ST. LOUIS • The Rams found a running game, found the end zone, and found an opponent to their liking Sunday in the Jacksonville Jaguars. The result was a much-needed 34-20 victory and an end to a three-game losing streak that included back-to-back stinkers against Dallas and San Francisco.
With hard-running Zac Stacy starting at running back, the Rams topped 100 yards rushing for the first time this season. Stacy was decisive, didn’t tip-toe to the hole and got yards after contract en route to a 78-yard day on 14 carries. However, Stacy didn’t finish the game because of a rib injury. As a team, the Rams (2-3) finished with 143 yards rushing; they had managed only 189 in the first four games of the year.
Meanwhile, the Rams scored a season high in points, on three touchdown passes from Sam Bradford and a couple of big defensive turnovers including a “pick six” by safety Matt Giordano.
Sunday’s start was discouraging for the Rams as some of the same problems haunting them this season cropped up early.
After forcing Jacksonville to punt on a 3-and-out to start the game, Rams rookie Ray Ray Armstrong was flagged once again for a special teams penalty, negating a 23-yard punt return by Tavon Austin. So instead of starting at the Jacksonville 46, the Rams were pushed back to their own 23 for their first offensive series _ a loss of 31 yards of field position.
Then came another Rams bugaboo after a 3-and-out series by St. Louis _ giving up the easy touchdown. There was confusion in the reworked Rams secondary and it resulted in a 67-yard TD pass from quarterback Blaine Gabbert to wide receiver Justin Blackmon, just off his four-game NFL suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
Blackmon was left uncovered in the slot and safety Darian Stewart arrived late to try to cover him. Stewart compounded the problem by staring into the backfield instead of worrying about Blackmon who raced by him over the middle for a big gain. The only safety back was Giordano, and Blackmon eluded him for the score and a 7-0 Jacksonville lead just 4½ minutes into the game.
With both Cortland Finnegan (hamstring) and T.J. McDonald (fractured leg) out, the Rams started Trumaine Johnson at cornerback in the base defense. Safety Rodney McLeod moved down to play a corner-like role in the nickel, covering the slot receiver. Stewart started in McDonald’s place at safety, and then in the nickel Giordano came of the bench to play safety while McLeod covered the slot receiver.
Three safeties and two corners in the nickel made for an unconventional approach but after those early bumps, it worked well enough. Giordano and Stewart both made amends later in the half for their miscues on the Blackmon score. First came Giordano, returning a badly overthrown pass by Gabbert _ the Mizzou and Parkway West High product _ 82 yards for a TD on his first Rams interception.
That tied the score at 7-all. A 48-yard field goal by Josh Scobee gave Jacksonville a 10-7 lead after one quarter. At that point, the Jaguars _ the league’s 32nd-ranked offense _ had outgained the Rams 156 yards to 27.
The Rams’ offense got on track in the second quarter, but another big takeaway by the defense set up another score. A 66-yard drive highlighted by a 28-yard pass from Sam Bradford to Brian Quick, resulted in a Greg Zuerlein field goal to tie the game at 10-10.
On Jacksonville’s next possession, linebacker Alec Ogletree knifed through two blockers on a tight end screen to tight end Clay Harbor, a Missouri State product. While Ogletree was bringing down Harbor for a short gain, Stewart swooped in and stripped the ball loose. Stewart picked up the fumble and ran 19 yards to the Jaguars’ 16.
On the next play, Bradford threw to tight end Lance Kendricks for a touchdown and a 17-10 lead. The Rams closed out the half with a 90-yard TD drive and a 24-10 lead. The drive featured Daryl Richardson’s longest run of the season (13 yards) and Tavon Austin’s longest reception as a Ram (25 yards).
The touchdown came on third-and-goal from the 4, with Austin Pettis settling into an open spot in Jacksonville’s zone defense for his third TD of the season.
Bradford wasn’t done with Pettis, who has turned into the Rams’ most dependable and most sure-handed receiver. After Jacksonville had closed to within seven points, trailing 27-20 after a Cecil Shorts TD catch, Bradford threw a deep pass to Pettis down the right sideline.
Will Blackmon had tight coverage all the way, but Pettis looked the ball in for a 31-yard TD and a 34-20 lead with 5:45 left in the game.
--Joe Lyons' earlier game blog:
ST. LOUIS • A 31-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Austin Pettis with 5:45 to play closed out the scoring in the Rams' 34-20 win Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Rams, who had lost their last three, are 2-3; the Jaguars fell to 0-5.
It was the second Bradford-to-Pettis touchdown pass of the day.
On the play, down the right sideline, Pettis did a great job of battling Jacksonville cornerback Will Blackmon to come up with the grab to cap the eight-play, 80-yard drive.
The Jaguars had cut into the Rams' lead early in the final quarter, finishing off a 12-play, 80-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Chad Henne to Cecil Shorts with 10:22 to play. The touchdown, on a slant pattern, cut the Rams' lead to 27-20.
But the Rams responded with a scoring drive to take the lead back to 14 points and went on from there for the 34-20 win.
ZUERLEIN FG STRETCHES LEAD
With a 37-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein just 13 seconds into the final quarter, the Rams lead 27-13.
