Go figure. It was one of those days for the Rams, and there have been a few of them this year. Days when the Rams get off to an unexpected big lead.
It happened against Jacksonville, when the Rams led 24-10 at the half.
It happened in Houston, when the Rams led 17-6 at halftime and 38-6 at the end of three.
And it happened in Indianapolis, when the Rams led 28-0 at halftime and 38-0 midway through the third quarter.
On Sunday, it happened against one of the NFC’s elite teams, the Saints. Pounding the ball on the ground and getting effective and accurate passing from Kellen Clemens, the Rams stunned the Saints early by jumping to a 24-3 halftime lead.
Despite the best of efforts by New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, that lead was too much to overcome. The Rams (6-8) sprung a huge upset, toppling the Saints 27-16 Sunday before 58,442 at the Edward Jones Dome. That dropped the Saints to 10-4, leading to a showdown next week against Carolina, which improved to 10-4 with a 30-20 victory over the New York Jets.
Rams running back Zac Stacy, who had only 97 yards rushing combined the past two Sundays against San Francisco and Arizona, had 106 yards and a touchdown by halftime. That set a Rams rookie record for yards rushing in the first half.
Meanwhile, Clemens was 10 for 13 with two TDs and a passer rating of 142.0 at the intermission.
The defense chipped in as well.
On New Orleans’ first offensive play of the day, Robert Quinn hit Brees just as Brees was releasing the ball. Rookie safety T.J. McDonald grabbed the underthrown pass for his first NFL interception.
The Rams took over at the New Orleans 31, and on the next play, Clemens threw a short pass in the flat to tight end/fullback Corey Harkey. Harkey, a second-year player, had only eight NFL catches on his resumé entering Sunday’s game. But he turned his ninth into his second NFL touchdown, bull-dozing his way down the right sideline for a 7-0 Rams lead.
Harkey, 6-4 and 260, shrugged off a low tackle by safety Malcolm Jenkins and then made cornerback Corey White miss en route to the end zone. Harkey’s previous long reception had been 21 yards as a rookie in 2012.
The Rams’ defense struck again on the Saints’ next possession. This time, New Orleans had driven all the way to the St. Louis 10. But on second-and-goal, Brees lofted a pass into a crowd intended for all-world tight Jimmy Graham.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson left his man, backed up and leaped to intercept the pass at the goal line. In his first 13 games, Brees had thrown only eight interceptions. He had two INTs by midway through the first quarter Sunday.
After the takeaway, the Rams then marched 93 yards in nine plays — aided by two unnecessary roughness calls against the Saints. Those two penalties accounted for 29 yards on the drive. Stacy accounted for 29 more, bouncing a play outside that began as a run off right tackle.
The culmination of the drive came on a four-yard pass lofted to tight end Lance Kendricks. It was only Kendricks’ second reception since suffering a fractured finger Nov. 3 against Tennessee.
Then it became the special teams’ turn to contribute.
The Rams repeatedly practiced the on-side kick during the week, and after Kendricks’ TD, they executed it to perfection. Stedman Bailey, a wide receiver by trade, pounced on Greg Zuerlein’s bouncing kick, so the Rams took over at the Saints’ 47.
The Rams were able to parlay that into a Zuerlein field goal — his 21st in 23 attempts this season. The Saints finally got on the board with a Garrett Hartley field goal, but the Rams scored again before the half to take a 24-3 lead into intermission on a 40-yard TD run by Stacy.
It was Stacy’s team-high seventh touchdown of the season, and it came on what was a career-long run. Once again, Stacy bounced the ball outside, something he hadn’t been doing last week in Arizona.
The 24 points matched the Rams’ second-highest scoring output in the first half this season. And the 21-point lead was their second-largest halftime lead of the year.
The Rams went into a conservative shell offensively in the second half, and it almost cost them. Zuerlein added another field goal, to stretch the lead 27-3 in the third quarter. But then the Saints added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter — missing on a two-point conversion on the first TD.
So it was 27-16, when after a successful on-side kick, New Orleans faced a fourth-and-4 from the St. Louis out. Coach Sean Payton sent out place-kicker Garrett Hartley for what would have been a 26-yard field goal. That would make the score 27-19 and then give the Saints time to tie the game with an on-side kick, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion.
Alas, Hartley’s kick went wide left with 1:50 to play, and that was that for New Orleans.
Here are the updates posted during the game by Post-Dispatch football writer Joe Lyons:
A week after being eliminated from the NFL playoff hunt, the Rams took on the spoiler role Sunday, posting a 27-16 victory over the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Saints, who fell to 10-4, needed a victory to clinch a playoff spot. The victory, which snapped a two-game losing streak for the Rams, who improved to 6-8.
With his team down 27-3, Drew Brees scored the Saints' first touchdown of the day, lunging over the top of the pile from the 1 with 11:25 to play to make it 27-9. But Pierre Thomas (Illinois) was stopped short on the run for two, with Kendall Langford making the stop.
New Orleans scored again, making it 27-16 with 3:07 left as Brees threaded the needle on a fourth-and-goal pass from the 6 to Marcus Colston. It was the third fourth-down conversion of the 18-play, 80-yard drive for the Saints.
New Orleans did their best to make things interesting late. An onside kick bounced off the Rams' Chase Reynolds and was recovered by the Saints' Ramon Humber. Brees and New Orleans drove to the St. Louis 8 before attempting a field goal. But Garrett Hartley hooked the 23-yarder to the left and the Rams took possession and closed out the 27-16 victory.
