It took what former Saints coach Jim Haslett would have called some “bull#*@% plays,” but whatever it took, the Rams won their second game of the season by shocking the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. And with that, 10 takeaways:
1. Punter Johnny Hekker usually spends about 10 minutes during pregame warmups playing quarterback for the No. 1 offense. I said to the person next to me before his fourth-quarter fake punt, “This is why he practices quarterback every week.” Lo and behold, Hekker hit Benny Cunningham with the fourth-down pass that virtually sealed the victory. It was a gutsy call by Jeff Fisher, because if it didn’t work, the Rams probably would have lost. But there’s a method to Fisher’s madness, and having Hekker practice at quarterback comes in handy sometimes.
2. The punt-return touchdown by Stedman Bailey was an amazing bit of acting by the Rams’ return team. Bailey made a great catch as the kick went to the Rams’ right side, and Tavon Austin sold a mistake to Seattle.
The Bears had done the same thing in 2011 against Green Bay, but Johnny Knox’s 89-yard return was nullified by a penalty. This one worked perfectly.
3. If I’m going to be critical of the Rams for too many penalties, I must praise them for committing only two for 20 yards. Brian Quick committed an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for retaliating to an attack from Seattle’s Tharold Simon before the Rams’ second touchdown, and the Rams took a delay-of-game penalty to set Hekker up in better punt position in the fourth quarter. The discipline played a role in the win, as Seattle consistently shot itself in the foot with 10 penalties, many of the devastating variety.
4. In a rather remarkable change of events, the Rams appear to have had a changing of the guard at the running back position. Tre Mason had 18 carries, Cunningham had two, and Zac Stacy never got on the field from the line of scrimmage. Last year, Stacy didn’t get on the field until the fifth game and rushed for nearly 1,000 yards. This year, Mason finally got his chance in the fifth game and appears to have taken over the No. 1 job. He has game-breaking speed that the other Ram running backs don’t have. Although he’s small, he might be the most instinctive of the group, and is certainly the fastest.
5. It was fun to watch Greg Robinson against the Seahawks’ front. There were several occasions in which he pushed Brandon Mebane three yards off the ball. His strength is unquestioned. Once he becomes polished, he has a chance to be a dominant run-blocker in the NFL. It’s also interesting to watch Mason run behind his college teammate and hit the hole that Robinson makes.
6. As much as I’d like to blame the Rams’ defense for Russell Wilson’s rushing performance, he seems, at times, to be impossible to stop. I don’t think there’s a player in the NFL right now with better vision and instincts. He hides the ball, he has deceptive speed, and he’s fearless. His second 100-plus-yard performance of the season was not a fluke.
7. Austin Davis completed 18 passes to eight different Rams receivers. Davis has some of that Wilson-type elusiveness and vision. His ability to avoid trouble resulted in several big plays for the Rams.
Davis’ passer rating of 128.6 against Seattle’s defense was outstanding. Most important is that he didn’t turn the ball over. In the Rams’ four losses, Davis has a turnover that resulted in a touchdown for the opponent. In the two wins, he didn’t turn the ball over.
8. I don’t know what the plan for Tavon Austin is. I don’t think he should be the type who runs up the middle, as Austin did four times on Sunday. I see the quick-hitting smoke patterns that Seattle uses to isolate a receiver one-on-one, and I don’t understand why the Rams don’t do that with Austin. One thing I do know: When you’re up by two late in the fourth quarter, throwing the ball left to Austin, who is covered by Richard Sherman, is not the play to run. There were about 10 options for the Rams on that third-down pass to Austin … and that should have been option No. 10.
9. The Rams’ defense against opposing running backs continues to impress. They held Adrian Peterson to 75 yards on 21 carries. Then, after Tampa’s Bobby Rainey gouged them for 144 yards on 22, the Rams have gotten progressively better. DeMarco Murray 24-100 (his worst game of the year), LeSean McCoy 24-81, Frank Gore 16-38 and Marshawn Lynch 18-53. Granted, as the rush defense has improved, the pass defense has regressed. Everyone wants to stop the run first, though, and the Rams have improved dramatically in that department.
10. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak to defending Super Bowl champs. The last time the Rams had beaten a defending champ was in 1991, when the Los Angeles Rams knocked off the New York Giants, 19-13. After some halting starts, perhaps this will be the event that propels the Rams to bigger and better things. Now they know they can beat a good team – a good thing to know as they embark on a three-game trip to Kansas City, San Francisco and Arizona.