Forget about Sam Bradford and Steven Jackson. The St. Louis Rams’ true offensive star thus far is a rookie kicker from a Division II school.
Greg Zuerlein made 21 consecutive field goals last fall at Missouri Western, and he’s been a sure thing in the NFL, too.
The rookie kicked four field goals, setting a club record with a 58-yarder and then topping it with a 60-yarder, and helped the Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks 19-13 on Sunday. He’s 12 for 12 on the year.
”Right now, our kicker is the MVP of the season,” Jackson said. ”Pretty much, all we’ve got to do is get across the 50-yard line and we’re in his range.”
Coach Jeff Fisher began the year with a conservative approach, saying he’d let Zuerlein air it out at the end of a half or game. He’s no longer concerned with the great field position the opposition would get should Zuerlein miss.
”When the coach has confidence in you, it gives you more confidence in yourself,” Zuerlein said. ”I love it when they give me those chances.”
Zuerlein also was a perfect decoy on the biggest play of the day – a fake field goal that turned into a 2-yard touchdown pass from punter Johnny Hekker to Danny Amendola. The score put the Rams (2-2) ahead 10-7 late in the first half.
Amendola was pretending to jog off the field and stopped just shy of the sideline. He was all alone, and had to leap just a bit to snare a high spiral from Hekker, a former high school quarterback.
”The play kind of took a while,” Amendola said. ”I was afraid they would see me, but they didn’t see me. I was just trying to get as small as I could, so nobody sees me.”
Seahawks coaches upstairs noticed the trickery, but not quickly enough. Coach Pete Carroll was on the field trying in vain to get the officials’ attention right before the snap.
”I don’t know how far, but I was out there running at them,” Carroll said. ”I didn’t do a good enough job of getting in their view, because I was calling timeout before the ball was snapped.”
The Rams won for just the second time in 15 meetings against the Seahawks, who had outscored them 70-26 the previous three games.
The Seahawks (2-2) lost six days after beating Green Bay when a botched call by replacement officials on the final play gave them the winning touchdown. Regular officials were back this weekend.
Marshawn Lynch led Seattle with 118 yards on 20 carries, including an 18-yard score on the game’s first possession.
The Rams intercepted Russell Wilson three times, the clincher coming from Bradley Fletcher at the Rams 25 with a minute to go. Wilson had just one pick the first three games but Carroll was pretty happy with the rookie’s play, noting wide receiver Anthony McCoy slipped and fell on Fletcher’s interception.
”I still think he’s improving and getting more comfortable and all that,” Carroll said. ”We’ll see what it all means. I don’t know yet.”
A week after sacking Aaron Rodgers eight times, the Seahawks got to Bradford twice.
St. Louis is 2-0 at home, also beating the Redskins in Week 2. Attendance was announced as 53,193 but the 66,000-capacity Edward Jones Dome looked about half full with the Cardinals also playing across town in search of the second NL wild card.
The Seahawks may have had an emotional letdown after their last-gasp 14-12 victory over the Packers, with Golden Tate’s disputed touchdown grab perhaps the play that hastened the regular referees’ return.
Tate had one catch for 7 yards on Sunday.
Carroll and Seahawks players didn’t think there was an emotional letdown.
”Definitely not, definitely not,” wide receiver Sidney Rice said. ”What we did out here today was a reflection on us. It’s definitely on us.”
Referee Mike Carey tipped his cap to fans as he walked onto the field, and also shook hands with Carroll and wide receiver Braylon Edwards. The only moment the officials were really noticed was when umpire Chad Brown got some razzing from fans after he slipped and fell while getting into position before the Rams punted out of their end zone in the third quarter.
Neither coach mentioned the officials, a sign that order had been restored.
Bradford was 16 for 30 for 221 yards and an interception. Wilson completed his first seven passes for 78 yards before his first incompletion early in the second quarter. He finished 17 for 25 for 160 yards.
NOTES: Rams backup DE Eugene Sims (head) was injured in the third quarter. Sims got his first sack of the season in the first half … The Rams honored MLB James Laurinaitis, their leading tackler each of his first three seasons, with a bobblehead doll giveaway. … Rams first-rounder Michael Brockers made his NFL debut starting at DT. Jermelle Cudjo, who started the first three games, was inactive. … Seahawks G James Carpenter made his season debut coming off a left knee injury last November. He missed time in the first quarter with a right knee injury but returned in the second quarter.