Monday, November 12, 2007

Rams surprise New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS — Marc Bulger's most meaningful handoff of the season didn't take
place on the field Sunday. Minutes after the Rams' startling 37-29 victory over
heavily favored New Orleans, Bulger turned in the visitors' locker room and
handed a game ball to. ...

Scott Linehan.

In a season of offensive crises and eight straight losses — as well as the
"infamous" rolling of the eyes in Seattle — it was a nice gesture by Bulger.
Bulger said he didn't act on his own in handing the game ball to the Rams'
beleaguered head coach.

"I asked a couple of guys and they all agreed," Bulger said. "It was for
sticking with us. It's not like he's been punishing us (for the losses). He
gave us our time off and treated us like men.

"I think he's the reason why we came out with some energy (Sunday). It wasn't
by accident. Obviously, he wasn't going to give himself the game ball and take
credit. But I think it was important for him to be acknowledged for the job he

Bulger's work Sunday wasn't bad, either. His assorted injuries doing better
from the bye week, Bulger put together his best performance of the season. His
completion percentage of 81.8 percent (on 27-of-33 passing) was a career high.
His passer rating of 125.0 was his best since the Washington game last
Christmas Eve.

But he got plenty of help Sunday. Bulger's numbers were all the more impressive
considering he was working behind his 25th different starting combination on
the offensive line as a Ram. Four of the six offensive linemen who played
Sunday weren't even on the Rams' roster at the start of training camp.

Running back Steven Jackson's bulging disc held up well enough to get 27
touches, including 22 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown. Jackson also threw
a touchdown pass on a trick play, his first TD toss since his days at Eldorado
High in Las Vegas.

Wide receiver Torry Holt didn't score but topped 100 yards receiving for the
second game in a row, with 124 yards on eight catches. All told, the Rams piled
up a season-high 409 yards, albeit against a Saints defense that was missing
three injured starters.

As for the St. Louis defense, coordinator Jim Haslett's aggressive blitzing
schemes kept one of the league's hottest offenses and hottest quarterbacks
(Drew Brees) off-balance for three quarters. With a 34-7 lead early in the
fourth quarter, Haslett basically stopped blitzing.

The Saints nearly made the Rams pay for that change in strategy by scoring
three fourth-quarter touchdowns. But Dane Looker's recovery of an onside kick
with 29 seconds remaining ended any hope for a miracle comeback by the Saints

Instead, it was Bulger kneeling in the "victory" formation to end the game. It
was that football — from the final play of the game — that Bulger handed to
Linehan in the locker room. This came after Linehan had handed game balls to
Haslett, linebackers coach Rick Venturi and secondary coach Willy Robinson —
all former Saints coaches.

"I'm very proud of our football team," Linehan said. "I'm certain not many
people gave this football team much of a chance going on the road, with the way
we'd started our year. For obvious reasons, I don't blame them."

After enduring the stress of an 0-8 start that led to questions about his job
security, Linehan said he'll never take winning for granted.

"You've got to enjoy them all," he said. "It's hard to win in this league — and
we proved that this year. You can get in a downward spiral, and it's hard to
come out of."

In the days leading up to the game, and even on game day, the Rams did
everything in their power to break out of that spiral.

Bulger said the Rams practice the victory formation every week. "And every week
we've lost, so we actually switched the direction we do it in our indoor
facility," he said. "Maybe that's what it was."

Or maybe it was the Saturday night speech by safety Corey Chavous in the team
hotel, imploring his teammates to play with more energy. Tight end Randy
McMichael said Chavous told the team to "just go back to playing football like
you played it when you were a little kid. Not for the money. Just go out there
and have fun."

Haslett addressed the team before the game and at halftime.

Members of the Rams' equipment staff even visited a voodoo "queen" in New
Orleans on Saturday in search of a way to break out of the 0-8 hex.

Somehow it worked. The karma changed. And despite being double-digit underdogs,
the Rams won a regular-season game for the first time since Dec. 31, 2006 in

"Hopefully, it's kind of contagious and rolls over to next week," center Andy
McCollum said. "You've got to play like you're having fun out there. Even when
you lose, it's a fun game. But it's a heck of a lot more fun when you win."

For the first time this year, the Rams know that's the case.

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