Rams are a prime-time flop

2011-01-03T11:10:00Z 2011-01-03T13:44:59Z Rams are a prime-time flopBY JIM THOMAS • jthomas@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

SEATTLE • In their biggest game in years, the new Rams looked suspiciously like the old Rams. You know, the Rams of 6-42, the gang that couldn't shoot straight, etc., etc.

With a playoff berth on the line, they gave up big plays at inopportune times, were guilty of costly penalties and couldn't move the ball to save their lives. On a night when Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson vanished from the St. Louis offense, the Rams disappeared from postseason consideration, going quietly into the night at Qwest Field.

Even so, it was a one-possession game throughout the night. Or at least until Olindo Mare's third field goal of the game late in the fourth quarter made it a 16-6 victory for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.

"I don't know if it's going to hit me until tomorrow or Tuesday when I'm not watching the film of the opponent for the next week," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "It's just frustrating to get this far and have an opportunity to make the playoffs. And to come up short."

Simply stated, the Rams looked like they weren't ready for the big stage of Sunday night football and their first prime-time game since 2007. With the injured Matt Hasselbeck sitting this one out, the Rams were beaten by a quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, making his second NFL start.

"It just kind of makes you sick," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "It's tough to take. We've got to use it as motivation to keep going (next season)."

Laurinaitis disputed the notion that the moment may have been too big for the Rams.

"No, no, this moment wasn't too big," he said. "We were ready for it, and we were ready for the noise and we embraced it. I love atmospheres like this - this is football right here."

On the other side of the ball, the Rams were absolutely throttled, to the point of embarrassment, by the league's 30th-ranked defense. They finished with only 184 yards on offense and reached the red zone only twice, settling for field goals both times. And amazingly, Jackson had only 11 carries on the night.

"I'd have to look at it," coach Steve Spagnuolo said when asked about Jackson's low carry total. "We're not counting 'em and that as we go."

On this night the journeyman (Whitehurst) outplayed the No. 1 overall draft pick (Bradford), completing 22 of 36 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown and a passer rating of 84.5. Bradford threw for just 155 yards and threw a costly interception with 8 minutes, 42 seconds to play on the Rams' last real scoring chance of the game.

So it's the Seahawks who enter the playoffs as the first team in NFL history to qualify for postseason play with a losing record. (Two 4-5 teams qualified for the playoffs in the 1982 strike season when the playoff field was expanded.)

Although both St. Louis and Seattle finished at 7-9, the Seahawks advanced by virtue of a better division record - 4-2 to the Rams' 3-3. Seattle will play host to New Orleans, the defending Super Bowl champion, in the wild-card round next Saturday here in the Pacific Northwest.

The Rams had a severe case of stage fright at the start of the game, particularly the defense. On the first play from scrimmage, no one followed Seahawks running back Justin Forsett out of the backfield. He caught a short pass from Whitehurst and gained 13 yards for a first down.

On the next play, the Rams blitzed Whitehurst. Trouble was, nobody who wasn't blitzing followed Seattle wide receiver Ruvell Martin downfield. By the time Martin, a former Ram, was tackled by James Hall, he had a 61-yard gain to the St. Louis 13.

The Rams appeared to at least force a field-goal attempt when Hall sacked Whitehurst on third and 10 from the 13, but that play was nullified because cornerback Ron Bartell was flagged for holding, tugging on the jersey of a Seattle receiver.

After the automatic first down, Whitehurst threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams. Williams ran all the way across the field from his right to his left, and cornerback Bradley Fletcher was late picking him up.

The Rams finally got on the board with a 32-yard field goal by Josh Brown with 8:54 to go in the first half, narrowing Seattle's lead to 7-3. The Rams drove 83 yards to the Seattle 14, but the drive stalled there, forcing the field goal.

The Rams didn't have great field position in the first half, starting drives on their 10 (twice) and their 3. And on the two times they had good position they sputtered. Going one for seven on third down didn't help matters.

Taking over at their 41 late in the first quarter, an end around by wide receiver Laurent Robinson lost 9 yards and then two passes by Bradford were batted down or tipped.

Then with 1:35 to go in the first half, a false start against left tackle Rodger Saffold backed the Rams into a second-and-10 from their 37. On the next play, Bradford was sacked, with Chris Clemons getting around Saffold to help bring down the quarterback.

The St. Louis defense did settle down after the shaky start, with Seattle not penetrating past the Rams' 40 the rest of the half, meaning the Seahawks never got even within field goal range against before halftime.

The Rams had a prime opportunity to take the lead early in the second half when running back Marshawn Lynch was stripped of ball for a fumble that was recovered by St. Louis. Bartell yanked the ball out of Lynch's grasp, and Laurinaitis fell on the loose ball.

St. Louis took over on the Seattle 21, and after a Jackson run and a Bradford completion to Danario Alexander, had first and goal at the 6. But a holding penalty against Robinson on a sweep by Jackson backed the Rams to their 16 and eventually they settled for a 27-yard field goal, narrowing Seattle's lead to 7-6 with 8:59 left in the third.

But that's as close as the Rams got, with Seattle adding three second-half field goals to win their sixth straight over the Rams at Qwest Field.


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