PHOTO: St. Louis Rams defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson sits on the bench during the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots in St. Louis, Sunday, Nov. 7, 2004. The Rams were defeated by the Patriots by the final score of 40-22. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)
CLEAN SLATE, FRESH START
Pats Rebound In Beating St. Louis...Again
by Chris Timoney, Patriots Insider
The New England Patriots came into Sunday’s game against the Rams coming off their first loss in over a year, and an ugly loss at that. The loss sparked a multitude of questions about the defending champions. Questions about injuries, questions about streaks, questions about the schedule and questions about questions. That’s what happens when you finally lose after piling up an NFL record 21 wins.
Well, on Sunday against the team they beat for their first Super Championship the Patriots answered all those questions with a convincing 40-22 victory over the St. Louis Rams. The victory marked another big win for a Boston area team against a St. Louis team. Much like the Red Sox in their sweep of the Cardinals just weeks before, the Patriots positioned themselves with a lead and swiftly finished the job and secured the victory.
New England running back Corey Dillon was back in action after being inactive for last weeks loss to the Steelers and immediately his impact was felt. On the first play from scrimmage Dillon’s number was called as he started the game off with a 14 yard carry for the first down. The run gave Dillon more rushing yards this season than last years starter Antowain Smith(642 yards in 2003) had all season. Six plays and 33 yards later New England made good on the positive start by Dillon when Adam Vinatieri punched in a 43 yard field goal. The early 3-0 lead marked the 16th consecutive game in which the Patriots have scored first.
The good times kept rolling for the Patriots on their next possession but not before injury reared its ugly ahead again. On 2nd and 8 Rams quarterback Marc Bulger completed to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.
Cornerback Asante Samuel knocked the Rams tight end out of bounds, but on the tackle Samuel injured his shoulder and was forced to the bench. With the secondary already thin due to injuries coach Bill Belichick was forced to bring in wide receiver Troy Brown in on defense. “Troy stepped up and played a little nickel”, said Belichick, “That’s what a team’s about, when you get called on you step up.”
After the Rams went 3-and-out the Patriots wouldn’t fair much better and Josh Miller came out to punt from his own 21 yard line. The kick made it out to the St. Louis 38 when return man Shaun McDonald botched the catch and the ball went loose. Long Snapper Lonnie Paxton corralled the loose ball for New England and the Patriots regained possession on the Rams 28. Unable to convert on 3 “and goal” situations Vinatieri came out and kicked his second field goal of the first quarter, a 31-yarder, giving the Patriots an early 6-0 lead.
Unable to get much going on the ensuing possession, the Rams punted and pinned New England back to their own 6 yard line. On the first play of the drive, on 1st and 10 from the 6, Brady dropped back in the endzone for a pass. As the pocket collapsed around him the ball was knocked out of Brady’s hand and St. Louis’ Damione Lewis recovered in the endzone for the go-ahead touchdown and the 7-6 lead.
The Brady fumble in the endzone may have brought flashbacks to Patriot fans of last weeks Steelers game, but unlike last week New England was able to put the miscue behind them quickly. New England responded to the turnover with a 64 yard drive capped off by a Mike Vrabel catch in the endzone. On first down from the Rams 11 yard line Corey Dillon ran to the left for 9 yards bringing the ball to the 2. On 2nd and 1 Brady(18 of 31 for 234 yards, 2 TD’s) used play action to Dillon and found linebacker Mike Vrabel in the corner of the endzone for the touchdown. On the play Vrabel found the perfect spot to run to for the catch and like a professional wide receiver stretched out for the ball to make the play. “Mike (Vrabel) in practice always says how he’s open”, said Belichick of the decision to try the play. The score put New England up 13-7 with just over 9 minutes to go in the half.
Yet, as would be the case throughout the first half, St. Louis countered in this early seesaw battle. Having started out from their own 15 yard line the Rams pushed the ball out to their own 41. On 2nd and 9 from the 41 Marc Bulger found a streaking Brandon Manumaleuna, who had gotten behind the entire secondary off of play action. Manumaleuna was able to rumble down to the 11 yard line before being brought down by Rodney Harrison. The Rams wasted no time in capitalizing on the 48 yard play as Bulger connected with Isaac Bruce(4 catches for 59 yards) for the go-ahead touchdown and the Rams led 14-13.
Keeping true to form in this back-and-forth first half the Patriots answered on the next series with an Adam Vinatieri 45 yard field goal and went up 16-14 with just over three minutes left in the half. The brief drive(2:16) was highlighted by a 50 yard pass from Brady to David Givens(5 catches for 100 yards). The 50 yard play was the longest pass play of the season so far for New England.
