Here are the grades for the St. Louis Rams after their season-ending 20-13 loss at Seattle:
QUARTERBACK: Sam Bradford worked through his progressions and distributed the ball to eight different targets. He made some nice plays on the move, another positive sign of growth under offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. He completed 25 of 42 passes for 252 yards overall. He marched the Rams downfield in the final minute, scrambling for a critical first down to keep his team alive. But Bradford missed a few key throws he normally makes and he threw a rally-killing interception into the end zone. He failed to write a storybook ending to the season finale.
RUNNING BACK: Steven Jackson crashed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier for the eighth consecutive season, gaining 52 yards on 11 carries. He was busy in the passing game, catching seven passes for 45 additional yards and chipping in with excellent protection blocks. Rookie Isaiah Pead gained 21 yards on five carries and fellow rookie Daryl Richardson caught two passes coming out of the backfield. It’s too bad the Rams didn’t sustain more drives to give these guys more touches.
RECEIVERS: Fast-improving Austin Pettis adjusted to a tipped pass to bail out Bradford on his second-quarter TD pass. Rookie Chris Givens turned a quick slant pass into a 37-yard gain with his explosive speed. But scrappy Danny Amendola did not catch everything that came his way (for a change) and rookie Brian Quick didn’t come close to getting open on the one pass that came his way. Brandon Gibson (three catches, 45 yards) was Brandon Gibson. He seldom gains separation on the deeper routes.
TIGHT ENDS: Lance Kendricks caught three passes for 33 yards — and should have become a bigger factor in the game. Bradford missed some big opportunities to exploit his playmaking skills. Matthew Mulligan caught a 10-yard pass to move the chains but Mike McNeill couldn’t quite make a lunging catch down the right sideline. These guys weren’t bad in the blocking game, too.
OFFENSIVE LINE: These guys were feisty, even with combative Harvey Dahl sidelined by injury. But some times they were too feisty. Fill-in guard Chris Williams earned a bad personal foul penalty and tackle Wayne Hunter was guilty of a similar infraction after a successful field goal. The latter blunder led to great Seattle field position and a Seahawks TD drive. Pre-snap penalties were problematic in the hostile Seattle environment. The unit delivered inconsistent run blocking, but the line generally afforded Bradford ample time to operate. The Rams did not allow a sack for the second consecutive game. Progress!
DEFENSIVE LINE: The good news: Defensive ends Chris Long (three sacks), Robert Quinn (one sack) and Williams Hayes (one sack) chased elusive Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson all over the field. For the first time since 2000, two Rams (Long and Quinn) finished with a double-digit sack total for the season. But the Rams were less successful against the run, yielding big holes to running back Marshawn Lynch (100 yards rushing on 18 carries) and allowing Wilson to rush for 58 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Losing defensive tackle Michael Brockers to an ankle injury didn’t help. Nor did the Rams’ failure to recover Lynch’s late fumble.
LINEBACKERS: This unit generally bore up well against a team that surged for 150 points during the previous three weeks. Outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar earned a sack and forced a fumble. But he appeared to get caught spying on Wilson while running back Michael Robinson scooted out of the backfield to catch an uncontested 10-yard touchdown pass. The superior Seahawks offensive line repeatedly gobbled up middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and Seattle executed its college-style option scheme when the game was on the line. The loss of outside linebacker Rocky McIntosh (concussion) contributed to some of the trouble.
SECONDARY: The defensive backs frustrated Wilson for much of the game. They delivered some great moments, like rookie cornerback Trumaine Johnson soaring to break up — and nearly intercept — Wilson’s jump ball lofted into the end zone. But safety Craig Dahl bit on a play fake and didn’t react when tight end Anthony McCoy sprinted downfield to catch an easy Wilson pass for 49 yards. Also, Golden Tate got open for a 44-yard reception after Wilson bought time with some adept scrambling. Johnson (five solo tackles) and safety Quintin Mikell (three solo tackles, six assists) were solid in run support.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Once again the kicking game was a mixed bag. Rookie placekicker Greg Zuerlein just missed a 51-yard field goal, but later nailed kicks from 39 and 25 yards. Since Week 6 he is just 3 of 9 from 50 and beyond. His Legatron nickname vanished weeks ago. Rookie punter Johnny Hekker exaggerated one of his directional kicks and gave Seattle a possession on the Rams 42. He averaged 48.6 yards on five punts, but missed on his one bid for a “coffin corner” kick. Linebacker Mario Haggan earned an inconsequential running-into-the-kicker penalty. Amendola muffed a punt, but gladly watched it skip out of bounds. Safety Darian Stewart made a great tackle to keep Leon Washington from breaking a huge return.
COACHING: While non-playoff teams were folding left and right during Week 17, the Rams played to win at Seattle. They fought hard and gave themselves a chance to win. But those 14 Rams penalties for 98 yards reflected badly on the coaching staff. Once again the team lacked discipline and precision. And while it was nice to see Pead get another look before the season ended, why did he get the call after the Rams reached the Seattle 5 in the fourth quarter? Pead gained just a yard on that play while Fisher tried, unsuccessfully, to call a time out. After still another penalty forced the Rams into a third-and-nine scenario, Jackson finally got to run the ball. He came up a yard short of scoring. The Rams settled for three points and a 13-13 tie that would not last. That unfortunate sequence proved costly.