Rams 20, Chargers 17

A week after losing by 38 points to the Detroit Lions, the St.
Louis Rams used their defense to rebound in a big way.

The Rams’ defense sacked San Diego’s Philip Rivers seven times
to set the tone, stuffing the NFL’s top offense in a 20-17 victory
over the Chargers on Sunday.

James Hall, Chris Long and Larry Grant had two sacks apiece for
surprising St. Louis (3-3), which won only one game last
season.

”We thought we could get pressure. We might have exceeded our
expectations,” Long said. ”You have to aim high.”

Sam Bradford threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie
Danario Alexander, making his NFL debut, to help build a 14-point
cushion in the first half. Bradford finished 18 of 31 for 198
yards.

Steven Jackson had 109 yards and a touchdown and added several
key late carries for the Rams, who won their third straight at home
for the first time since 2004 after entering the season with a
14-game losing streak.

Expectations were low after the Lions handled them 44-6.

”After a loss like last week it’s not easy to come back and go
to work, but I thought we had a great week or preparation,”
Bradford said. ”I feel like everyone in that locker room expects
to win.

”If we continue with that mentality, we have a lot more
victories in store.”

The Rams dominated most of the way on both sides of the ball
against the Chargers, who had been averaging 28 points. San Diego
was held to 287 total yards, 175 fewer than its leading-leading
average, and was only 4 for 12 on third down.

The sack total was the Rams’ biggest since they had eight Nov.
30, 2003, at home against the Vikings. They totaled 10 sacks the
first five games.

”When we’re successful, we’re getting to the quarterback,”
Hall said. ”We wanted the pressure and we wanted this on our
shoulders.”

Fans stood much of the fourth quarter, helping to rattle the
four-time defending AFC West champions.

”Bottom line, we have no more games to give,” linebacker Kevin
Burnett said.

Special teams stumbling had a lot to do with the Chargers’ first
three road losses. Nate Kaeding slipped on a field goal attempt
that got blocked by Hall in the fourth quarter, straining his groin
in the process, but this one was a stumble for the Chargers, who
were 13-3 last season.

”We can’t keep saying what we are, ‘but we’re doing this,”’
Rivers said. ”What we are is 2-4 and making mistakes that allow us
to be 2-4. We’ve got to get them straightened out and keep grinding
or it’ll get away from us.”

San Diego (2-4) lost tight end Antonio Gates with a left ankle
injury in the first half and Malcom Floyd also left with a
hamstring injury in the fourth quarter.

Patrick Crayton had a season-best 117 yards on six receptions,
after totaling six catches for 94 yards the first five games.

X-rays are scheduled Monday for Gates, who said players landed
on the leg a couple of times.

”I just couldn’t go, I couldn’t move,” Gates said. ”It got
real stiff.”

Gates finished with two catches for 12 yards, ending his
NFL-record run by a tight end with touchdowns in nine consecutive
regular-season games.

Rivers threw a touchdown pass for the 19th straight game,
connecting on a 5-yarder to Buster Davis with 3:16 to go in the
fourth quarter to cut the gap to three points, but the Chargers
never got the ball back.

Rivers also threw an end zone interception in the first half. He
was 22 of 37 for 249 yards.

The Rams sat on their lead with conservative play most of the
second half. Jackson bailed out that strategy with 28 yards on five
consecutive carries on the final clock-killing drive.

The Rams took a 17-3 halftime lead, getting 172 yards passing by
Bradford and five sacks – already topping their previous season
best of four – from a defense that held the Chargers to 87 yards
and seven first downs.

Alexander, elevated from the practice squad this week, had the
big play of the half with a diving end zone grab for a 38-yard
touchdown that put St. Louis up 10-0 late in the first quarter.

Alexander, a former Missouri star who led the nation in
receiving yards last year, was undrafted after undergoing a fourth
operation on his left knee.

Alexander spread his arms wide after the catch.

”The Rams took a chance on me and gave me this opportunity, so
I’m trying to make the best of it right now,” Alexander said.
”I’ll remember this first touchdown the rest of my life.”

Bradford was sacked on consecutive plays inside the San Diego 10
late in the half, one of them on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Burnett,
but the Rams rebounded on Jackson’s 7-yard scoring burst to make it
17-0.

The Chargers, who entered averaging 14.6 points in the first
half, avoided getting blanked with a 41-yard field goal by Kaeding
in the final minute.

Notes: Danny Amendola had a 42-yard punt return in the first
half for St. Louis. … Chargers punter Mike Scifres averaged 59.5
yards on six attempts, but two of them sailed into the end zone.
… Rams WR Mardy Gilyard and S Darian Stewart injured hamstrings.
… The Rams won their last four home games in 2004.