Rams snap three-game losing streak against winless Jaguars
The St. Louis Rams have had their struggles, but at least they can say they’re not the worst team in the NFL. That distinction could go to the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of four winless teams and the victim of a 34-20 Rams victory Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Rams (2-3) took advantage of a few big plays by their defense, and they exposed the Jaguars’ (0-5) league-worst run defense in order to set up advantageous situations for quarterback Sam Bradford.
The game did not start out well for the Rams, however. A 67-yard catch-and-run by Jaguars receiver Justin Blackmon, returning from a four-game suspension due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy, went for a touchdown in the first quarter and deflated the raucous home crowd. For a team mired in a three-game losing streak, including two consecutive blowout losses by a combined score of 66-18, this was not the start for which the Rams’ faithful were looking, and it led many fans to turn their cheers to boos.
“It happens, and I don’t blame them,” defensive end Chris Long said. “They’re paying customers and they want to see good football, and if we’re not playing up to their standards and losing, they’re entitled to boo or cheer. It’s something we can’t control.”
The Rams’ momentum changed, however, once Jaguars’ rookie Luke Joeckel, making his first career start at left tackle for the recently traded Eugene Monroe, left the game with an injury that was later determined to be a broken ankle. On the very next play from scrimmage, Robert Quinn, the Rams’ sack leader, flew around the Jaguars’ backup tackle and pressured quarterback Blaine Gabbert into an overthrow toward the middle of the field. The ball fell directly into safety Matt Giordano’s hands, and Giordano took the interception 82 yards down the field for a touchdown, giving the Rams and their home fans a jolt of much-needed energy.
“It was easy because my teammates were blocking for me,” Giordano said. “It was a great team execution play.”
The Rams forced two other key turnovers in the game. First, a fumble in the Jaguars’ own territory led to a second-quarter touchdown pass to tight end Lance Kendricks. The second turnover came as the Jaguars were just two yards away from drawing within seven points of the Rams in the third quarter. Gabbert tried to find a receiver over the middle, but his pass was picked off by Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Long stressed the importance of turnovers. “[They] can be the lifeblood of the defense, so to get them today was good,” he said.
Outside of the early Blackmon touchdown, the Rams defense was stout—it held the Jaguars’ offense to 267 total passing yards from Gabbert and Chad Henne, who came in when Gabbert left the game with a hamstring injury, as well as only 96 rushing yards, to go along with the turnovers.
“ [We won] with turnovers,” Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers said, “with getting the ball out of their hands and getting it into our offense’s hands and letting those guys take care of the clock.”
The offense also picked up the slack from struggles in recent weeks. Bradford tallied 222 yards passing on 19 completions in 34 attempts for three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Bradford took advantage of a porous Jaguars defense with the support of the Rams running attack of Daryl Richardson and rookie Zac Stacy. In his first career start, Stacy rushed 14 times for 78 yards, and Richardson had 13 carries for 48 yards. The 4.0 yards-per-carry average as a team was an encouraging result even against Jacksonville’s worst-ranked run defense.
Bradford spread the ball around, completing passes to seven different receivers, and the offense also had a few big plays of its own, with three receptions going for over 25 yards.
“As the offense, you kind of take that upon you to get points,” wide receiver Austin Pettis said, “but it’s even better when the defense can get points for you. So when our defense can go do that, we have to make sure that we back them and put some more points up there for us so they can just go get after the quarterback.”
Pettis was the recipient of one of those long passes, a 31-yard strike from Bradford in the back right of the end zone that sealed the victory for St. Louis, letting fans leave the game feeling optimistic about their team. The Rams took what they hope is the first of many steps in trying to pull themselves back to respectability.
“Any victory in the NFL is big,” Giordano said. “It just takes a snowflake to start an avalanche.”