St. Louis was poised to answer on the ensuing drive as they worked their two minute offense, making it down to the New England 30 with over a minute to go in the half. On 3rd and 11 from the 30 Bulger scrambled out of the pocket towards the sideline in search of a receiver. None was to be found, but linebacker Willie McGinest found Bulger. The hit by McGinest jarred the ball loose and was recovered on the sideline by Jarvis Green, giving the Patriots possession on their own 28 with about a minute to go in the half.
On the very first play of the drive the Rams helped out the Pats as Leonard Little was called for roughing the passer on an incomplete pass to Kevin Faulk. The penalty moved the ball out to the 43 yard line. Two David Patten receptions moved the Patriots down to the Rams 23 yard line with 18 seconds left before halftime. A defensive offsides call moved the ball up to the 18. Two pass attempts by Brady failed and New England gladly settled for another Vinatieri field goal and went into the locker room at the half up 19-14.
On the Patriots first drive of the second half the Rams again would be scored upon by New England’s kicker, but not in the way they figured. New England started the drive with good field position near midfield. A 2nd and 7 pass to David Givens for 19 yards moved New England into St. Louis territory down to the 32. Runs by Dillon and Patrick Pass combined with nice pass to Troy Brown helped move the ball down to the Rams 4. On fourth down from the 4 Belichick sent out the kicking team in effort to go for the “gimmie” 3 points. While the Patriots looked as if they were lining up for the kick, the ball was quick snapped to Vinatieri who threw to a wide open Troy Brown in the endzone for the surprise touchdown. The trick play worked to perfection as they completely caught the Rams off guard. “Troy and Adam executed well”, said Belichick of the trick play,”It was a play we thought we could get away with.”
The Patriots got away with a 26-14 lead after the trick play and were poised to pull away from Mike Martz and the high powered Rams.
New England’s marquee defense stepped up on the Rams ensuing drive. On 2nd and 10 from the St. Louis 32 Marc Bulger’s pass was tipped by McGinest and caught by Roman Pfifer. The turnover gave New England possession at the Rams 21. Brady & Co. milked a bit of the third quarter clock and moved the ball down to the 5 yard line, setting up a 1st and goal situation. On first down Brady handed off to Dillon who sidestepped a defender on his way into the endzone for the touchdown. With about 3 and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter the Patriots had a commanding 33-14 lead.
Needing 3 touchdowns with just over a quarter to go the Rams came out in their no-huddle offense. 49 yards passing by Marc Bulger moved St. Louis down to the New New England 16. From the 16 on 2nd and 10 Bulger found Tory Holt in the endzone for the score. Mike Martz opted to go for 2 points and Marshall Faulk barely made it into the endzone on a run up the middle for the conversion. The 8 points left St. Louis down 33-22 with most of the fourth quarter remaining.
The teams exchanged punts before New England took possession on their own 36 with 10:52 remaining. A steady dose of Corey Dillon(25 rushes for 112 yards, 1TD) moved the ball into St. Louis territory. A 19 yard Patrick Pass run moved the Patriots down to the 10 yard line setting up a 1st and goal. A Dillon run then moved the ball down to the 4. After another Dillon attempt went for no gain Brady found Bethel Johnson on 3rd and goal in the endzone for the score. Johnson’s touchdown catch elevated New England to a 40-22 lead with 5:23 left in the game.
Bulger(23 of 33 for 285 yards, 2TD, 1INT) was able to move the Rams down to the New England 14. It appeared as though St. Louis scored on a pass to Kevin Curtis, but Curtis was ruled to have stepped out of bounds before getting to the pylon and the touchdown was nullified. The Rams never did get into the endzone and turned the ball over on downs just before the two minute warning.
The Rams offensive shortcoming sealed the Patriots victory as Brady & Co. ran out the clock. The win moves New England to 7-1, that combined with a Jets loss to Buffalo gives the Patriots sole possession of first place in the AFC East. The loss drops St. Louis to 4-4 in the NFC West, a game behind the Seattle Seahawks.
St. Louis was 2 for 9 on third down. The Rams committed 9 penalties for 80 yards. Dillon’s 112 yards gives him 4 100 yard rushing games this season. Although called for pass interference, Troy Brown played well on defense for Asante Samuel who eventually returned to the field. Along with Dillon, Patrick Pass also returned to action after sitting out last week. Offensive lineman Tom Ashworth was placed on injured reserve and will miss the remainder of the season.
Chris Timoney provides is a site contributor for the Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: jakbrown. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by using the search feature on this site.
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