Sunday, November 28, 2004

5-5, seahawks inching away

When all seemed bleak, Drew Bledsoe turned to the one person he thought might provide him perspective and help answer his critics: Jim Kelly.

It worked. Recalling the advice he received earlier this week from Kelly, the Buffalo Bills' Hall of Fame quarterback, Bledsoe produced a convincing reply to those calling for his benching.

Bledsoe hit tight end Mark Campbell for three touchdowns, picking apart a banged-up Rams' secondary, and got additional support from a strong special teams showing, in helping the Bills to a 37-17 win over St. Louis on Sunday.

``We just talked a little bit of how you handle things and how you deal with things when you're faced with some adversity. It was good conversation,'' Bledsoe said. ``It's nice to know you're not the only one who's been through hard times. ... It's nice to know that you have that support.''

Bledsoe finished 15-of-24 for 185 yards and one interception. The three touchdowns were the most Bledsoe's thrown since he had three in Buffalo's 38-21 win over Miami on Dec. 1, 2002.

Bledsoe was so good his 160 yards passing in the first half were more than he had in 10 of his previous 23 games. And he got his 213th career touchdown pass, moving into 19th place ahead of Terry Bradshaw and Y.A. Tittle.

His performance was part of an overall dominating effort by a Buffalo team (4-6) that has won four straight at home, but was coming off its worst outing of the season, a 29-6 loss at New England.

``This week we took it personal,'' Campbell said. ``What happened last Sunday night was embarrassing. We had a bad taste in our mouth and wanted to do something about it today.''

The game turned at the start of the third quarter when the Bills broke open a 17-17 score by producing 17 points in a span of 5:40, including Nate Clements' 86-yard punt return for a touchdown.

This was not the effort the Rams were expecting after taking the NFC West lead with last weekend's 23-12 win over Seattle. St. Louis (5-5) has lost three of its last four, all three losses against AFC East opponents.

As unhappy as Rams coach Mike Martz was with his team's performance, he was livid about what he called cheap shots by the Bills. The Rams lost three cornerbacks to injuries: starter Travis Fisher and backup DeJuan Groce to knee injuries in the first half, and backup Kevin Garrett to a concussion in the third quarter.

Rams receiver Torry Holt also accused Clements of trying to hurt him by going after his knees during a tackle in the third quarter.

``Absolutely, they were doing it intentionally,'' Martz said. ``They are trying to blow somebody's knee out. There's no question about it. It worked.''

As for the game, Martz blamed his special teams unit which, besides allowing Clements' touchdown, gave up a 53-yard punt return to Jonathan Smith. And then there was defensive end Erik Flowers, who muffed a short kickoff, allowing the Bills to recover at the Rams 31.

Those three miscues led to 17 Bills points.

``We were pitiful,'' Martz said. ``I really don't know what to do at this point. ... It's going to be hard to win another game until we get that cleared up. That's the worst thing I've ever seen.''

After spotting the Rams a 10-0 first-quarter lead on their first two possessions, the Bills held St. Louis to 98 yards and no points in the second half, and intercepted Marc Bulger three times.

Bulger went 27-of-45 for 287 yards, including touchdowns to Holt and Isaac Bruce.

Campbell also caught TD passes of 19 and 10 yards for the first three-TD game of his career, and finished with four catches for 37 yards.

``I give him a lot of credit,'' Campbell said, referring to Bledsoe. ``I can't say enough about Drew. For as much heat as he's been under, he made some great reads out there.''

We are never going to get back to the playoffs being dead even, the Bills caught us off guard and jumped on the oppurtunity. We started off strong but finished weak. We need to keep up the same intensity throughout the game so they dont take advantage of us. Lets hope that something in the turkeys will give out Rams a new beginning. We are 0-0 baby and lets finish off strong!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

We can't have any more games like Miami.

After the suprising lose to Miami a few weeks ago and the more rescent lost to the Patriots, we bounced back last game to reclaim the NFC West. We beat out the Seahawks 23-12 for the division lead.

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Mike Martz's week of anger was no empty display. He saw the season slipping away for the defending NFC West champions and thought taking potshots at his players might be his best shot at turning things around.

The St. Louis Rams responded to the tongue-lashings and physical practices by slapping around the Seattle Seahawks.

Marc Bulger got off to a red-hot start and a beleaguered defense held Seattle to three field goals in five trips inside the 20 in a 23-12 victory that earned the Rams a first-place tie with the Seahawks atop the NFC West on Sunday.

Martz held little back after consecutive losses to the Patriots and previously winless Dolphins.

``You don't want the head man upset,'' wide receiver Kevin Curtis said. ``It can't help but fire you up a little bit to play even harder.''

Martz's tactics included a live scrimmage on Wednesday, a very unusual full-contact drill for the NFL but something that he'll continue after seeing such impressive results.

