russell in the
third quarter. In what perhaps was an indication of the balance that Linehan
wants to strike on offense, the Rams had 40 running plays and threw 31 passes.

But who knows? Had Manning kept playing, the Colts may have put 30, 40, 50
points on the Rams. And in a regular-season setting, Linehan might have had to
keep throwing to keep up.

On Manning's one and only series, he kept the drive alive by hitting Reggie
Wayne for 11 yards on third and 6.

On the next play, new Rams cornerback Fakhir Brown got sucked in on a play fake
" and Manning made him pay, hitting Wayne for a 31-yard gain.

Two plays later, the Colts scored, with Manning finding TE Ben Utecht for a
touchdown between linebacker Brandon Chillar and corner Travis Fisher on third
and goal from the 8.

Seven plays and seven points. Thanks for playing, Peyton. Take the rest of the
night off.

"That Manning guy's very good," Linehan deadpanned.

Manning gave way to Jim Sorgi and Shaun King after that series. Yes, the same
Shaun King who way back when had Tampa Bay within a whisker of upsetting the
Rams in the NFC title game nearly seven years ago.

But once Manning & Co. were gone, it was really no contest. At least not until
the fourth quarter anyway. The victory margin might have been much more
comfortable. But Remy Hamilton, giving kicker Jeff Wilkins a rest, missed two
field goals. And Dave Ragone, who lost ground to Ryan Fitzpatrick in the battle
for the Rams' No. 3 quarterback job, threw an interception into the red zone to
end another St. Louis scoring chance.

But the Rams got enough production from their second-teamers " on both sides
of the ball " to hand Indianapolis its seventh consecutive exhibition loss.

On offense, Gus Frerotte and Fitzpatrick were efficient at quarterback once
Marc Bulger was done for the evening. Frerotte and Fitzpatrick combined to
complete eight of 11 passes for 66 yards. Both QBs engineered touchdown drives.

The Rams' two-headed backup for Steven Jackson at running back also performed
well. Tony Fisher carried five times for 33 yards and a TD, and Moe Williams
did his short-yardage thing, gaining 17 yards on seven carries, including a
1-yard TD run.

But the results for the Rams' first-team offense were mixed. Jackson had runs
of 23 and 16 yards among his five carries. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt both
caught a pass. But the Rams managed only a Hamilton field goal in two series by
the starting unit.

The Rams' first offensive series ended with Matt Turk's punt after a drive
stalled at the Colts' 44. The second possession stalled in the red zone, with
Bulger barely overthrowing Holt in the end zone on third and 9 from the 15.
Hamilton followed with a 33-yard field goal.

Even so, the TDs by Fisher and Williams, coupled with Hamilton's field goal and
a safety by Brown, gave the Rams what looked like a comfortable 19-10 lead at
the half. Particularly the way the defense played once Manning left.

Following Manning's TD drive, the Colts managed only 108 additional yards
through three quarters. The second defensive unit was on the field for all of
that time, except Sorgi's first series, when the starters were still in.

But after a scoreless third quarter, the third-teamers came in for the Rams,
and Indy struck for a quick touchdown in the fourth quarter. King found
first-year wide receiver Levon Thomas for a 40-yard scoring pass with 10
minutes, 50 seconds to play in the game. Thomas got behind cornerback Kevin
Timothee on the play, cutting the Rams' lead to 19-17.

But that was it for the scoring. As it turned out, the difference in the game
was Brown's safety, on a sack of Sorgi in the end zone.