By Rams Nation's Don Ackerman
The Rams won by 3 on Wilkins' 49-yarder in overtime after Marc Bulger led two drives to get in Wilkins' range (which honestly isn't too hard because Jeff is so darn good!). After personally giving the balls to the Arizona Cardinals five times (four interceptions and one fumble), Bulger drove the Rams 82 yards and 55 yards. The 82-yard drive led to Wilkins' 24-yard field goal to tie the game as time expired and he took the Rams 55 yards on the opening drive of overtime to kill the ever-dangerous Cardiac Cardinals.
Bulger Gives It Away
Bulger's performance was Warner-esque when Warner was bad. I still don't know what to think of what is happening to the Saint Louis Rams quarterback. It's deja-vu with the interceptions and inability to hold onto the ball. Perhaps the Rams have had too much success with their great receivers. It's rare that the Rams quarterbacks do the critical thing when the play doesn't work - throw the ball away. I'll get back to that.
For many, the lack of offensive firepower indicates this is not a playoff-caliber team. Before you buy that, let me remind you of the NFL's most famous quote which is "Defense wins championships." Today, again, the defense rose to the occasion. Not only can they a touchdown as illustrated when Travis Fisher intercepted a Jeff Blake pass at the Saint Louis 43-yard line, but they can simply shut a team down especially when it counts. Down by 3, the Cardinals have the ball with 5:16 left in the game. The Cardinals are looking to tack on the kill shot and run some clock. The Rams defense responds allowing Arizona 5 downs including a false start to get the offense the ball and a chance to drive down and win the game. The Cardinals had just intercepted Bulger (again) and had the ball on the Saint Louis 38-yard line. The doomsayers must have been running their jaws at mach speed. It looked bad! Instead, the D shut down the Cardinals resulting in a minus 13-yard drive and got the offense back on the field with 3:23 left in the game. That's plenty of time and the Cardinals never got the ball back again (unless you count the overtime kickoff).
For further proof, look at the drives allowed by the Rams D:
4 plays for 18 yards and intercepted
7 plays for 30 yards
6 plays for 19 yards
10 plays for 76 yards and ending with a Cardinals field goal
4 plays for 36 yards and intercepted and returned for a touchdown
12 plays but only 66 yards
1 play for 54 yards which resulted in a touchdown
46 plays for 22 yards and another touchdown
3 plays for 6 yards
4 plays for 9 yards and a field goal
and finally 3 plays for -13 yards
On the final two drives of the game, Arizona received the ball in Rams' territory. It was their game to win but the D wouldn't let that happen. The Cardinals had the ball on the 19 yard line and the 38 yard line. The D held the Cardinals to 3 points. I have a lot of respect for the Saint Louis D.
Wilkins MVP Again
While the defense kept the Cardinals' damage to a minimum, Jeff Wilkins' foot led the Rams to victory again. Jeff just keeps getting better. Today, Jeff was 3 for 3 in field goals making it from 29 yards, 24 yards, and finally 49 yards. On the year, Wilkins is 27 of 29. He is tied in league scoring (he caught Mike Vanderjagt today and is now tied for the league lead at 111 points). There is a small number of NFL clubs who have a kicker capable of making a 49-yarder. In a league where a field goal is the difference between winning and losing (see 49ers.com for information on losing because of a bad kicker), Wilkins again shines. Thanks again, Jeff!
Next Up: the Streaky Vikings
Hopefully the struggle in the desert reminds the Rams how close the margin is in the NFL. The Rams almost became the fourth team to fall to the Cardinals at home. The Vikings struggled themselves in a deceptive 24-14 score. The Vikings scored two late touchdowns on interception returns late in the fourth quarter (one with 2:26 left in the fourth and one 20 seconds later) as the Detroit Lions quarterback Joey Harrington tried to rally his team from a 10-7 deficit. The Vikings will be wide awake as well after struggling to beat the now 3-8 Lions. The Vikings will likely want to come down to Saint Louis and show that they are back after a 4-game losing streak. Should be a good game. I can't wait to be there to see the carnage myself. It should be a showdown worthy of NFL films and will give the Rams another challenge in this odd 2003 season.
Don, the Rams Nation columnist can be contacted at Don@RamsNation.org.