``It's easy to take things for granted -- all of us, coaches too,'' Martz said. ``If you don't coach attitude and bring out the passion that they have to play this game, then you start to slide, and I think that's where we were.''

The Rams (5-4) responded to Mad Mike by sweeping the season series against their top competition in the West, this time benefiting from an early cushion rather than a fast finish. The Rams led 17-0 early in the second quarter; a month ago in Seattle, they had to score 17 points in the final 5 1/2 minutes of regulation to force overtime.

``They made key plays when they had to, and we didn't,'' Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. ``I think that was the story.''

Shaun Alexander had 176 yards on 22 carries for Seattle, giving him 531 yards the last three games and putting him over 1,000 yards for the fourth straight season. But Alexander's fumble after a 35-yard gain to the St. Louis 9 early in the fourth quarter blew the Seahawks' chance to tie it, with Aeneas Williams stripping the ball and Rich Coady recovering.

``I was just thinking 'make plays,' and I went out to make a play,'' Alexander said. ``Their defense made a better one.''

Matt Hasselbeck played with a charley horse after colliding with Alexander on the Seahawks' first play, and ended with one of his worst games of the season for the Seahawks (5-4), going 15-for-36 for 172 yards. The Seahawks were limited to four field goals by Josh Brown.

``We've been giving up points and I'm quite sure teams are coming in and thinking 'Man, we should be able to get at least 30 points,' and rightfully so,'' Williams said. ``When this defense can hold a good offense like that to 12 points it's going to build momentum.''

AP - Nov 14, 5:07 pm EST
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Bulger was 5-for-6 for 71 yards on the opening drive, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass to Curtis, and was 12-for-15 in the first quarter for 158 yards. By early in the second quarter he had completed passes to nine receivers.

He was ineffective much of the second half playing with the lead, finishing 23-for-34 for 262 yards. But Marshall Faulk helped compensate, shrugging off a lost fumble and finishing with a season-best 139 yards on 18 carries, and the Rams totaled a season-best 202 yards on the ground.

The Rams came out firing. Martz called 13 consecutive passes to open the game and 10 were completions, including the 15-yard TD to Curtis.

He finally called for a handoff midway through the second quarter, resulting in a 14-yard gain by Steven Jackson. Jackson scored from the 4 on the next play for a 14-0 lead.

The Rams played much of the game minus two stars. Offensive tackle Orlando Pace was ejected in the third quarter for making contact with the side judge during a scrum following a lost fumble by Faulk. Torry Holt took a blow to the head in the first quarter and did not return.

``There was never a question he had a concussion,'' Martz said. ``The only thing missing was the little birds flying around his head.''

Keep up the good work you guys!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Pats Use Familiar Formula in Win

By Nick Wagoner, Staff Writer

The one trademark of New England’s 21-game winning streak was its ability to capitalize on opponents’ mistakes. That streak ended when the Patriots made mistakes of their own and their opponent played error-free football. On Sunday, New England began a new streak with some old faces in new places. Those recognizable mugs followed the same old blueprint to victory.

The Patriots forced a trio of crucial turnovers, racked up five sacks, and the Rams committed 10 penalties in a game that had the footprints of New England’s record-streak all over it. New England took advantage of St. Louis’ miscues and used a fair amount of trickery to beat the Rams 40-22 at the Edward Jones Dome.

The loss drops the Rams to 4-4 on the season and boosts the Patriots to 7-1. Seattle beat San Francisco 42-27 to improve to 5-3 and take the lead in the division. For a team that has had trouble revealing its true identity through eight games, the Rams left more questions unanswered after the bye week.

Right guard Adam Timmerman said his team knew what New England did to have success, but this loss could be placed squarely on the shoulders of a St. Louis team that failed to execute in all three phases of the game.

“We definitely had too many mistakes, that’s the story,” Timmerman said. “I don’t know how many…I’d say yards, but it’s more like miles in penalties we had and at bad times. We just killed ourselves. It wasn’t a matter of whether the Patriots beat us or made us make mistakes. We did it to ourselves.”

Those mistakes added up in a hurry, whether they were justifiable, indefensible or whatever the case might have been. Those 10 penalties didn’t result in mileage added to the Rams’ penalty odometer, but they did add up to 80 yards and they certainly came at inopportune times.

Perhaps no penalty altered the face of the game more than a questionable personal foul for a hit to the head of Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady called against defensive end Leonard Little with 1:02 to go in the first half. On first-and-10 from his 28, quarterback Tom Brady dropped back to pass and floated it over the head of running back Kevin Faulk in the face of pressure from Little.

Little appeared to hit Brady in his chest, referee Ed Hochuli threw a flag, giving New England 15 yards and a first down. The Patriots ended up scoring on the final play of the first half on one of kicker Adam Vinatieri’s four field goals and took a 19-14 lead into the locker room.

