An ugly episode late in the third quarter of Sunday’s game in Houston unfortunately overshadowed one of the Rams’ biggest victories in recent memory. As their starting quarterback, Matt Schaub, lay injured on the natural grass surface at Reliant Stadium after being sacked by St. Louis defensive end Chris Long, the Texans’ fan base … cheered. Not just a few fans, but rather several thousand screamed and clapped while Schaub clutched his right leg. The stunning display of disrespect comingled with the giant steel roof structure overhead to create a scene straight out of “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” in which Tina Turner shrieks about the steel cage where two men enter, but only one man leaves. Texans owner Bob McNair may be embarrassed about his team’s play right now, yet no product on the field should be accompanied by the kind of bloodlust that we just saw from certain people in the Lone Star State.
While the Schaub incident was wild, the Rams’ trip to Houston proved equally hectic. Fierce, extreme turbulence caused the men and women on the club’s charter flight about 25 minutes of rockiness before landing safely. Once the players lined up for kickoff on Sunday, though, the weekend’s true storyline emerged: The youngest team in the NFL grew up. The overwhelming production from all three phases was nice, but the emotional aspect of dominating on the road and embodying the all-important acronym of T.E.A.M. – together everyone achieves more – turned out to be of greater importance.
Despite being outgained by the Texans, 420-216, the Rams’ offense posted a very good afternoon. Sam Bradford threw for three touchdowns (to tight ends Lance Kendricks and Cory Harkey and wide receiver Brian Quick) and the offensive line played with continuity, opening up holes between the tackles for rookie running back Zac Stacy to rush for 79 yards and holding J.J. Watt to his lowest production output of the season. The defense got in on the act with a bend-but-don’t break approach that surrendered only one touchdown. Rookie Alec Ogletree’s pick-six and James Laurinaitis’ fumble recovery were but a few bright spots on which to build. Even the special teams jumped into the fun, with no penalties on the day and Daren Bates scoring a touchdown on a kickoff coverage play after a big hit on the returner by Rodney McLeod jarred the ball loose in the first place.
Winning the turnover differential was the key to this 38-13 victory. Having one another’s backs and playing together for a full 60 minutes, however, will become invaluable in the weeks to come. For every second that ticked off the clock, for every run, tackle and score, the Rams united on Sunday. Bates’ special teams touchdown especially sent the sidelines into total pandemonium, as players, coaches, trainers, doctors, team personnel and security went crazy with excitement, high-fives, smiles and uncontrolled laughter.
Now that St. Louis carries a two-game winning streak, the momentum and focus must quickly shift to the Carolina Panthers, who have the ability to explode on any given Sunday. But winning is contagious, and these youngsters did a lot to mature in Houston. After several weeks’ worth of trials, fifty-three men have finally discovered what it takes to produce as one heartbeat.