Seahawks squeeze the life out of Rams

BY JIM THOMAS
Sunday, November 20, 2011

The start was promising, with the Rams scoring a first-quarter touchdown for the first time since opening day. But the finish was as disheartening as it gets.

Seattle's defense gradually put a stranglehold on quarterback Sam Bradford, running back Steven Jackson and the rest of the St. Louis offense.

Rams first downs were a rarity. Red zone opportunities were mere rumor. Jackson's string of three consecutive 100-yard games ended with a thud, and strangely, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels went with a ton of empty backfields, leaving no guesswork for Seattle as to what the Rams' intentions were.

The result was a 24-7 loss, a 2-8 record for coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams, and an eighth-straight season without a winning record for St. Louis.

It's actually over for the Rams in the NFC West, and they haven't even played the division leader yet. The NFC West-leading San Francisco *****, who the Rams don't play until Dec. 4, improved to 9-1 by beating Arizona. The best the Rams can finish is 8-8.

The ineptitude of the Rams on offense wasted another good effort by the defense. The Rams had only six interceptions in their first nine games of the season; they had two in the first 5 minutes of play Sunday to help them take an early 7-0 lead.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll opened with a trick play, and it worked like a charm. Wide receiver Sidney Rice took the handoff from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson on an end-around, but then Rice gathered himself and threw a deep ball to wide receiver Mike Williams, who had gotten behind Rams cornerback Josh Gordy for a 55-yard gain.

Seattle couldn't stand the prosperity, with Rams linebacker Chris Chamberlain stepping in front of Williams for his first career interception. The Rams couldn't do much with that turnover, punting after just one first down.

But the Rams got the ball right back, just three plays after a Donnie Jones punt, when safety Quintin Mikell intercepted a Jackson pass over the middle intended for Ben Obomanu. Mikell returned his pick 11 yards to the Seattle 27. After Steven Jackson was dropped for a three-yard loss, Bradford threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Lloyd who beat cornerback Richard Sherman on the play.

That 7-0 lead lasted until midway through the second quarter. The Rams gradually got back up on field position, with a couple of low-hanging Jones punts returned for 37 and 25 yards by Seattle's Leon Washington. The 25-yard return got Seattle started on the St. Louis 40, with the Seahawks evening the score at 7-7 on a 14-yard TD pass from Jackson to Sidney Rice, who beat Justin King on a slant pattern.

The Rams managed only two first downs for the rest of the half following Lloyd's TD, and had terrible field position. The Rams' final three possessions of the half started from their 9, their 20, and their 9. The Rams could get very little going offensively behind a line that went beyond mere patchwork.

Three players started on the offensive line who weren't with the team at the start of training camp, and one of them -- Mark LeVoir -- made his first start in place of the injured Rodger Saffold, who's out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. LeVoir didn't even make it through the first half before suffering a right shoulder injury. That meant Kevin Hughes, signed off the Rams' practice squad Saturday, was the new left tackle.

Seattle took a 10-7 lead with a field goal as time expired in the first half. Two miscues by the injury-riddled St. Louis secondary helped the Seahawks' cause on the field goal drive. On third-and-2, wide receiver Doug Baldwin gained 35 yards when left uncovered by the Rams' defense operating out of the slot. Then on third-and-21 from the Seattle 26, King was called for pass interference in the end zone, getting caught with his arms wrapped around Rice as the ball was on its way.

The score remained 10-7 until a key sequence midway through the third quarter. Bradford threw deep to Lloyd down the left sideline. There was lots of contact from Seattle cornerback Brandon Browner and early contact at that. But much to the chagrin of Lloyd, Spagnuolo, and booing Rams fans, there was no flag for pass interference.

That made it second-and-10 from the Rams 38, and on the next play, Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons burst around Hughes, sacking Bradford from behind. Bradford fumbled, the Seahawks recovered, and took over at the St. Louis 25 with 8:12 to play in the third quarter.

Marshawn Lynch, bottled up all day by the St. Louis defense, scored on a third-yard run on third-and-1 to give Seattle a 17-7. Given the fact the fact that the Rams had surpassed 16 points only once in their first nine games, the Seattle lead might as well have been 30 points instead of 10.