Rams delay Saints’ postseason plans with 27-16 win

Just like two years ago, a St. Louis Rams team going nowhere

jumped on the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints early and never let

them up.

Drew Brees threw interceptions that led to touchdowns on the

Saints’ first two possessions and the Rams got big days from Zac

Stacy, Robert Quinn and on special teams in a 27-16 victory

Sunday.

”When you looked at their sideline, they realized, `Oh gosh,

like, here we go again,”’ Rams defensive end Chris Long said. ”We

hit `em early, and they were reeling.”

The Rams were 0-6 and double-digit underdogs before upsetting

the Saints in 2011. St. Louis was 2-14 that year and New Orleans

went 13-3.

Everything went sour fast for the 10-win Saints. Brees was

intercepted on the first snap, and again in the second series, and

the Saints played catch-up all day.

”You want to talk about waking the whole place up,” Brees

said. ”That did it.”

Quinn had two sacks, giving him an NFC-leading 15, for a pass

rush that took the heat off a young secondary. His quarterback hit

on the Saints’ first snap of the game altered the flight of the

ball on T.J. McDonald’s interception, and he had a sack, strip and

fumble recovery to keep the Saints down in the third quarter.

Coach Sean Payton benched left tackle Charlie Brown after that

play and shifted left tackle Zack Strief to the right side in an

attempt to neutralize Quinn.

”I saw enough. Period. I mean, enough,” Payton said.

The Saints (10-4) missed their first chance to clinch a playoff

berth, trailing 24-3 at the half, but made it look respectable with

two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. They’re unbeaten at home, but

just 3-4 on the road and play at Carolina with the NFC South lead

on the line next week.

The Saints are averaging 32.9 points at home, with five of the

wins by double-digits including playoff hopefuls Dallas and

Arizona. They’re averaging just 18.4 points on the road with the

three wins by eight, four and two points.

Kellen Clemens threw for two TDs in the first quarter, matching

his best performance in seven games as the fill-in starter for Sam

Bradford. The Rams (6-8) recovered an onside kick to set up a field

goal in the first quarter, and Michael Brockers blocked a

field-goal attempt at the end of the half.

Brees was 39 for 56 for 393 yards, but with just one touchdown,

and threw two interceptions in the first quarter for the first time

in a decade.

The Rams played one of their strongest games of the year a week

after getting eliminated, and the franchise is assured of a 10th

consecutive season without a winning record.

St. Louis’ offense had a nice day against Saints defensive

coordinator Rob Ryan, who had an extended interview with the Rams

in January before joining New Orleans.

”When people change their mind, they change their mind, and I

was fine with that,” coach Jeff Fisher said. ”He’s a good

coach.”

Stacy shook off an early hip injury scare and set a franchise

rookie record with 106 yards by halftime, bettering the likes of

Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, Steven Jackson and Jerome Bettis.

Stacy finished with 132 yards on 27 carries.

”Questionable? Nah, I was never questionable,” Stacy said. ”I

was always going back. I’m a competitor.”

Brees scored on a 1-yard sneak and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass

to Marques Colston with 3:07 to go. The Saints recovered an onside

kick, but their comeback ended when Garrett Hartley was wide left

on a 26-yard field-goal attempt.

Last week, Brees became the fastest in NFL history to 50,000

yards passing while throwing for four TDs in a 31-13 victory over

Carolina at home.

Cory Harkey broke three tackles on a 31-yard touchdown catch the

first play – just his seventh reception of the year after Brees’

first interception.

Brees floated a rollout aimed at Jimmy Graham, who was in

triple-coverage, and Trumaine Johnson snared another underthrown

pass at the goal line. The Rams drove 93 yards, helped by a pair of

personal penalties, and made it 14-0 on Clemens’ 4-yard pass to a

wide-open Lance Kendricks.

The Rams followed up with perfect execution on an onside kick by

kicker Greg Zuerlein recovered in the air by a leaping Stedman

Bailey, setting up a field goal for a 17-0 cushion early in the

second quarter.

Clemens got a chance to use the victory formation the Rams

practice after Brockers blocked Hartley’s 36-yard field-goal

attempt with 2 seconds left.

Notes: Former Rams two-time Pro Bowl QB Marc Bulger, holding his

daughter, was introduced during the break while Stacy was helped

off the field. … According to STATS, the first seven games, the

Saints forced 15 turnovers and scored 48 points. They had no

turnovers or sacks against the Rams, and over the last seven games

they have just two takeaways.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org