Linehan exhibits winning touch

Friday, August 11, 2006

The Rams defeated the Colts 19-17 in their exhibition opener.

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Rams ran more than they passed Thursday, didn't challenge a play and didn't even use a timeout -- much less waste one.

Scott Linehan's head coaching debut, a 19-17 win over Indianapolis, lacked the razzle-dazzle of Mike Martz's six seasons.

Instead, it was the Colts who resorted to trickery.

New Colts kicker After Adam Vinatieri opened the game with a successful onside kick, and Peyton Manning quickly made the most of his brief appearance, throwing a touchdown pass in his only drive, an 8-yarder to backup tight end Ben Utecht.

Martz was known to toss the red challenge flag to question a spot by a foot or two, and often burned his timeouts early. His high-flying offense was known for the pass.

Linehan didn't question a call and his game plan was balanced, running 40 times and passing 31. Steven Jackson, playing just the first two series, carried five times for 41 yards, including runs of 16 and 23 yards.

"Coach wants us to be a team that protects the ball, takes the ball away and plays smarter," Jackson said. "I think we did all three tonight."

The backup running backs were good, too -- Tony Fisher carried five times for 33 yards, and Fred Russell had a 54-yard run in the third quarter.

"You've got to keep it mixed up so a team has to defend both," Linehan said.

Manning was 3-for-5 for 50 yards overall, also completing 11- and 31-yard-passes to Reggie Wayne.

"I think when you recover (the onside kick), it really gets the whole team fired up and it's nice to take that good field position and turn it into points," Manning said.

"We wanted seven to 10 plays and a score and we got that," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "Then we kind of bogged down a little bit, but there were a lot of good things that we saw from all of the groups."

Neither team wasted time in getting key players out of harm's way. Manning and receivers Marvin Harrison and Wayne were gone after one series. St. Louis played quarterback Marc Bulger, receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce and Jackson for two series.

Vinatieri, in his first game with the Colts, kicked a 53-yard field goal in the first quarter.

Once the starters left, the Rams were more dominant than the score indicated, outgaining Indianapolis 404-249. The Rams outrushed Indianapolis 202-38.

Indianapolis backup Jim Sorgi was 7-for-17 for 64 yards in finishing out the first half. Possible No. 3 Shaun King was 6-for-10 for 122 yards and an interception, and threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Levon Thomas in the fourth quarter.

Bulger, who played just eight games last season because of injuries, was 3-for-6 for 51 yards and led St. Louis to a 33-yard field goal by Remy Hamilton.

Gus Frerotte, in his first game as Bulger's backup, was 2-for-3 for 32 yards and led a first-quarter scoring drive culminated by Fisher's 7-yard run. In the battle for the No. 3 quarterback job, Ryan Fitzpatrick was 8-for-11 for 51 yards, and Dave Ragone was 7-for-11 for 80 yards and one interception.

The Rams' first-round draft pick, Tye Hill, just missed on two interceptions and made a special teams tackle after the Colts T.J. Rushing returned a kickoff 63 yards in the first quarter.

Two Colts running backs are seeking to fill the void left by the departure of Edgerrin James, but neither was impressive. Veteran Dominic Rhodes carried four times for 10 yards; first-round draft pick Joseph Addai carried three times for 3 yards.

The Colts were without six expected starters on defense, including three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, out with a sore shoulder.

The beleaguered St. Louis defense, ranked 30th last season, played much better once Manning left. Two plays after Matt Turk's first-quarter punt was downed at the Indianapolis 2, cornerback Fakhir Brown blitzed untouched and sacked Sorgi for a safety. The Rams had five sacks overall, three by undrafted rookie Matthew Rice. NOTES: Rams starting DE Anthony Hargrove sprained his right knee in the first quarter. Linehan said the injury was minor. ... Colts backup linebacker Kyle Killion suffered what was believed to be a minor hamstring injury.

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