COMMENTARY : Rams Humbled by Fumbles in Green Bay

TIMES STAFF WRITER

And the hamstring's connected to the . . . hand bone?

All this time we thought Henry Ellard's problem was in his leg. In the thigh of the beholder. His hamstring was strung out through most of the past month, which has been known to impair the running capacity of a wide receiver but, according to recent medical findings, has little to do with hand-eye coordination.

But when Ellard returned from inactivity to the Rams' starting lineup for Sunday's 1990 season opener, his legs were in fine working condition. They churned up the middle, down the sideline and all through the Green Bay Packers' secondary, as good as always, as good as new.

What were his hands doing on injured reserve?

Ellard caught six balls at Lambeau Field and, sometimes, he ran with them.

More time, however, was spent running after them.

It was fumbles on parade. Here, there, everywhere, at the drop of a hat, Ellard could be found dropping a football--four times in a row, in fact, during one slur-handed stretch in the second half.

Hold on, here's a checklist:

Second and nine from the Ram 21--Ram quarterback Jim Everett hit Ellard with a quick sideline pass, and Green Bay cornerback Mark Lee hit Ellard. Ellard fumbled and Green Bay recovered at the Ram 41.

First and goal from the Ram two--Ellard grabbed another sideline pass from Everett but only temporarily. The ball squirted loose again, rolling through Packer hands and out of bounds, helping to set up. . . .

Third and six from the Ram seven--Everett found Ellard over the middle, and Ellard got his hands on the ball. And got his hands on the ball. And got his hands on the ball. Three bobbles and you're out, with the pass falling incomplete and the Rams backing up to punt.

Second and 10 from the Ram 20--One more time over the middle, Ellard received for a 19-yard gain and released once Lee hits him. Green Bay cornerback Jerry Holmes recovered and returned it 33 yards to the Ram four. Two plays later, Packer fullback Brent Fullwood is in the end zone and the Rams are on their way to a 36-24 defeat.

It was a humbling, fumbling experience--and, worse still, it was contagious. Even H-back Pete Holohan, the one-man variety show who often entertains the troops at practice with his one-handed, diving receptions, caught the disease. Six plays into the second half, Holohan pulled in a pass from Everett and then the ball was stripped, with stripper Johnny Holland recovering.

Trying to respond to a 17-14 halftime deficit, the Rams snuffed their first three drives of the third quarter, which soon left them trying to respond to a 33-17 deficit.

"The third quarter was a travesty offensively," Ram Coach John Robinson succinctly surmised. "We seemed to turn the ball over every time. I'm surprised Green Bay didn't score three or four more times. They certainly had the opportunities."

In the far corner of the Ram dressing room, Ellard, the three-time Pro Bowl receiver, was asked to explain himself.

At least he didn't fumble for words.

"I've never had a day like this," Ellard claimed. "I may have fumbled the ball three times in my career . But in one game? This is something different. I pride myself in not fumbling."

So what went wrong? It wasn't the conditions. This wasn't Green Bay in December, when ball handling is done with gloves and through the sleet and the snow. This was Green Bay in the late summer, with the sun gleaming and 79 degrees showing.

Ellard blamed the conditions back home, back in August.

"Maybe it's because of a lack of playing time," Ellard said. "I didn't play very much in the preseason because of the (hamstring) injury. I guess I haven't had enough time catching it and getting hit. . . .

"I knew my timing would be off, (but) I'm not a fumbler. I don't consider myself a fumbler. I just have to keep working hard and move on from here."

Easy for Ellard to say. Moving on will be more difficult for the Rams, already a step behind in the NFC West race before San Francisco has played a game. And if they can't stop Anthony Dilweg, the Green Bay backup who passed for 248 yards and three touchdowns while Don Majkowski yawned on the sideline, what are they going to do next week with Vinny Testaverde in Tampa?

Besides pray?

"We have to pull things together," said Flipper Anderson, "and I hope we do it next week. We don't have another week or two to wait. Two or three losses in this division and that could do it."

Or, as Everett was sad to report, "One week into the season and already our backs are to the wall."

Everett passed for 340 yards Sunday, which was remarkable in light of the Rams' catch-drop ratio. Everett called the third quarter "nightmarish" and the game "frustrating" but took care not to bite the hands that usually feed him.

"It is really, truly unlike them," Everett said. "And it's just one game. Eventually, I'm sure, they're going to tuck it away and make some great runs in the future.

"This is nothing that's not correctable. It's a concern for this game, but it's not going to be a yearlong thing."

Everett smiled, still following the bouncing ball in his head.

"I hope."

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