The St. Louis Rams look like a tough, competitive football team under new head coach Jeff Fisher, but they fell just short in their regular-season debut, losing to the Lions in the closing seconds of a game they led most of the way.
The Rams took a 23-20 lead with 1:55 to play, but Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford shook off an ugly start — three interceptions in the first half — to engineer a late fourth-quarter drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to running back Kevin Smith with just 10 seconds remaining, giving the Lions a 27-23 win. The Rams’ defense appeared to be expecting Stafford to throw a jump ball to Calvin Johnson in the back of the end zone on the game-winning pass, leaving plenty of room for the short pass underneath to Smith.
But while the Rams’ first game with Fisher ended in disappointment, it showed promise. The Rams’ secondary played very well against Stafford, with veteran Cortland Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins both getting interceptions and both looking like just the kinds of defensive backs Fisher needs.
It says something about Johnson that it felt for most of the game like the Rams were doing a solid job of making him the focus of their defense and keeping him in check — and yet he still finished the game with six catches for 111 yards. Stafford threw 48 passes but only targeted Johnson seven times, as the Rams were blanketing Johnson for much of the game.
Rams quarterback Sam Bradford played reasonably well considering how much pressure he was under. The Lions’ defensive line was getting the best of the Rams’ offensive line even before the Rams lost two starting offensive linemen, center Scott Wells and left tackle Rodger Saffold, to injuries. Rams running back Steven Jackson rarely had any holes to run through, finishing the game with 53 yards on 21 carries.
For the Lions, it was a good win to open the season as they attempt to make the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 1994-95. For the Rams, it was a game in which they looked like a well-coached team. But they’re not yet a winning team.