INDIANAPOLIS • Most of the 66,004 at Lucas Oil Stadium did not have a lot to cheer about Sunday afternoon as the Rams dominated the Indianapolis Colts 38-8.
In fact, two of the biggest outbursts from the fans of the AFC South Division-leading Colts came when Indianapolis kick returner David Reed opted for the touchback rather than risk a return from the end zone.
That’s because the other kick returns Sunday resulted in the Colts starting drives at their 7-, 12-, 13- and 13-yard lines.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that,’’ said Will Witherspoon, a linebacker in his 12th NFL season. “It shows that the crowd understands what they’re seeing in the game, and more so I think it shows just how effective we were on kick return.’’
Rookie safety Cody Davis was also shocked by the crowd’s reaction: “Normally, when a guy goes to a knee, the crowd boos. To hear them cheer, it was awesome.’’
“Something like that, I think it actually makes us go harder the next time,’’ linebacker Daren Bates said.
REPORT CARD: GORDO GRADES THE RAMS
The Rams put together perhaps their best start-to-finish effort of the season Sunday, building a 38-0 third-quarter lead on a 45-yard Chris Long fumble return, a 1-yard Zac Stacy run, a 98-yard Tavon Austin punt return, a pair of Kellen Clemens-to-Austin pass plays covering 57 and 81 yards and a 32-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal.
“We’ve been able to put together performances like this season, but usually it’s one side of the ball or the other,’’ Long said. “To do it like this, to play a complete game, it was big for us. The offense, the defense and the special teams all rolled today and we got the kind of result we needed.’’
Snapping their second three-game losing skid of the season, the Rams (4-6) head into their bye week with some added confidence and a bit of momentum. And they earned it by defeating a highly regarded 6-3 Colts squad that has handed Seattle and Denver its only losses this season.
Austin, the Rams’ top draft pick last April, enjoyed a breakout game, picking up 145 yards and a touchdown on five punt returns, 138 yards and two scores on two pass receptions, 27 yards on a kickoff return and 4 yards on one running play.
On the electrifying punt return that put the Rams up 21-0, Austin took the ball on a hop near the Rams’ goal line and tight-roped his way down the right sideline for the first punt-return TD of his career.
“Had guys down there, a bunch of guys assuming (the) play’s going to be downed at the 1-yard line,’’ Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Again, we told our guys, they knew, this guy would catch it at the 1, would catch it 5 yards deep. He’s that type of player, very dynamic that way. ... He made a play and we obviously didn’t cover well enough.’’
Austin’s punt return — clearly a highlight of the day — was just one of several positive plays turned in by special teams in their best game of the season. The only real special teams blemish was a personal-foul call on Isaiah Pead for taunting after Reed took a touchback on the game’s opening kickoff.
“That could’ve been one of those here-we-go-again things,’’ Long said. “But we took hold of it and changed the momentum right away (with the defensive touchdown).’’
Up 28-0 at the break, Rams coach Jeff Fisher liked the idea of getting points from all three phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams. He also liked what he saw of the special teams, a unit that has struggled at times this season, mainly with penalties.
“Been working real hard at it,’’ Fisher said. “Coach (John) Fassel’s done a great job with those young guys. We challenge them every week and he had a great game plan this week.’’
One of only a handful of veterans on special teams, Witherspoon likes the direction of the rookie-laden group.
“The young guys, they’re making mistakes for the most part, based on effort and that’s something you can live with as long as they’re learning and adapting,’’ said Witherspoon, who had one of the Rams’ four interceptions Sunday. “But you can definitely see the growth. Today, for the most part, we stayed aggressive and we made plays that contributed to us getting the win.’’
With their unique perspective after booting the ball, kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker have seen marked progress from their young teammates.
“Coach Bones (Fassel’s nickname) had us dialed up with a great game plan and we ran with it, playing like the feisty team we know we can be,’’ said Hekker, who had a net average of 43.4 yards on five punts, including a 61-yarder and another inside the 20. “I see how hard our guys work, trying to perfect all those little details in practice.’’
Zuerlein added: “The guys on kick coverage are playing with so much energy right now. And they just keep getting better. My kicks the last couple of weeks weren’t great; they were better today and the coverage was incredible. Every single one of those guys is hustling and swarming and going hard to the ball on every kick.
“Any time special teams can impact a game positively, I think it gives the whole team a lift.’’