For Rams, ugly game vs. Tennessee could be sign of worse to come
Defensive letdowns and offensive misfires result in second straight loss that should've been a Rams win
By STAN McNEALFS Midwest
ST. LOUIS -- Perhaps the dejection in the
Rams' locker room came from Kellen Clemens' late fourth-quarter fumble that led to the 28-21 loss to the
Tennessee Titans on Sunday afternoon.
"It's a mistake that can't be made and unfortunately, I made it," Clemens said. The Titans needed one play to take advantage as Chris Johnson bolted 19 yards to break a 21-21 tie.
Or perhaps the locker room was as somber as it's been following a home loss because this marked the second time in six days the Rams could have won but didn't.
"We should have won both of them," tight end Jared Cook said, referring also to Monday's 14-9 home loss to Seattle. "It was nobody's fault but ours. It's time for us to start taking responsibility and grow up a little bit."
Perhaps St. Louis' disappointment resulted from a second-half defensive letdown during which they surrendered 249 yards after allowing 135 the entire game against the Seahawks.
"You set a benchmark and then you don't meet it," defensive end Chris Long said. "We can't be one team one week, another team another week. This one does hurt. It sucks."
Still, the main reason the 3-6 Rams should have been upset was this: The rest of the season could get even uglier. Their franchise quarterback is done, their off-season upgrades have not exactly flourished and of the Rams' seven remaining games, they figure to enter as many as six as decisive underdogs.
At this point, 5-11 might be a reach. Considering this was supposed to be the year of real progress at Rams Park, no wonder the players were so down.
That the Rams played just well enough to lose could not have helped, either. They finished with the same number of yards as the Titans (363), they got another big game from Zac Stacy (178 total yards, two touchdowns) and even Clemens had plenty of positive moments. He completed his first seven passes to seven different receivers, didn't throw an interception and impressively led the Rams on a fourth-quarter drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Cook that tied the game at 21. A second week of practice with the first-team offense paid off.
"It helped," Clemens said. "Hopefully, every week we'll continue to get more and more chemistry and continue to be more efficient in the passing game."
What hurt were the two turnovers. The first came on the Rams' first drive, which followed the Titans marching 68 yards for a touchdown. The Rams had responded by efficiently moving to the Titans' 20 but Benny Cunningham fumbled as he tried to switch the football from one hand to another. (He said he wanted to get it out of his hand that has a sprained thumb.) Cunningham was barely touched as he bolted up the middle for what would have been at least a first down, before the ball squirted out.
"He's not a fumbler, either," coach Jeff Fisher said. "I still don't think he did it on purpose."
The costlier fumble in the fourth came when Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey jarred the ball from Clemens and Derrick Morgan recovered at the Rams' 19.
"They brought a five-man pressure, with a guy from the backside. We had accounted for him," Clemens said. "They got a little bit of penetration so I tried to step up and a big D-tackle came through and knocked the ball out. Unfortunately, it put our defense in a very difficult situation."
While the Titans immediately took advantage, the Rams did not capitalize on either of the Jake Locker passes they intercepted. Late in the first half, Cortland Finnegan took a pass away from Kenny Britt and gave the Rams the ball at the Titans' 26. But Clemens missed on three straight passes and Greg Zuerlein's field-goal attempt from 44 yards went wide right.
Instead of having a lead in a half where they outplayed Tennessee, the Rams went into intermission tied at 7. Then the defense let Chris Johnson run for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the second half and the offense couldn't mount a winning drive in the closing minutes.
The final two plays were incomplete passes to Austin Pettis in the end zone, on the first of which he thought had been interfered with.
"I felt like he might have held," Pettis said. "In a situation like that, the DB is going to do whatever he can to not let you catch the ball. I have to come down with the ball no matter what the DB's doing."
It was close, for sure, which could only have added to the disappointment of another loss.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.