Rams use secret weapon to beat Redskins

2012-09-17T00:35:00Z 2012-10-05T00:54:31Z Rams use secret weapon to beat RedskinsBY JIM THOMAS • jthomas@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8197 stltoday.com

Now, in the cavalcade of catches that is Matthew Mulligan, NFL tight end, it's hard to say where his game-winning 1-yard touchdown grab against Washington rates.

Actually, it's pretty easy.

"As far as the catches go, it's obviously No. 1," Mulligan said, chuckling.

That's because the fourth-year pro, a blocking specialist, had only six career catches entering Sunday's home opener at the Edward Jones Dome against the Redskins.

But with Washington leading 28-23 to start the fourth quarter, Mulligan lined up on the right side of the formation along with fellow tight end Lance Kendricks on first and goal from the Washington 1. A lot of the Redskins' pass defense followed Kendricks. Some flowed with Rams lead blocker Brit Miller.

Mulligan, an unheralded free-agent pickup from the New York Jets this offseason, leaked off the line of scrimmage into the middle of the end zone.

"As soon as I turned around, I was like: 'Wow! I don't think there's anybody here with me,'" Mulligan said. "Everybody just left me alone. Basically nobody covered me."

Quarterback Sam Bradford noticed that, too, tossing the ball right into Mulligan's breadbasket. Rookie running back Daryl Richardson, who took over in the second quarter following Steven Jackson's groin injury, then ran in a 2-point conversion, giving the Rams a wild-and-woolly 31-28 victory over Washington.

The verdict wasn't sealed until Billy Cundiff's desperation 62-yard field goal attempt fell far short, and far to the right, of its intended destination with 1 minute, 13 seconds to play.

After a wrenching last-second 27-23 loss last week in Detroit, the Rams flipped the script against Washington, giving coach Jeff Fisher his first victory as a Ram.

"That was clearly a great win for those guys in the locker room," Fisher said. "There were so many lessons to be learned tonight, starting with the first offensive play. And that's kind of how the game went. We would have a difficult situation arise on the field, and we'd bounce right back."

It was a team effort across the board. Bradford outplayed heralded Washington rookie Robert Griffin III at quarterback, throwing for 310 yards, three TDs and a 117.6 passer rating.

Wide receiver Danny Amendola atoned for his lost fumble — returned for a Washington TD on the first play of the game — by catching 15 passes for 160 yards and a score. Amendola tied a league record with 12 catches in the first half.

For the second week in a row, Brandon Gibson had a big-play TD catch, giving the Rams their first lead of the game 23-21 early in the third quarter. And Richardson, a seventh-round find from Abilene Christian, pinch-hit for Jackson with 15 carries for 83 yards.

On the other side of the ball, the defense held Washington scoreless over the final 20 minutes after Griffin's second rushing touchdown had given the Redskins a 28-23 lead with 5:27 to play in the third quarter.

But in a slugfest game that featured a month's worth of pushing, shoving, trash-talking and all-around ill will, it was the Rams who threw the afternoon's final punches. The crew of replacement officials had trouble keeping order all afternoon.

As one Rams player said in passing as he headed to his locker stall after the game: "That was just lawless country out there today."

In other words, anything goes, and every man for himself. And as Fisher put it, "Nobody's backing down here."

And so it was after a third-down completion from Griffin to Josh Morgan that would've left the Redskins with a 4th-and-1 play at the St. Louis 29, Morgan threw a football at Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan after the play. Replays showed that Finnegan provoked Morgan by shoving him first, but as is often the case in such instances, it was the retaliator who got caught.

Morgan later admitted as much.

"They were doing something all game, all of them were," Morgan said. "I should have kept my calm. ... The second man always gets caught. Coach kept telling me that all week. I should have kept my cool in a critical situation."

Finnegan, long known for his, uh, feisty play, made a quick and subtle shove. When Morgan replied by throwing the football at him, everyone in the crowd of 53,979 could see it. So instead of attempting a 47-yarder, Cundiff was left to try the 62-yarder.

"It was a chippy game — all game," said Finnegan, whose second-quarter interception set up one of kicker Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein's three field goals. "We made enough mistakes to lose, I tell you that. But it was a physical game. Nonetheless, we made enough plays to win."

None bigger than Mulligan's TD catch, unless of course, you want to include Mulligan's blocked punt just four plays earlier. Washington had a punt blocked last week, and the Rams obviously took notice. Late in the fourth quarter, Mulligan broke through on fourth and 6 at the Washington 24 to block Sav Rocca's punt.

"My guy didn't block me, so I just kept going," said Mulligan, who came in from the right side. "I was able to get there — as un-athletically as it was — I hit it with my right hand."

"He got it on his own, because we had a return (on)," Fisher noted. "We didn't even have a rush (on). He sensed something."

Eugene Sims recovered at the 24, and three plays later, Mulligan was in the end zone with his TD catch.

Mulligan said he almost blocked a punt last year against Buffalo. And he caught a TD pass in the preseason against Cleveland in 2010. But there was no "almost" or "preseason" Sunday for Mulligan.

The last Rams pass-catcher to block a punt and then catch a TD pass in quick succession was the great Isaac Bruce. Bruce actually did it on back-to-back plays against Green Bay at Lambeau Field in 1995 in the first game for the franchise after the move to St. Louis.

"Oh, my word," Mulligan said. "To be in the company and mentioned with a name like that — that's obviously a blessing because he obviously is a Hall of Famer and a great all-time Ram."

Move over, Isaac.

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