By Cedric Williams
It wasn’t the worst performance of the season, and in some areas, the St. Louis Rams played well enough to win Sunday afternoon against the visiting Tennessee Titans.
But as often has been the case this season, the Rams just made too many key mistakes to pull out yet another winnable game.
This time, it was a fumble by quarterback Kellen Clemens deep in his own territory, and then a touchdown run (by Tennessee’s Chris Johnson) given up by the defense that did St. Louis in what proved to be a 28-21 loss to the Titans.
“Congratulations to (Tennessee head coach) Mike (Munchak) and his team,” Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said afterward. “I thought they played well. We had some opportunities early and didn’t take advantage of them – the fumble and missed field goal. Then they got their running game going and we kind of kept ours going, but the turnover at the end pretty much was the difference in the ball game.”
The defeat was the third in a row for the Rams, and second last-second loss of the week, as St. Louis failed to convert on three plays inside the 5-yard line in a 14-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks last Monday.
It was also the second straight game in which the Rams wasted a terrific performance by rookie running back Zac Stacy, who ran for a career-high 134 yards in Monday’s game in Seattle, then followed that up with a career-high 178 all-purpose yards (127 rushing, 51 receiving) to go along with the the first two rushing touchdowns of his career.
Unfortunately though, St. Louis needed someone else, and probably several other someone elses, to have a big day on Sunday, and no one else on the club was able to deliver.
Here’s how we graded out the Rams following Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans:
Offense – C-
Clemens began the game red hot, completing his first seven passes of the game, but he finished by hitting just 13 of his final 28 throws, and lost a key fumble that helped set up Tennessee’s game-winning score.
As said, Stacy was tremendous, and it was made possible by a dominating day up front by the Rams offensive line. But that crew also gave up two sacks and had a couple of drive-killing penalties, including a tripping call against left guard Chris Williams, which led to the third-and-long situation St. Louis was in when Clemens was stripped of the ball at his own 20-yard line.
The Titans scored the game-winning touchdown on the next play.
Defense – D
As good as the Rams defensive line was against Seattle, was seven sacks against the team with the best record in the NFC, it was that disappointing Sunday against Tennessee, especially in the second half, when St. Louis allowed several big plays and more than 130 yards rushing.
The Rams linebackers seemed to be in chase mode all day, as they struggled to contain Tennessee’s Johnson in the second half.
The secondary, like everybody else, made some plays (interceptions by Rodney McLeod and Cortland Finnegan come to mind), but struggled in other areas, as penalties against the Rams’ defensive backfield helped facilitate Tennessee’s first scoring drive.
Special Teams – C-
It’s hard to give any unit that continues to make the same mistakes over and over again any sort of positive grade on its performance.
Johnny Hekker punted well, and No. 1 draft pick Tavon Austin broke free for a huge 24-yard return, but St. Louis committed another special teams penalty, and kicker Greg Zuerlein missed his only field goal attempt to ruin what could have been a dynamite day for the Rams’ special teams.
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Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.