NEWS

Rams finally make some noise at home

Hal Pilger

 Running back Steven Jackson, after last week's frustrating, final-minute, five-point fiasco with Seattle, said he wanted more noise and better music in the near-comatose Edward Jones SlumberDome.

  On Sunday, Jackson and his teammates made a little noise of their own, and it was sweet music for the Rams in a 28-16 victory over Atlanta.

  St. Louis surged to a 21-0 halftime lead and, for once -- despite appearances to the contrary for much of the second half -- failed to fold late, thus securing its first home win of the season.

   The Rams -- and their fans -- really seemed to enjoy it.

   "The crowd was in it today," said Jackson. "At least the crowd was responding. Fans were dancing up on theJumboTron, and I haven't seen this around here." 

   Jackson saved his best dance for last, and it helped secure the win in the closing minutes. After being held to 46 rushing yards on 19 carries, the man his teammates just call Jack burst over right guard, cut left across the midfield stripe and raced 50 yards untouched into the end zone to extend the Rams' precarious 21-16 lead to 12 points.

   "All game long, Atlanta was really packing the box, making sure they took a lot of our run reads away from us, and put a lot of pressure on Gus (Frerotte, quarterback) to get the ball out of his hands quick," Jackson said. "On that last run, I think we caught them being overly aggressive.

   "Most of the time they had a guy watching for the backside cut. They got a little greedy out there, and we were able to take advantage of it. I just had to outrun them."

Which he did, giving the Rams their first points since late in the second quarter, when Frerotte -- subbing for the injured Marc Bulger -- tossed his third touchdown pass of the half, an 8-yarder to Isaac Bruce. That followed a 1-yarder to Randy McMichael and a 31-yarder to Torry Holt, each in the first quarter.  

  Once regarded by visiting teams as one of the toughest road venues in which to play, the Dome has become a haven for win-hungry clubs to feast on weaker prey, creating a sort of silence of the Rams.

  But not on this Sunday, when the Rams' tiring defense made enough big plays late to send the Falcons back to Atlanta with their ninth loss against only three wins, same as St. Louis.

   "We had some turnovers (two interceptions) in the second half that made the game tougher than we wanted it to be," conceded Rams coach Scott Linehan, who added the change in dome atmosphere helped his team finish with a win.

   "It has been a long season, for a number of reasons, and we have to defend our home turf. For me, I really felt that as a home team -- the fans and the team -- really stepped up when we needed to.

   "We made the most of the crowd noise in the second half, making some plays on defense -- and the (offensive) play at the end of the game."

   Defensively, the Rams found themselves in dire straits late after Atlanta scored 16 unanswered points and then drove to a first down at the St. Louis 12 with 3:40 remaining. But the homeland security held on four consecutive plays, and the Rams took over on downs at their 9 with 2:19 showing.

   A three-and-out gave Atlanta another chance when they took over on offense at their 48-yard line with 1:45 to play. But free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe intercepted Chris Redman's pass at the Rams 23 and returned it to midfield.

"That is our job, to defend what the offense is doing," Atogwe said. "We try to contribute in the best way possible. We can do that by getting turnovers and stopping the offense."

   After no gain by Jackson over right guard on first down, he tried it again on second down with 1:26 left. And on that one play, he gained 4 more yards than he previously had gained on the ground all game.

   "It was definitely a relief, because the guys were really battling out there," Jackson said. "We had some ugly (rushing) yardage, and for us to finally get a big hole on the last play really showed that guys were not quitting.

"I think it was just an all-out team win. We started off fast and in the second half, once again, we kind of stalled out. But this time I think the offense really came together and put it on ourselves to finish the game and have no excuses."

   Excuses, like apologies, aren't necessary when you win. On Sunday, the Rams did that for the third time in four games but for the first time at home.

At the same time, they know there's still much work to be done during the second half of this season when it comes to the second halves of games.

   "At the end of the day we have to win the football game, and trust me -- we put a lot of time into working on our second half," Linehan said. "It is a matter of execution in all areas. We have to execute more.

"Winning three of the last four and gaining some momentum with how we are playing, when a lot of people thought we weren't playing for much, I think shows a lot about the heart and character of this team."

Hal Pilger can be reached at 788-1548 or hal.pilger@sj-r.com