One week after losing at Detroit by 38 points and losing top receiver Mark Clayton to a season-ending knee injury, the Rams rebounded to beat the visiting San Diego Chargers 20-17 in front of 52,472 at the Edward Jones Dome.
“I think everyone wondered how we would respond today,” rookie quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I think the way we played today and the way we prepared this week says a lot about the guys we have on our team. After a loss like last week, it’s not easy to come in and get back to work. But I feel like everyone put it in the past.”
The Rams (3-3), who play at Tampa Bay (3-2) next Sunday, won for the third time in four weeks and the third time in four home games this season.
“That was a good win by our football team,” coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “Very, very proud of the way they came out and played what I think is an elite football team. … Very, very concerned about playing them today. But our guys came out, they came out with a lot of fight at the beginning, which we talked about, and they carried it right on through. We had some bumps in there, some ups and downs, but we got it done at the end.”
Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick, completed 18 of 31 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown. Rookie wide receiver Danario Alexander, making his NFL debut after having surgery on his knee in February and going undrafted, caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.
Alexander’s touchdown reception, a 38-yarder from Bradford, gave St. Louis a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
“We put the play in throughout this week,” Alexander said. “It was going to be a deep post on the outside. I ran and the cornerback actually got inside of me, so I went on top of him and I saw the ball in the air and had to lay out for it.”
Sunday’s game marked the fifth time in six games this season that St. Louis has held an opponent scoreless. The team has allowed just three points, last week against the Lions, in the first quarter this season.
Rams running back Steven Jackson rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. His seven-yard touchdown run with 1 minute and 39 seconds left in the second quarter gave the Rams a 17-0 advantage and capped off a 17-play drive that covered 67 yards over 7 minutes and 58 seconds.
“Last night, Coach (Spagnuolo) showed a clip of the Hagler and Hearns fight, and was just talking about it was going to be a heavyweight fight,” Jackson said. “It was going to be a fight that guys were going to come out and just swing. And we kind of felt that…we had a feeling that this game was going to come down to a last minute, fourth quarter kind of drive, and the four-minute offense was going to have to take over. It was kind of like prophetic.”
The Chargers (2-4) cut the Rams’ lead to 17-3 at halftime after a 41-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding with 23 seconds remaining in the first half.
A 1-yard touchdown run by Mike Tolbert with 4:41 left in the third quarter cut the deficit to 17-10 but the Rams, following a missed 49-yard field goal by Kaeding, were able to extend their lead to 10 points on Josh Brown’s 48-yard field goal with 3:56 remaining in the fourth.
The Chargers scored again, on a 5-yard pass from Philip Rivers to Buster Davis with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter, to cut the Rams’ lead to 20-17.
But St. Louis was able to hold on to the ball for the rest of the game, running Jackson five times for 28 yards and two first downs to run out the clock.
It was the 25th 100-yard rushing game of Jackson’s career and he now needs 32 yards to pass Eric Dickerson as the franchise’s all-time rushing leader.
“Every coach in the league would say they would like to have No. 39 at the end of the game in that kind of game to finish it out like that,” Spagnuolo said. “I’m really proud of the offense at the end to finish it like that. That’s huge. You really don’t want Philip Rivers to be back out in the field in that situation because he’s a dangerous quarterback.”
The Rams defense, which forced the Chargers to go three-and-out five times, had another strong performance. St. Louis has held each of its four opponents at the Edward Jones Dome to 17 points or less.
St. Louis finished with seven sacks, the most the Rams have had in a game since Nov. 30, 2003 when they recorded eight against the Vikings.
The Rams, who entered Sunday with 10 sacks in the first five games, had three different players — defensive ends Chris Long and James Hall and linebacker Larry Grant — each record two sacks. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins had the other sack.
“We emphasize on being relentless every play,” Grant said. “The coaches called up the blitzes and we just executed and were a relentless defense all day today. … When the quarterback drops back to pass, our goal first and foremost is to go get him, and that’s what we did.”
The Chargers entered Sunday’s contest leading the NFL in total yards per game (461.8) and passing yards per game (337.8) and second in scoring (28 points per game).
The Rams, who racked up 300 total yards on Sunday, held San Diego to 287 total yards and 249 gross passing yards and the Chargers converted on just four of their 12 third-down attempts.
“Any time you get a loss like last week, you’ve just got to bounce back,” Robbins said. “Sometimes you’ve got just to go to the basics and do a better job with little things. Just understand that our blitzes and doing little things as far as tackling…to have an opponent like San Diego come here, top-ranked offense, it was a big challenge for us. We’re home and the only way to cure a loss is to get a victory…what a big win against a team like San Diego. We’ve still got a long ways to go, a long season, but we can definitely build off this win.”