TSX: Rams Still In First

Steve Spagnuolo (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

On a day when the Rams lost by 18 points to the New Orleans Saints, they still managed to remain in a first-place tie in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks.

Seattle lost by 19 points to the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are now one game behind both the Rams and Seattle, setting the stage for the final three games of the season.

In a division that no one seems to want to win, the Rams remain in control of their own fate. The loss to the Saints ended a stretch of three straight games on the road, and the Rams now have two of their final three at home, starting Sunday against Kansas City.

It's the final two weeks that could likely settle things in the division. Each team plays a non-division game this week, with San Francisco at San Diego on Thursday and Seattle hosting Atlanta.

The Rams finish the season at home against the 49ers and at Seattle, while the Seahawks are at Tampa Bay the week before. The 49ers play Arizona in Week 17.

Still, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo didn't want to talk about his team being able to still reach its goal of winning the division; he was too upset with his team's performance against the Saints.

Said Spagnuolo, "I didn't think that we played well. That's kind of obvious. The message to the team was that if you don't protect the football and you don't tackle well on defense, it's hard to beat any team, let alone one of the best teams in the league."

As for still being tied for the top spot in the NFC West, Spagnuolo said, "I didn't think about that. To be honest with you maybe tomorrow I'll wake up and look at it. I'm very proud of this football team in what they're doing. I just don't think that's us. We all have a little bit of pride in playing a very good football team. You certainly want to match that."

The Rams fell quickly behind on two methodical touchdown drives by the Saints, covering 72 and 61 yards, using 13:01 of game clock and 25 plays. The defense did stiffen somewhat after that, but two offensive possessions ended with field goals instead of touchdowns, and the game turned on a play that began from the New Orleans 15-yard line with 1:02 left in the first half.

After a field goal that had cut the New Orleans lead to 14-6, Saints returner Courtney Roby fumbled the kickoff and the Rams recovered at the 21-yard line. On 2nd-and-4, quarterback Sam Bradford thought he had wide receiver Brandon Gibson for a touchdown. But Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins cut in front, and went 96 yards with the interception for a touchdown. Suddenly, the Saints led 21-6.

Said Spagnuolo, "It was a hitch and go and it was open for a minute there. Twenty-seven, the safety, made a big play. I don't know if the ball was out there for too long. I'll have to see it on the tape. Needless to say, that was a game-changer or at least a half-changer."

Said Bradford, "I thought I had it. I just wasn't able to put enough on the ball to get it there in time. I've got to be better when we're down there and I have got to be smarter with the football. I just can't make those mistakes."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

BY THE NUMBERS: In the previous two games, the Rams' defense allowed Denver and Arizona to convert just 2-of-20 third-down plays. Sunday, the Saints converted their first seven attempts and finished the game 11-for-16.

LINEUP WATCH: With cornerback Ron Bartell inactive because of persistent stingers in the left shoulder/neck area, Quincy Butler got the start. David Vobora, who started at weak-side linebacker the previous game, switched to the strong side with Na'il Diggs (torn pectoral) lost for the season. Chris Chamberlain started on the weak side, the sixth change in starters the Rams have made at that position.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

-- CB Ron Bartell, who has been bothered for several weeks because of stingers in his left shoulder/neck area, was inactive Sunday against New Orleans after he aggravated the injury the previous week against Arizona.

-- CB Justin King, who suffered a shoulder injury in practice Wednesday, was inactive for Sunday's game against New Orleans. It was the fifth game that King has been inactive this season for a variety of injuries.

-- CB Quincy Butler, who started seven games for the Rams last season, but was released in the final cutdown, started Sunday against the Saints because Ron Bartell was unable to play. Butler was claimed on waivers by the Rams on Oct. 25 after spending just three days with the Saints.

-- RB Kenneth Darby was inactive against New Orleans because of an injury to his ribs suffered the previous week against Arizona.

-- RB Keith Toston became the backup to Steven Jackson when Kenneth Darby was declared inactive for Sunday's game against the Saints. Toston contributed 22 rushing yards on four attempts and caught one pass for 23 yards.

-- LB David Nixon, added to the roster from the practice squad this past week, suffered a hand injury against New Orleans, the severity of which was not immediately known.

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