Little was surprised at the call and said he didn’t necessarily agree with it.

“I didn’t hit him up high; I hit him in the chest area,” Little said. “He (the referee) said that it was helmet to chest. I thought that was a part of tackling. When I see a rulebook, it says to keep your head up and hit them in the midsection. I don’t think it was roughing the passer, but that is the way they called it.”

That penalty was part of a six-point swing from which the Rams never recovered. That flag might never have happened were it not for another St. Louis miscue that preceded it.

On third-and-11 from New England’s 30, quarterback Marc Bulger was flushed out of the pocket and rolled to his left. In a desperate attempt to make something happen, Bulger was hit by linebacker Willie McGinest. Bulger fumbled and defensive end Jarvis Green recovered at the 28.

That play, like many others ended with a questionable call. Green didn’t appear to have control of the ball as he fell out of bounds, but after a review, the referees ruled in New England’s favor. About a minute later, Vinatieri kicked the field goal to complete the swing.

Rams coach Mike Martz said the referees told him they couldn’t get a convincing view of what happened.

“He couldn’t tell is what he told me,” Martz said. “It wasn’t conclusive. He couldn’t overturn the ruling on the field. I understand that, even though I don’t agree with that.”

The Rams’ mistakes weren’t limited to penalties and turnovers. A mental error in the third quarter gave the Patriots a 26-14 lead that effectively put St. Louis away. On fourth-and-4 at the Rams’ 4, New England lined up in normal field goal formation, normal, that is, except for one glaring exception. Receiver Troy Brown lined up wide of the line of scrimmage.

With Martz and the rest of the sideline screaming in vain for a timeout, the Patriots snapped directly to Vinatieri who quickly tossed it to Brown, whom the Rams didn’t see until it was too late, for a 4-yard touchdown and lead that the Rams couldn’t overcome.

Martz said he had no problem seeing it, but there wasn’t much he could do besides trying to get a timeout.

“I don’t think that was the trickiest thing in the world. Where was he going, to the john?” Martz said, sarcastically. “I was running, trying to call a timeout because obviously we didn’t see it. That is ridiculous. We have to pay more attention than that, I would think. I am upset about that. I could see him, but I couldn’t get to the official fast enough to call a timeout. I can’t run that fast.”

Another Rams’ mistake came four plays later on the ensuing possession as a Bulger pass intended for wide receiver Torry Holt was deflected and intercepted by linebacker Roman Phifer. The former Ram returned the interception 26 yards to the Rams’ 21.Running back Corey Dillon scored four plays later on a 5-yard run to extend the New England lead to 33-14.

St. Louis’ attempted comeback was limited to a 16-yard touchdown pass from Bulger to Holt and a 2-point conversion run by running back Marshall Faulk to make it 33-22 New England less than a minute into the fourth quarter.
The Rams’ defense promptly forced a three-and-out, but offensively couldn’t convert. The Patriots scored on their next possession as Brady hit receiver Bethel Johnson for a 4-yard score with 5:30 to play. Vinatieri’s extra point gave New England the final margin.

St. Louis was not without its chances to take control, though, especially in the first half. After a rough start that put the Rams down 6-0, they appeared to have momentum back in their favor. The Rams’ defense came up with a strong effort in the first half after being backed into a corner on two occasions. Vinatieri booted a 43-yard field goal to make it 3-0, but New England was held to a three-and-out on its next possession.

On the ensuing punt, returner Shaun McDonald muffed the kick and the Patriots’ Lonie Paxton recovered at the St. Louis 28. Instead of folding, the Rams held the Patriots to another field goal, making it 6-0.

With the offense struggling, St. Louis’ defense picked up the slack. On New England’s first play of its next possession, Brady dropped back to pass from his 6. Defensive tackle Damione Lewis bullrushed up the middle and forced a fumble. Little recovered for a touchdown and kicker Jeff Wilkins’ extra point made it 7-6 St. Louis.

New England wasted no time answering with a 2-yard touchdown toss from Brady to linebacker Mike Vrabel to take a 13-7 lead. The Rams’ offense got rolling for the first time on their next possession, driving 85 yards on just six plays for receiver Isaac Bruce’s 11-yard touchdown grab. Wilkins’ extra point made it 14-13. The Patriots added Vinatieri’s 45-yard field goal to make it 16-14 before the all-important six-point swing.

Bulger had a rough go of it, getting sacked five times, fumbling and throwing an interception. He finished his day 23-of-33 for 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

In the end, though, the Rams were just the next victim in the assembly line of Patriots’ victories.

“It’s pretty clear if you’re going to beat a team like New England you can’t make mistakes,” Bulger said. “We made too many. That’s the way they win and they proved it again.”