In a battle of Heisman-trophy winning quarterbacks, the home team prevailed Sunday as the St. Louis Rams escaped with a 31-28 win over the visiting Washington Redskins.
When it came to clutch plays, Washington rookie phenom Robert Griffin III showed poise and grit, even jawing with opposing defenders. However, Sam Bradford also had much to prove from his Oklahoma days, and the Heisman ‘big brother’ received the proper support behind his efforts. Bradford finished with 310 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 26-of-35 passing, while RGIII completed 20 of his 29 passes for 209 yards, one touchdown and one pick.
The first victory of the short season couldn't have come at a better time for the young Rams. ‘Short’ and ‘young’ are also terms that usually defines St. Louis receiver Danny Amendola and running back Daryl Richardson. For those who weren't enamored with Griffin's every move, the key performances actually came from these relatively unknown players, who both played large roles in the crucial Week 2 victory.
The start, however, was not so promising.
Amendola caught a pass on a quick out on the opening play from scrimmage, set up by several good blocks. As Amendola moved down the field on a potentially big play, Redskins' linebacker Perry Riley closed in and punched the ball out. The fumble bounced right into the hands of cornerback Josh Wilson, who returned it 32 yards for the game's first touchdown and temporarily took the collective breath of the fans out of the building.
Amendola redeemed himself on the following drive, catching a 12-yard crossing route before being hit late by former Ram London Fletcher, advancing St. Louis to the 41-yard line. The 5’11” receiver caught five passes and accounted for 42 of the Rams' 70 yards on the second drive.
Bradford lofted another beautiful pass to the back left corner of the endzone for receiver Brandon Gibson. The play initially seemed like a touchdown along the sidelines, similar to Gibson's scoring grab last week, but the referee determined Gibson didn't get both feet down. The play went without a challenge from head coach Jeff Fisher, and a sack of Bradford on third down caused the Rams to settle for a field goal.
On RGIII's first drive in the Edward Jones Dome, he hit fellow rookie receiver Aldrick Robinson on a diving catch across the middle for 12 yards. However, defensive end Robert Quinn came up big for the Rams on the following third down, making another trip into the backfield for his second sack of the season.
The pressure on Griffin was relentless throughout the game, so the Redskins opted to stick to the ground attack, allowing Griffin and rookie starter Alfred Morris to have more carries. Coming into camp as the fourth-string running back, Morris bounced a hand-off out to the right sideline for a 27-yard run, moving Washington into the redzone with two minutes left in the first quarter.
Enter the raining yellow flags. The Rams came up with another third-down stop, but Quinn proved the antagonist this time, continuing Washington's drive with an unnecessary roughness penalty. Accordingly, Griffin took a option-keeper into the endzone on the next play, putting the Redskins up 14-3 with 19 seconds left in the first quarter.
Amendola and running back Steven Jackson then led the Rams' offense down the field, finishing the drive with what was a clear 1-yard touchdown plunge by Jackson. The lack of confirmation from the referees caused Jackson to spike the ball in frustration, forcing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Again choosing not to challenge, Fisher opted for another field goal, and rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein knocked the 33-yard attempt through.
After a double play-action fake, Griffin fired a 68-yard bomb to Leonard Hankerson for a touchdown on the following drive. Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins was caught looking in the backfield and allowed Hankerson to fly by him.
Amendola continued to produce, gaining 56 yards on a catch-and-run to help set St. Louis up with another trip into the redzone. This time, the Rams' converted the opportunity with a touchdown as Amendola grabbed a 1-yard reception to close the deficit to 21-13 with 1:58 left in the half. Amendola finished the half tying his career-high in catches (12) and breaking his previous personal best with 133 receiving yards, ending the day with 15 grabs for 160 yards.
The defensive pressure continued to mount on RGIII on the next drive, eventually forcing an errant throw on third down. Rams' cornerback Cortland Finnegan stepped in front of the pass for his second interception of the year, and Zuerlein responded by booting his third field goal of the game, a 42-yarder to take the Rams into halftime down 21-16.
Bradford came out firing in the third quarter, first connecting with receiver Steve Smith for a gain of 25. Bradford then gave Gibson another chance, finding him down the right sideline for a 34-yard touchdown to take the lead 23-21 at the 10:23 mark. Gibson outran double coverage on a slant-and-go route, and Bradford hit him perfectly in stride.
On Washington's next drive, Griffin found Robinson on a deep hitch, and Robinson turned past an over-pursuing Jenkins for 28 yards. St. Louis then made it easy for Griffin on a 2nd-and-goal try, lining both defensive tackles out wide and allowing RGIII to walk in the endzone from seven yards out.
Jackson hadn't returned to the game since his ill-timed spike — presumably for disciplinary measures, although the Rams' camp begs to differ — but the second half belonged to Richardson, who allowed Rams' fans to miss him for a moment. On the next drive, the 5’10” rookie had a 53-yard carry to take the Rams down to the 6-yard line, knocking the Redskins' Wilson out of the game in the process with an emphatic shoulder. However, St. Louis' redzone woes continued, as Bradford zipped a pass down the middle into the hands of Fletcher, who kneeled in the endzone for a touchback.
The Rams' defense and special teams did their part to keep the game close, answering with an impressive three-and-out and subsequent blocked punt from tight end Matthew Mulligan to keep St. Louis in scoring position. The offense finally broke through their proverbial redzone wall in the fourth quarter. Mulligan, who played for St. Louis-area high school Kirkwood, caught a 1-yard touchdown from a scrambling Bradford. Richardson pushed the pile forward for the two-point conversion and a 31-28 lead to open the final period.
Griffin took control of the next drive with his legs, willing the Redskins into St. Louis territory with 34 rushing yards. On a 3rd-and-11 with 7:48 remaining, the Rams' D came up big again, pressuring Griffin from all sides and forcing a punt. After stalling on the next drive, rookie punter Johnny Hekker greatly changed field position for the Rams with a 66-yard boot, and the coverage made sure Washington started at its own 21-yard line.
Jenkins, apparently frustrated with his performance, made a statement on first down with a thunderous hit on Redskins' tight end Fred Davis, jarring the pass loose and further sending the crowd into a frenzy. Another three-and-out gave the Rams the ball back with less than four minutes remaining.
Richardson continued to prove his worth as a seventh-round choice out of Abilene Christian as he began milking the clock on the ground. However, he couldn't finish the game without having one rookie mistake; after gaining a first down, Fletcher continued to enjoy his return to St. Louis, poking the ball out from Richardson to teammate Deangelo Hall (much like Amendola's turnover to open the game).
Finnegan again proved why his tenacity and rough play drew the ire of opposing receivers and the attention of Fisher (his head coach in Tennessee). On 3rd-and-8 with 1:28 remaining, the Rams cornerback incited a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty from Washington receiver Josh Morgan after some extra contact after the play, moving the Redskins out of Billy Cundiff's field-goal range and ending their comeback bid.
Richardson finished the game with 83 yards on 15 carries and two catches for 19 yards. Morris led the Redskins in rushing with 16 carries for 89 yards, followed closely behind by Griffin, who added to his stellar passing performance with 11 rushes for 82 yards. The Rams' linebacking corps continued to improve behind James Laurinaitis and Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who recorded 10 and seven tackles, respectively.
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