The Jaguars' Chris Prosinski blocked a punt early in the second half, but Jacksonville came away empty, thanks to strong defensive stand by the Rams.
The Jaguars, who took over at the St. Louis 25, actually cut the lead to 24-13 on a 23-yard field goal from Josh Scobee, but the Rams' Janoris Jenkins lined up offside.
Taking points off the board, the Jaguars tried again with a fourth down play from the 2 ½. On the play, both Trumaine Johnson of the Rams and the Jaguars' Clay Harbor (Missouri State) were called for pass interference.
Following the offsetting penalties, the pass into the end zone from Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert (Parkway West/Missouri) was picked off by linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Late in the third quarter, veteran Chad Henne took over as Gabbert suffered a hamstring injury. He is not expected to return.
On his first drive, Henne led the Jaguars to points as Scobee booted a 34-yard field goal with 3:22 to play in the third quarter to make it 24-13.
RAMS UP 24-10 AT THE HALF
With 17 unanswered points in the second quarter, the Rams rallied to take a 24-10 lead to the break.
The Rams, who trailed 10-7 after a quarter, struck for 10 points in a 36-span early in the second quarter to take control.
After a 32-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein evened the score at 10 with 10:10 to play in the second quarter, Rams' rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree fought through a pair of blockers to tackle and strip the ball from Jacksonville tight end Clay Harbor (Missouri State). Safety Darian Stewart scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the Jacksonville 16.
One play later, Sam Bradford ran the bootleg to the right and completed a pass to tight end Lance Kendrick, who made a dive to the pylon for the touchdown, giving the Rams a 17-10 lead 11:34 to play in the first half.
The Rams closed out the half with a 12-play, 90-yard drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Austin Pettis with 27 seconds to play before halftime. Key plays on the drive included some tough inside running from Zac Stacy, a 13-yard run by Daryl Richardson and passes from Bradford to Chris Givens (15 yards), Lance Kendricks (16 yards) and Tavon Austin (17 yards).
Some halftime numbers:
• Bradford has completed 12 of 20 passes for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Kendricks (four catches, 37 yards, TD) and Austin (three catches, 32 yards) are the top receivers; Stacy had 38 yards on eight carries.
Chris Long and Michael Brockers had first-half sacks.
• Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert (Parkway West/Mizzou) has completed 7 of 13 passes for 155 yards. He has one touchdown and one interception. Justin Blackmon has three catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. Maurice Jones-Drew has 37 rushing yards on 11 carries.
JACKSONVILLE UP 10-7 AFTER A QUARTER
Four plays after an 88-yard punt return touchdown by Jacksonville rookie Ace Sanders was wiped out by a penalty, the visitors grabbed the lead when Parkway West and Mizzou product Blaine Gabbert took advantage of a blown coverage to hook up on a short pass to a wide-open Justin Blackmon, who took it the rest of the way for a 67-yard touchdown. It was the first catch of the season for Blackmon, who sat out the opening four games of the season on suspension after violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
On the play, Blackmon was uncovered in the slot as safety Darian Stewart arrived late. Blackmon ran past Stewart, made the catch and raced untouched to the end zone to give the Jaguars the lead with 10:31 to play in the first quarter.
Jacksonville traded up in the 2011 draft, moving ahead of the Rams, to select Blackmon with the fifth overall pick.
Late in the quarter, Jacksonville tackle Luke Joeckel, the No. 2 overall in last April's draft, was carted off with a right ankle injury. He will not return.
On the next play, Gabbert badly overthrew Blackmon and the pass was intercepted by Matt Giordano, who returned it 82 yards to tie the game at 7 with 3:30 to play in the quarter.
Jacksonville regained the lead at 10-7 when Josh Scobee booted a 48-yard field goal with 18 seconds to play in the opening quarter.
ROOKIE STACY GETS FIRST NFL START
Zac Stacy, selected in the fifth round by the Rams last April, will make his first NFL start as the Rams take on the Jacksonville Jaguars today at the Edward Jones Dome.
Stacy, a 5-foot-8, 214-pounder from Vanderbilt, ran one time for four yards in the Rams' 27-24 come-from-behind win over the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener on Sept. 8, and was inactive for the losses in Atlanta and Dallas.
Stacy gets the start over second-year backs Daryl Richardson (42 carries, 114 rushing yards, 2.7 average) and Isaiah Pead (seven carries, 21 yards) and rookie Benny Cunningham (10 carries, 22 yards).
Right tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) is inactive for the third consecutive week. Other injured Rams not active are cornerback Cortland Finnegan (hamstring), defensive end William Hayes (knee) and defensive tackle Matt Conrath (concussion). Offensive linemen Barrett Jones, Brandon Washington and Mike Person are the team's other inactives.
Joe Barksdale again gets the start at right tackle.
For the Jaguars, six players _ starting tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf), starting cornerback Dwayne Gratz (ankle) and starting safety Dwight Lowery (concussion) as well as reserve receivers Mike Brown (back) and Stephen Burton (concussion) and back-up defensive tackle Jeremy Mincey (concussion) _ were ruled out on Friday. The other Jacksonville inactive is No. 3 quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
Allen Reisner starts at tight end, with Will Blackmon at left corner and Josh Evans at free safety.