Monday, November 2, 2009

Rams Win in a Rush

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

DETROIT – For all 53 men in the Rams locker room and every member of the coaching staff and all of the people that follow the team on a weekly basis, the sight of running back Steven Jackson racing off right tackle for a game-winning 25-yard touchdown Sunday against Detroit was the culmination of weeks and months of blood sweat and tears.

It was what coach Steve Spagnuolo has waited for since he was named the team’s coach in January. It was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for a team that has poured its guts into a full offseason of work and a grueling training camp.

And though he was basking in the glow of his first win as an NFL head coach, Spagnuolo couldn’t help but divert the bulk of his own happiness to the players he has long since wanted to see rewarded for their efforts.

“Obviously I am very happy about the win,” Spagnuolo said. “I thought the guys played their guts out. I am just so proud and happy that they now have a reward. It’s just one reward. This isn’t more than that. I prayed for them to have a reward for all the work they put in and finally they got that.”

Jackson’s touchdown scamper gave the Rams a stirring 17-10 lead and after a final defensive stop, the first victory of the Spagnuolo era by that same score. With the win, the Rams improve to 1-7 heading into their bye week. The Lions dropped to 1-6 with the loss.

In a wild game that featured contributions from all three phases, it was only fitting that Jackson was the man to put the exclamation point on the victory.

For every moment of every game and every carry he has had this season, Jackson has run as hard as possible. And his grit and determination has carried over into the locker room where he has evolved into the team’s unquestioned leader.

Still, for all of that work, Jackson had not yet been rewarded with even a touchdown, let alone a win. Until Sunday.

“That was especially special because it was him and the way he did it,” Spagnuolo said. “That’s Steven but just the way he was running, breaking all those tackles and busting out in the open. He was determined to get in the end zone. That’s what he’s all about.”

What Jackson was all about on Sunday was punishing every Lions defender that got in his way. Nobody was safe as Jackson even delivered a blow to umpire Bill Schuster when he found himself on the tracks when the train was coming through late in the fourth quarter.

When all was said and done, Jackson had rolled up 149 yards on 22 carries with the deciding score, adding three catches for 17 yards along the way. That total was about 46 percent of the team’s total offensive production for the day. And many of those yards came after contact as Jackson repeatedly ran through arm tackles and over potential road blocks.

But none were sweeter than the touchdown run that was Jackson’s first of the season and gave his team its first victory.

“That run felt really good,” Jackson said. “At that point of the game we felt like we had to close the game out. We knew that pretty much whoever had the ball last was going to have a pretty good chance of driving the ball and putting the game away. We as an offensive unit really felt like it was our time to take over the game. The offensive line, the fullback, everyone believed in what we were doing and it really showed. That last run was an exclamation point for the way the game went for us.”

While Jackson was busy fulfilling his role as offensive leader and overall tour de force, the Rams were getting plenty of other contributions from the other two phases.

Perhaps no play was bigger to momentum and the end result than a 36-yard touchdown pass from kicker Josh Brown to tight end Daniel Fells on a fake field goal just before the end of the first half.

With 1:03 to go in the second quarter, quarterback Marc Bulger and the offense came to the line for what appeared to be an effort to go for it on fourth-and-8 at Detroit’s 36.

When the Rams broke the huddle, Bulger had an uneasy feeling and opted to call a timeout.

“We got to the line a little late, Danny (Fells) wasn’t quite sure on his route,” Bulger said. “There was a bunch of things going on. I didn’t feel comfortable. I thought it was an important part of the game. Coach Spags and Coach Curl, really hate to waste timeouts or use them at all. I was willing to go over and take the fall for it because I thought it was an important part.”

Given the time to reconsider going for it, the Rams looked to something special teams coach Tom McMahon had noticed on Detroit’s film from earlier in the week. When the Lions want to come for a field goal block, they have a tendency to come extra hard off the edge for the block, especially on long attempts as Brown’s 54-yarder would have been.

In theory, that would make the Lions vulnerable on the outside. Sure enough, Detroit pushed from the edges as the snap went to punter Donnie Jones. Jones flipped the ball back to Brown who rolled to his left, fought off his natural urge to just run it and lobbed a pass across his body to a wide open Fells.

“I’m not worried about how the pass looks,” Brown said. “That has to be the best thing ever to not worry about how pretty it is. The thing is, it has to be effective and it was. Lob it up, let the big guy get it and then just run. That’s all you can do.”

His part done, Brown could only watch as Fells hauled it in and raced down the left sideline. Fells fought off a would-be tackler and crossed the goal line for his team-leading third touchdown.

“I didn’t want to be denied on that,” Fells said. “It was such a great call, it was like ‘OK, everyone checks my speed and wants to see how fast I am,’ so I couldn’t let anybody catch me on this one.”

That touchdown gave the Rams a 10-2 lead going into halftime, a lead that Detroit would erase with a 4-yard touchdown run from quarterback Matthew Stafford.

But aside from that scoring drive, the Rams defense performed its job of keeping the Lions out of the end zone all day.

For most of the first half, the Lions had some success running the ball and hurt the Rams with screen passes and dump offs to the flat. More often than not, that was the result of catching the Rams in blitzes.

At halftime, defensive coordinator Ken Flajole and Co. made the necessary adjustments, lying back a little more.

“We went back to our base defense and when we played our base defense we were able to stop them,” defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. “We are young; we are starting to jell a little bit.”

The defense held Detroit to 289 yards of total offense and came up huge late in the game by forcing a series of three and outs, including the final four and out to wrap up the win.

As the clock wound down and his team stood in victory formation for the first time in his short tenure, Spagnuolo received a shower from his team.

“It was kind of nice,” Spagnuolo said. “It’s special. I know I will remember it for a long time. What makes it most special is the people that it happened with. It’s a special group of guys. They have been through a lot, they never quit, they bought in, and they stayed with it, never leaning the other way.”

And for one day at least, that patience and work was rewarded with a win.

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