Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis told me something in training camp this year that stuck with me through the end of the Rams’ thrilling 34-31 win over the Seahawks in overtime on Sunday.
The Rams were coming off an ugly performance against the Titans (their second preseason loss in as many weeks), and I had asked Laurinaitis about a specific defensive miscue that led to a big run by Tennessee.
After Laurinaitis broke down what happened on the play, he followed with a statement that wound up being revealing in wake of what happened at the Dome on Sunday.
“Those are the things we have to eliminate.” Laurinaitis said about the long run.
“But what I like about our team is that a couple of years ago it would have been, ‘Oh it’s just the preseason, we’ll be all right.’
“[This year] everyone is pissed off about [the mistakes]. That’s good. You want guys to not accept it at any point, whether it’s practice or not. I like our mentality.”
On Sunday you could feel the air sucked out of the Dome after Seattle cornerback Cary Williams scored a go-ahead touchdown following a sack/strip/fumble recovery of a Nick Foles’ pass attempt. Defeat was in the air and it was pungent, especially for a crowd all too familiar with the aroma.
Williams’ touchdown was only the exclamation point, the result of a situation that had been unfolding since the start of the fourth quarter. The tipping point actually occurred 10 minutes prior to Williams’ score.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Marshawn Lynch took a handoff while standing in the backfield next to Wilson, who was in a shotgun formation. Lynch burst through the left side of the Rams’ defense for 24 yards.
On that play, somehow a gap was left wide open after the snap, and Lynch took advantage by setting up Seattle with a first-and-10 at the St. Louis 30-yard-line. Michael Brockers admitted following the game that he didn’t play his assignment properly, although there was no linebacker to cover the gap either.
That play was symptomatic of what Laurinaitis was talking about in training camp:
An easy mistake that proved costly for the Rams. If that gap is accounted for like it should have been, Lynch wouldn’t have gained anywhere near 24 yards. It was one of those subtle slipup that has plagued the Rams in years past.
The Seahawks capped that drive off with a Jimmy Graham seven-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson, followed by a Lynch two-point conversion to cut the Rams’ lead down to three. Now St. Louis’ lead was down to three at 24-21.
What happened next is something Rams fans have unfortunately become accustomed to over the years.
Five plays into a 57-yard drive that reached the Seattle 28-yard-line, Isaiah Pead fumbled after a hard-fought six-yard run (which was kind of a microcosm of Pead’s four-year career in St. Louis). The Seahawks turned the gift into a field goal to tie the game at 24-all.
Then came the Williams touchdown. And nausea for Rams fans.
The familiar “Same old Rams” tune started to warm up at the Dome. It began as a low hum then escalated as Foles and Co. faced a third-and-15 from the St. Louis 37-yard-line needing a touchdown to tie.
To harken back to what Laurinaitis said in training camp, everyone was pissed off. Only this time it wasn’t just the fans.
Foles rolled to his right while keeping his eyes downfield and hit Kenny Britt for a 21-yard completion as Earl Thomas trailed in coverage.
Three plays later, Kam Chancellor’s replacement, Dion Bailey, slipped as Lance Kendricks hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass from Foles to tie the game.
Foles also made a perfect throw when he dropped a 22-yard completion into Stedman Bailey’s arms to set up what eventually would become the Rams’ game-winning field goal in overtime.
The throw wasn’t just impressive due to its degree of difficulty, but also because it came with Richard Sherman trailing Bailey in coverage, and Thomas emerging to help over the top. Not that anyone needs a reminder, but Sherman and Thomas are two of the best in the league at their respective positions.
Suddenly, there was a different feel inside the dome. You got the sense not that the Rams could win the game, but that they were supposed to.
Brockers often doesn’t receive the recognition that he deserves, but that’s going to happen when you play alongside Aaron Donald and Robert Quinn. But Brockers made perhaps the play of the game when he walked right tackle Garry Gilliam back into the Seattle backfield and then combined with Donald to bring down Lynch to save the game on fourth-and-one attempt.
It was the same look that the Seahawks gave the Rams earlier in the game when Lynch ran for 24 yards. Only this time, Brockers corrected his mistake and played his assignment perfectly.
Speaking of Donald, he threw left guard Justin Britt to the side to help wrap Lynch up on the play. Both Britt and JR Sweezy might want to avoid film after the way Donald abused them throughout the game.
(Side note: I’ll need to devote an entire column to what the Rams’ defensive line did on Sunday. There’s just not enough space to get into how much they affected the game.)
In the end, Foles reminded fans what it’s like to have a starting quarterback under center with the game on the line.
When he wasn’t owning whichever lineman was in front of him in one-on-one matchups, Donald was freeing up Quinn, William Hayes, Chris Long and Eugene Sims to create havoc when Seattle double-teamed him.
Benny Cunningham was easily the most underrated player on the field, gaining yards after contact and emerging as a weapon as opposed to a liability with Todd Gurley and Tre Mason sidelined.
Tavon Austin had a direct impact on the final score with two touchdowns (one rushing, one on a punt return).
Britt, Bailey, Kendricks and Jared Cook all had big catches in significant moments.
Before suffering a concussion, Trumaine Johnson made one of the more athletic interceptions you’ll see when he jumped a Wilson pass attempt to Lynch in the second quarter. His replacement when he left the game, Marcus Roberson, also held his own and joined a Rams secondary that received contributions from Lamarcus Joyner and Mark Barron.
Same old Rams? Not this week.
Time will tell if the tides have turned. For now, the Rams are 1-0 and fans can appreciate the effort displayed by both the players and coaching staff on Sunday.
As Laurinaitis pointed out to me in camp, this team has a different mentality then it did a couple of years ago. Mistakes won’t be tolerated. Hopefully, neither will losing.