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Thomas: Rams Are Clutch When It Counts
Rams are clutch when it counts
8 hours ago • By Jim Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org 314-340-8197
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. • For most of this dreary, damp, December day, Rams receivers couldn’t make the tough catch. You know, the ball in traffic or tight coverage that bounces away. The one thrown a little high or off target. Coach Jeff Fisher generically calls the latter “out-of-frame” catches.
But when it mattered most, with the game — and perhaps the season — on the line, Sunday’s contest with Buffalo turned into a clutch-catch highlight reel for the Rams.
“When it counted, guys stepped up and made plays,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “It hadn’t been pretty. We had struggled for most of the day. But when the game was on the line, everyone knew what was at stake and elevated their game and made the plays that we needed.”
It was all the more impressive, since for the second Sunday in a row, wide receiver Danny Amendola was on the pregame inactive list because of his foot injury.
None of those late catches was bigger than Brandon Gibson’s 13-yard touchdown catch with 48 seconds to play, which was followed by Chris Givens’ 2-point conversion and gave the Rams a 15-12 comeback victory over the Bills.
At 6-6-1, the Rams have now won three in a row for the first time since 2006. They returned to .500 for the first time since mid-October. And with three games to play, their pulse strengthened just a bit in what remains a long-shot bid for a playoff berth.
“Hey, we’re still in it,” tight end Lance Kendricks said. “We’re fighting for something, and that’s always good.”
“We’re never gonna lose faith,” Gibson added. “We’re gonna fight all the way to the end.”
That’s what happened in the rain at Ralph Wilson Stadium. With the clock under 3˝ minutes in the fourth quarter, and the Rams trailing 12-7, they faced a second-and-10 play at their 32. As Kendricks ran a seam route down the left hash marks, the play was designed to get the ball to him underneath the Buffalo safeties who were stationed back in a Cover 2 look.
But the middle linebacker also dropped into coverage, so there was a crowd of defenders around Kendricks. With all that congestion in the area, Bradford had to throw a fastball into the tight coverage or else risk an interception. About a 95 mph fastball, actually. It practically left a vapor trail.
“Yeah. That was about all I had on that one,” Bradford said, smiling. “I’m really glad he caught it, too.”
For Kendricks, it was a case of turn the head back toward the line of scrimmage and get the hands up — quickly. The result was a 22-yard gain that put the Rams in Buffalo territory.
“You don’t even have time to even think about it,” Kendricks said. “You’ve just got to catch it. I knew we needed a big play. We were kinda dead all game as far as making big plays out on the field. I tried to get the spark going for everybody just to make some plays.”
He did just that. But that wasn’t even the catch of the day. That came a few plays later from Austin Pettis on fourth and 1 from the Buffalo 37, on the second play after the 2-minute warning.
“That’s a play where you just get a lot of different looks (from the defense), and it’s really off of reaction and quarterback timing,” Pettis said. “I had a look where the guy kind of overplayed outside so I was able to break it in pretty quick.”
The ball was thrown well behind Pettis, but he changed direction in an instant and stretched his long arms for a 9-yard gain to the Buffalo 28. So what does Bradford owe Pettis for salvaging a throw that seemed destined for an incompletion?
“Oh, man. Whatever he wants,” Bradford said. “I’ll take him to dinner. Buy him, really, whatever. Because he saved the day.”
That catch gave the Rams new life, but it was Gibson’s that gave them victory.
First came a 15-yard catch and run along the left sideline by Gibson that got the Rams in the red zone with a first down at the 13. It was a conversion on third and 10. Then came the game-winner on second down from the 13.
“AP’s the initial read,” Gibson said, referring to Pettis. “If the safety takes AP, Sam throws to me in the back of the end zone.”
And that’s what happened, with Gibson tumbling to the turf with the ball and hanging on for the touchdown. Gibson hadn’t had a catch in the Rams’ previous two games. But his game-winning grab made it six catches Sunday for 100 yards — his first 100-yard game in the NFL.
That gave St. Louis a 13-12 lead. The Rams then went for two points and got them on the Bradford pass to Givens, meaning a Buffalo field goal would only send the game into overtime tied 15-15.
It never reached that point because the Rams’ defense shut down Buffalo in the closing seconds. Linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar’s interception with 12 seconds to play put the Rams in the victory formation for the final play on a Bradford kneel-down.
Rams defenders may have closed out the victory, and closed it out in strong fashion, but even they threw bouquets at the receivers for their work on that last drive, which traveled 84 yards in 14 plays, over 4 minutes, 7 seconds.
“It was one of those drives where you just knew they were going to find a way,” defensive end Chris Long said. “There was just that sense they weren’t gonna be denied, and they were gonna take that whole clock, and they were gonna eat it up, and go down and score a touchdown.”
In the opening half, it looked like nothing resembling an offensive spark was in the works. The Rams didn’t get a first down until the second quarter, gaining a mere 3 yards in the first quarter. Buffalo’s front seven clogged the running lanes and made the going tough for Steven Jackson, who finished with 64 yards on 19 carries.
Bradford was sacked once (by Mario Williams), and hit or pressured on several other occasions. All told the Rams had only 71 yards and trailed 6-0 at the half.
“Nobody panicked,” Fisher said. “We came in, made some adjustments at halftime. A close ballgame — all we needed to do was make some plays.”
According to Bradford, the Bills played a lot of man defense with their cornersbacks, backing them with their safeties in a Cover 2 look. The Rams didn’t expect that, nor did they expect such tight coverage. But the Rams righted the ship in the second half, mounting a touchdown drive off the third-quarter kickoff, capped by a Jackson TD run, and gaining 214 yards over the final two quarters.
After some rough moments in the first half, the offensive line regrouped, giving Bradford good protection the rest of the way, particularly on the game-winning 84-yard TD drive. Fisher drove that point home when asked if it looked like Buffalo’s pass rushers simply got tired at the end.
“I would say that maybe we did a good job of protecting,” Fisher said. “Rather than being critical of their pass rush, maybe I’ll give our offensive line credit.”
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