Rams eager to shed slow starts

Thursday, December 16, 2010

ST. LOUIS -- The opening kickoff has been a launching pad lately for St. Louis Rams opponents.

It's been a game of catchup for St. Louis for the last three weeks, all on the road. It only took two possessions apiece for Denver to go up 10-0, Arizona to grab a 6-0 lead and New Orleans to snare a 14-0 cushion.

The Rams (6-7) recovered to win the first two times, outscoring the Broncos 26-3 in the second and third quarters and blanking the Cardinals the rest of the game. Last week was a different story when the Saints parlayed their quick opener and a game-changing 96-yard interception return near the end of the half into a 31-13 win.

St. Louis ran only four plays in the first quarter against the Saints, who outgained the Rams 148-47.

"It's really weird," Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford said. "It's just hard to get yourself in any type of a rhythm. That comes down to us being better when we do have the ball."

The trend was reversed earlier in the season. The Rams led 14-0 against the Redskins, 17-3 against the Chargers and Bucs and 20-3 against the Panthers, all but one of those games at home. They lost the lone road game, giving up a touchdown at the finish of a one-point loss at Tampa Bay.

The fourth quarter has been the team's weakness all season, with opponents outscoring the Rams 87-48.

"We've been through this with fourth quarters and now it's first quarters," Rams defensive end Chris Long said. "Let's just play football, you know."

With a game against the Chiefs (8-5) coming up Sunday, Long blames defensive problems on a lack of execution.

"They're just doing some things that have exploited us a little bit and we haven't played our best ball," Long said. "For whatever reason."

Start-up problems on offense are magnified because there's a big goose egg on the scoreboard.

"We did come back, correct?" Rams center Jason Brown said, speaking in general about the last three games. "There's so many possessions in a game."

St. Louis coach Steve Spagnuolo was a lot more aggravated about how the Saints scored. Marques Colston caught both touchdown passes on third-down plays, one from the 5 and the second from the 17. The Rams elected not to blitz on the third-and-17 play, dropping into coverage, and Drew Brees had time to find his man.

"The third-and-17 is the one that kills me," Spagnuolo said. "We protect the goal line and keep them out of the end zone, they're going to kick a field goal and I think you feel OK. A team like that, away, 14-0, that's tough."

The Rams didn't stay down. They were on the verge of cutting the deficit before Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins stepped in front of intended receiver Brandon Gibson on a pass that Bradford floated to the end zone for the crucial interception return.

"We're knocking on the door there," Spagnuolo said. "Then we all know what happened."

The defense held Arizona to 1 for 11 third-down efficiency the previous week when the Rams grinded out one behind Steven Jackson's 102-yard rushing game, and they outscored Denver 33-6 starting with Mike Hoomanawanui's touchdown grab near the end of the first quarter to take a 20-point lead that was just enough to withstand the Broncos' 20-point fourth quarter.

"Earlier in the year, we came out strong and on the back end we didn't always finish strong," Brown said. "We need the best of both worlds."

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