Sunday afternoon in the Lou, will go down as one of the most memorable days in St. Louis sports history. On the day where the city was honoring the World Series champion Cardinals with a grand parade, just a few miles away, the New Orleans Saints were tricked, beat up and defeated by the Rams, who treated all of us to a great day in the Edward Jones Dome.
During the week of practice, there was change, a sense of urgency was going on with coaches and players. With a noticeable pep in their step, everyone was quicker from drill to drill, as well as players’ aggressiveness within drills and team periods, and the overall focus was more concentrated.
During the pregame warmup, I got the feeling of more of a competitive attitude. I saw a different sparkle in the eyes of the young players and a fire within the veterans, almost a sixth sense among all the players. But with that being said, there were no hints from the Saints as they warmed up, that a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was warming up on the other side of the 50-yard line.
As the national anthem was sung, players buckled their chin straps and were ready for battle, a ghostly sense of communication with eye contact, the simple nod of the head and a high five here and there were exchanged and the Nightmare on Broadway started with the kickoff.
While quarterback A.J. Feeley and the offense sputtered and missed on some big plays in their first few series, defensive coordinator Ken Flajole had a brilliant game plan in place. He was like an exorcist when dealing with one of the NFL’s most high-powered, possessed and scary offenses, with a depth chart that is buried with a ton of weapons. He started with the unleashing of the Rams’ defensive bell cow James Laurinaitis. Like Freddy Krueger, double nickel sliced and avoided offensive linemen, while cutting up ball carriers and dominating the game at the start. Flajole then called on the Creatures from the Black Lagoon (Chris Long, James Hall, Fred Robbins, Justin Bannan, Eugene Sims, Gary Gibson and rookie Robert Quinn). The Rams’ defensive front that had been silent and really missing for several weeks, were motivated and applied consistent pocket pressure and shut down the run.
The Rams’ defense treated Drew Brees and his offensive teammates to a new movie called Missouri Chain Saw Massacre. Whatever the Saints tried didn’t work and it was because the Rams were the direct reason for their failure to produce.
Once Josh McDaniels got the offense on track, his main weapon was the beast from the mid-west, Steven Jackson. He ran hard, with burst and acceleration, power and collision to drag several Saints defenders for extra yardage all day long, not two mention two touchdown runs. This opened up effective play-action. Feeley settled down and once relaxed, he delivered the ball through the air with precision, connecting with running backs, receivers and tight ends. While the offense still had its ups and downs when dealing with penalties and some adversity, they fought through it and managed the game.
It is always fun to see a defense have six sacks, several quarterback pressures, interceptions, including one for a touchdown and tackles for loss. On the other side, it was an offense with red-zone production, a running back over 150-plus yards and good third-down percentage. I believe the game of football starts up front with the men in the trenches; when you can dominate up front, the rest of the game flows to you.
When the third phase of the game, special teams, is also productive, watch out. When Rams special teams coordinator Tom McMahon dialed up the punt block, that allowed rookie Robert Quinn the opportunity to use his athletic ability to lay out and make a diving block. That was a special moment for his units.
After the game, roaming through the locker room interviewing players, talking with media peers, it didn’t hit me until I was driving home collecting my thoughts, while replaying the game in my head. The Rams finally came together as a team. You saw flashes of it in the Green Bay game as they played well with a ton of production, but the score didn’t reflect it.
Sunday everything came together, the high fives in the locker room and the smiles were awesome to see from players as well as coaches. This win, and the only win of the season, didn’t tell them they have arrived. Like sweet candy kids receive on Halloween, these men now have that sour taste of losing out of their mouth, and the sweet taste of victory that they want to enjoy over and over again.
Coach Steve Spagnuolo, who was very excited and happy for the team, organization and fans, was quick to put everything in perspective. He noted that with a strong mindset, focus and reality, that they are still 1-6 and have a lot of hard work and development yet to go. Because this is the NFL, the schedule won’t get any easier, and it starts with the Arizona Cardinals on the road this Sunday.