No one gave the 0-6 St Louis Rams a chance of covering a two-touchdown spread, let alone winning the game against the New Orleans Saints. Especially with Sam Bradford sitting out for the second week in a row. Today's game, scheduled to start four hours before the St Louis Cardinals' victory parade downtown, seemed like a necessary chore to get through for the local sports fan, rather than a treat. But those that showed up, those that tuned in, got a result perhaps even more surprising than a 7-game World Series win ... they got a thrilling Rams upset victory.
The writing appeared to be on the wall for coach Steve Spagnuolo, who had to face persistent questions about his team's effort and will to win after a blowout loss to Dallas the week before. But the coach was able to lean on several contributors from last year's team and one key new acquisition to produce the season's best effort on both sides of the ball.
The Rams' offense was led by Steven Jackson, running behind outstanding blocking on the right side behind the combination of Harvey Dahl, Adam Goldberg and Michael Hoomanawanui. Jackson scored two touchdowns today, breaking a 39-game streak of one score or fewer. And he put his mouth where his money was, urging the Rams offense to finish the job on the sideline as the Saints made their inevitable comeback.
On defense, James Laurinaitis and the Rams' linebackers had by far their best game of the season, and they did it without any contribution from the veteran talent acquired in the offseason. Low-talent holdovers Chris Chamberlain and Bryan Kehl started at the outside linebacker spots and played exceptionally well, snuffing the Saints' run game and screen passes. Meanwhile, Laurinaitis was all over the field, sacking Brees on one play and ranging deep downfield to break up a pass for Jimmy Graham on another.
AJ Feeley did just enough to win at quarterback, but key to his performance was that Josh McDaniels did not dumb down the playbook for him. The Rams came out very aggressively in the game's first drive, calling for two consecutive deep passes to Brandon Lloyd, who got open both times with wicked moves. Neither pass connected, but the message was clear -- no one should expect the Rams to lay down quietly in this one.
Brandon Lloyd was a big difference maker for the Rams in the passing game, creating separation on press coverage, and earning that rarest of commodities for Rams receivers this season -- cushion from the DB. And Feeley targeted him over and over again, making a brilliant throw between Saints defenders for a touchdown that put the Rams up 17-0 and electrified a stunned St Louis crowd.
While few expected the win, we finally got to see the Rams team that we expected to see this season, and the key was getting a lead and holding it. McDaniels' offensive versatility and Spagnuolo's defensive pressure both worked better once the team was able to gain the upper hand on the scoreboard. The pressure packages were especially potent, as Chris Long (3 sacks), James Hall and Robert Quinn (1 sack, 1 blocked punt) had monster games.
The question all week long has been: "Where do the Rams go from here?" The answer might be more optimistic than we had reason to believe.