McDonald puts personal stamp on Rams’ first win
ST. LOUIS — T.J. McDonald remembers Mike Evans moaning on the turf after the game-ending hit in the St. Louis Rams’ first victory of the season. The second-year safety also will remember it as the biggest play on an unforgettable day.
Besides making the play that led to a 10-second runoff that cleared the clock and prevented a winning field-goal attempt in a 19-17 victory at Tampa Bay on Sunday, McDonald blocked a field goal and punt. He is the first Rams player to do that since 1979, and he also had nine tackles.
McDonald said he wasn’t trying to hurt the Tampa Bay wide receiver, but didn’t deny the crunching hit that kept Evans down was satisfying. Whatever Evans was saying, McDonald said it wasn’t "words exactly."
"I heard him on the ground, he was making some noises and stuff, so I knew it wasn’t good," McDonald told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "That was a good feeling, to make sure that ended the game.
"Not to hurt him, but to end the game on a big hit. Let’s just say we took care of that."
Evans was aware of the runoff rule that prevents players from faking injuries, and that ended the game at the St. Louis 32. He was trying to get off the field, and a teammate had pulled him off the turf when the Buccaneers were whistled with eight seconds to go.
"I know all the guys are going to say the game wasn’t lost on one play," Long said. "But to me, I’m the guy that could have changed that."
Fisher made a subtle contribution to the sudden finish, killing precious extra seconds before Greg Zuerlein’s go-ahead 38-yard field goal with 38 seconds to go. The play clock was down to 2 seconds when Fisher called a timeout.
If Zuerlein would have kicked earlier, a 10-second runoff probably would have given the Buccaneers enough time to try for a winning field goal.
McDonald, who leads the Rams with 17 tackles, started 10 games last season and missed time in midseason with a broken leg. Besides making a smooth transition from USC to the NFL, he has been a natural on special teams.
He blocked a kick in each of his last three seasons in college — and told teammate William Hayes he was going to get a hand on rookie Patrick Murray’s 24-yard field goal attempt before the snap. The kick at the start of the fourth quarter would have put the Buccaneers up 17-13.
On the field goal defensive unit, rookie E.J. Gaines lines up wide left, and McDonald is next, followed by Hayes. McDonald told Hayes if he was able to grab a Tampa Bay player’s arm, "I’ll get through there."
"I could tell there was a weakness there, and it opened up for me," McDonald said. "Having Will Hayes inside me, that’s not a bad thing."
McDonald also is the second man on the left side on punt defense, also next to Hayes. He came in clean with another nice assist by Hayes late in the second quarter. It led to a field goal by Zuerlein that put the Rams up 10-7 at the half.
"We practice it every day," McDonald said. "We practice it all the time, and it was there for me."
Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith knew how large McDonald loomed in this one.
"You lose games when you have a field goal that’s blocked when you’re going to put three points on the board," Smith said. "When you have a punt that’s blocked and they score, that’s when you lose."
McDonald is among several starters also used on special teams. He enjoys it, considering them as more snaps on defense and more chances to make an impact.
"I work my butt off on defense to get into that fourth down, whether it’s a punt or holding them to a field goal," McDonald said. "I might as well finish that.
"That’s the way I see that."