Stan McNeal examines several of the key takeaways from the Rams' season-opening win over Arizona
By STAN McNEALFS Midwest
ST. LOUIS --Second-day coverage of the Rams' 27-24 season-opening victory over the Arizona Cardinals:
THE REACTION SHOULD BE WHEW, NOT WOW
With the Falcons, Cowboys and Niners coming next on the Rams' schedule, a loss to the Cardinals at home could have been downright disastrous for the Rams. Not only would a winless opening month become a real possibility, at least some of the excitement around what is supposed to be a much-improved team would have been extinguished.
The Rams made more than enough mistakes to lose, with seven penalties and two turnovers. The veterans largely were responsible, too. The turnovers were by Jared Cook and Sam Bradford, and no penalties were charged to any of the 26 rookies or second-year players on the roster.
Of course, problem areas are a lot easier to deal with after a win. Fisher, in fact, was able to call Cook's careless fumble a few feet from a touchdown one of the "little things that we can get corrected."
"We do that," the coach said, "then we've got a chance to win some games."
If the Rams had not pulled out a victory, it's unlikely Fisher would have been as forgiving.
JAKE LONG TAKES A FLAG OVER A SACK
To be called for holding on the opening drive wasn't how left tackle Jake Long wanted to start his first game with the Rams, especially since the penalty cost the Rams a 20-yard gain into Arizona territory and effectively curtailed their first drive.
Still, the play showed that Long is taking seriously his No. 1 job priority. That, of course, is to keep Sam Bradford upright. If Long doesn't drag down Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, Bradford likely ends up on the turf and who knows if he even would have gotten off a short pass to Richardson. Given how much Bradford has been battered in his three years with the Rams, he had to appreciate on some level the extra protection provided by Long, even if it proved to be costly.
After being sacked in a record 30 consecutive games, Bradford has gone three in a row without being sacked for the first time in his career.
FINNEGAN ANYTHING BUT FINE
With all the concern over the Rams' youth, it was a veteran who turned in the biggest clunker of a game. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan was embarrassed by Michael Floyd on a 44-yard reception that set up Arizona's first touchdown. Floyd simply out-physicaled Finnegan to make a one-handed grab at the Rams' 4-yard-line.
On the Cardinals' next series, Finnegan was called for unnecessary roughness on a tackle of Floyd, who had beaten Rodney McLeod for an 18-yard gain. The penalty gave Arizona a first down at the Rams' 14, which they would turn into a field goal and 10-3 lead.
Finnegan was caught again for unnecessary roughness in the third quarter, turning a 4-yard reception into a 19-yard gain that proved to be key in another scoring drive for the Cardinals. A third flag, for illegal contact, was declined by Arizona.
Well aware of his transgressions, Finnegan promised better after the game.
"I just can't do that," he said. "I've got it all out of my system. We've got 15 more (games), you won't get another one out of me. You don't want to hurt the team. I did that today."
WHO NEEDS TRAINING CAMP?
Tight end Lance Kendricks missed all four preseason games as he recovered from off-season surgery on his right knee. But the third-year veteran showed that a week of practice was all he needed.
Kendricks caught three of the four passes thrown his way by Bradford, good for 25 yards and two first downs.
WHAT'S COMING UP
Two running backs who were a big part of the Rams' plans a year ago will move into the spotlight this week. First, running back Isaiah Pead will be available for duty after serving his one-game league-mandated suspension. Whether Pead actually carries the ball is another story. Daryl Richardson proved the workhorse back against Arizona with 20 carries as rookies Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham combined for one. Jeff Fisher has admitted concern over Pead's two fumbles in the preseason but said the miscues would not keep Pead from getting the ball.
Atlanta's Steven Jackson is sure to touch the ball against his old team but first, he figures to endure a long week. Jackson could have been a hero for the Falcons on Sunday and been able to spend this week talking about his longest run in four years, a 50-yarder that set up a go-ahead touchdown for the Falcons. He finished with 77 yards on 11 carries.
Instead, Jackson will have to talk about the pass he dropped near the Saints' goal line in the final minute that easily could have resulted in the winning touchdown. But when Matt Ryan was intercepted on the play after Jackson's drop, the Saints' victory was secure.
Said Jackson to reporters: "I dropped the ball. It wasn't the easiest catch, but I'm not a person to make excuses."
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.