TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Music blared in the St. Louis locker room, even though the Rams were eliminated from playoff contention. A winning record still is within reach, and the NFL’s youngest team is ready to go for it.
“So we don’t even have like one in a million chance? Well, we’re going to play hard. We’re going to finish up strong,” coach Jeff Fisher said after Sunday’s 28-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the Rams’ hopes for finishing above .500 alive heading in next week’s finale at Seattle.
“This is a chance to finish out on a winning note and a chance to be undefeated in the division. If we’re able to do that, I’d say then we can jump into the offseason with optimism for next year.”
St. Louis (7-7-1) won for the fourth time in the past five games, with Sam Bradford throwing for a pair of touchdowns and rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins scoring his fourth TD of the season. A victory over the Seahawks will give the Rams their first winning record since 2003.
That’s a huge step for a team that won two games in 2011.
“We’ve got seven wins now,” Fisher said. “I don’t think many people thought we would do that, but we’ve got a chance to get eight, so that’s what our focus is.”
Bradford connected with Lance Kendricks on an 80-yard scoring pass on the first play of the third quarter. The Rams’ persistent defense did its part, too, intercepting Josh Freeman four times, turning three of the turnovers into TDs, including Jenkins’ pick and 41-yard return early in the first half.
Steven Jackson rushed for 81 yards and one TD, moving within 10 yards of reaching 1,000 for the eighth consecutive season.
“We all realize what’s at stake, obviously,” Bradford said. “We found the playoffs aren’t in the picture still, but if we go up and beat Seattle, we’d be undefeated in our division and finish with a winning record, which are two things we’d really like to accomplish next week.”
Tampa Bay (6-9) turned the ball five times and was stopped on downs twice inside the Rams 10 en route to its fifth straight loss. The Bucs also had five turnovers the previous week in a 41-0 loss at New Orleans.
Bradford completed 13 of 27 passes for 196 yards, one interception and no sacks — ending a stretch in which the St. Louis quarterback was sacked in a league-high 30 consecutive games.
Kendricks finished with four receptions for 119 yards, while Jackson closed in on extending the NFL’s longest current streak of 1,000-yard seasons rushing on 19 carries.
“We were hoping that we could knock it out and get it out of the way, but they’re a very tough defense — No. 1 against the run — so we’re very pleased with how we were able to move the ball on the ground,” Jackson said.
Tampa Bay outgained the Rams 429 yards to 285, with Freeman going 30 of 54 for 372 yards and one TD. But the Bucs simply were unable the fourth-year pro being intercepted four times for the second straight week.
Mike Williams scored on a 61-yard reception and had seven catches for 132 yards. Vincent Jackson also had a big day with seven receptions for 108 yards, while the Rams limited rookie Doug Martin to 62 yards rushing on 18 attempts.
Freeman has thrown eight interceptions in the past two weeks after only having three passes picked off over the previous eight games. Williams slipped to the ground on Jenkins’ interception, but the Bucs quarterback tried to force the ball into a crowd in the middle of the field when he was picked off by James Laurinaitis.
“I’ve got to take the blame as the quarterback,” Freeman said. “Saints game, this game, not really the brand of football I want to play.”
Jenkins has scored on three of his four interceptions and has also returned a fumble for a touchdown. Jackson’s 5-yard TD run in the closing seconds of the first half finished a 65-yard drive Bradford led after Laurinaitis’ interception, and the Rams broke it open with two more TDs in the first five minutes of the third quarter.
Kendricks scored on the first play of the second half, grabbing a pass over the middle at his own 40 and rumbled to the end zone untouched with help from receiver Danny Amendola, who shielded safety Mark Barron from making the tackle just before making just enough contact with another converging defender, Ahmad Black, to allow the tight end to cover the final 20 yards to give St. Louis a 21-6 lead.
Three plays later, Freeman was intercepted for the third time, with Trumaine Johnson’s pick at the Tampa Bay 30 leading to Bradford’s 5-yard TD pass to Austin Pettis that made it 28-6 with 10:47 remaining in the third quarter.
NOTES: The Bucs lost CB E.J. Biggers to a groin injury in the first half, and he did not return. … St. Louis CB Cortland Finnegan played, but did not start after not practicing all week and being listed as questionable with a thigh injury. … Freeman has thrown for 3,843 yards, a Bucs single-season record.