RAMS UP 27-3 WITH A QUARTER TO PLAY
With the Saints facing a third-and-16 at the Rams' 37 on the initial drive after halftime, defensive end Robert Quinn comes up with another huge play. While sacking Drew Brees, Quinn also managed to knock the ball loose and scoop up the fumble.
The Rams weren't able to capitalize right away, but after the teams swapped punts, the Rams added to their lead as Greg Zuerlein booted a 35-yard field goal with 2:42 to make it 27-3. Key plays on the drive were a clutch third-down pass from Kellen Clemens to Stedman Bailey for 20 yards and a 9-yard pass from Clemens to Lance Kendricks.
RAMS LEAD 24-3 AT THE HALF
New Orleans got on the board with a 45-yard field goal from Garrett Hartley with 10:17 to play in the second quarter. Key plays of the drive were swing passes out of the backfield from Drew Brees to Darren Sproles (9 yards) and Illinois' product Pierre Thomas (10 and 28 yards).
The Rams added to their lead with 4:10 to play before halftime as Zac Stacy took a handoff to the right, broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and outran the Saints defense to the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown.
The touchdown was set up by a 31-yard pass from Kellen Clemens to Chris Givens that caught New Orleans in a blitz.
Brees led New Orleans on a quick and crisp drive to close out the half. But the drive stalled deep in Rams' territory _ thanks, in part, to an illegal hands to face call on Charles Brown that wiped out an 8-yard TD pass.
The Saints attempted to salvage the drive with a 36-yard field goal, but the Rams' Michael Brockers blocked the kick.
At the half, the Rams are up 24-3 on the Saints.
Some halftime numbers of note:
• Clemens has completed 10 of 13 passes for 113 yards, with touchdowns to tight ends Cory Harkey and Lance Kendricks. Zac Stacy has rushed 16 times for 106 yards with a 40-yard TD run. Austin Pettis has four catches for 41 yards.
• Brees, who became just the fifth in NFL history to pass for 50,000 yards last week, has completed 16 of 21 passes for 169 yards. He's been picked off twice. Pierre Thomas (Illinois) has four catches for 59 yards to lead New Orleans.
RAMS UP 17-0 EARLY IN THE SECOND QUARTER
The Rams got off to a fast start with a little help from their special teams and defense. After a Johnny Hekker punt went out of bounds at the Saints' 7, the first play from scrimmage for New Orleans resulted in an interception by rookie T.J. McDonald interception. On the play, Robert Quinn hit Drew Brees as he was throwing, allowing McDonald to come up with the first interception of his professional career.
On the next play, from the 31, Cory Harkey caught a Kellen Clemens' swing pass out of the backfield, stepped by one defender and muscled past two more for his second touchdown catch of the season and a 7-0 Rams' lead with 11:20 to play.
The Saints responded, marching to the St. Louis 10 before Brees was picked off again as Trumaine Johnson came up with the pick at the goal line and returned it to the Rams' 7.
The Rams moved down the field quickly, thanks to a pair of personal-foul calls against the Saints, stretching their lead to 14-0 on a 4-yard scoring pass from Clemens to Lance Kendricks with 2:45 to play in the opening quarter.
Key plays on the drive were a 9-yard third-down pass from Clemens to Chris Givens, a 7-yard run by Clemens (with a 15-yard penalty added), a 29-yard run by Zac Stacy (with a 14-yard penalty added), a a 9-yard third-down pass from Clemens to Austin Pettis.
The Rams continued to pour it on as rookie Stedman Bailey recovered Greg Zuerlein's onside kick. The drive, which featured some strong running by Stacy and a 13-yard pass from Clemens to Pettis _ with another 15-yard penalty tacked on _ was capped by a 31-yard field goal from Zuerlein on the first play of the second quarter to make it 17-0.
AUSTIN OUT WITH ANKLE INJURY
Tavon Austin will sit out today's game with the New Orleans Saints; he suffered an ankle injury late in the third quarter of last weekend's 30-10 loss to the Cardinals in Arizona.
Austin was in a walking boot as the team practiced on Thursday and Friday.
Other inactives for the Rams are guard Harvey Dahl, who sits out his fifth game in six weeks with a knee injury, running back Daryl Richardson (foot), cornerback Quinton Pointer, guard Brandon Washington, guard/tackle Mike Person and defensive tackle Jermelle Cudjo.
In addition, the Rams cut rookie defensive end Gerald Rivers and promoted wide receiver and kick returner Justin Veltung from the practice squad. Veltung, a rookie free agent from the University of Idaho, figures to see some return duty today with Austin out.
Janoris Jenkins, who did not practice this week with a back injury, is active.
With Dahl out, Rodger Saffold will start at right guard and Joe Barksdale moves in at right tackle.
For the Saints, the are safety Rafael Bush (ankle), linebacker Keyunta Dawson (calf), tight end Josh Hill (hamstring), quarterback Ryan Griffin, cornerback Trevin Wade, defensive end Tyrunn Walker and wide reciver Nick Toon.
Tackle Terron Armstead (Cahokia High) and defensive end Glenn Foster (Illinois) were on the injured list this week, but both are active for the Saints. Armstead was New Orleans' third-round pick last April; Foster was signed as an undrafted free agent.