This great waste of a Ram season continues to drag on at an excruciating pace--three fiascoes to go, still?--and it’s a shame no one can take this ball of confusion and hand it off to Cleveland Gary.
That’d be one way to get rid of it.
Of all the times not to fumble. Here were the Rams, their season in ruins three weeks earlier, granted a glimmer of hope by the news on Sunday’s scoreboard: Minnesota and Green Bay had lost, meaning a Ram victory over New Orleans would forge a four-way tie for the NFC’s last wild-card slot at 6-7. Here were the Rams, leading New Orleans by 10 points in the fourth quarter of a game in which they would out-gain the Saints, 444 yards to 218, and out-first down them, 24-9.
There went the Rams, tripping over old bad habits and inventing new ones, going down in a 24-20 heap that, in its own way, was tougher to stomach than the disasters in Chicago and Pittsburgh and the overtime breakdown against Cincinnati.
In this one:
The Rams are headed for a 7-0 first-quarter lead, Gary over right tackle . . . and he fumbles the ball into the end zone, where New Orleans’ Gene Atkins recovers for a touchback.
The Ram defense amazes by keeping the Saints out of the end zone for the first half . . . and Jim Everett throws away a 10-3 lead when his third pass of the third quarter is picked off by Brett Maxie and returned 50 yards for a touchdown.
The Ram defense holds New Orleans to four first downs through the first three quarters, limits Saint running backs to 25 yards through the first three quarters . . . and opens the fourth quarter by falling down in front of Gill Fenerty, who is able to step over enough bodies for a 60-yard touchdown.
The Rams gamble by throwing a fourth-quarter pass to Gary . . . and he fumbles again, leaving New Orleans a scant 42 yards from the go-ahead touchdown.
Everett has to burn two timeouts in the third quarter because his teammates forget how and where to line up . . . and then runs out of time in a chaotic final scramble, getting sacked as time expires, only to be saved, temporarily, by a Saint offsides penalty.
There was no time left: 0:00 . In a moment, the same would shine on the Rams’ playoff pipe dream.
But between, Everett had one last fling. The game couldn’t end on a defensive penalty, so it ended with a sigh. On fourth-and-goal from the nine, Everett looked briefly into the end zone, saw no one open, looked then to Buford McGee in the right flat, tried to throw . . . and then had New Orleans linebacker Pat Swilling, silent all Sunday, hit him as his arm cocked back.
The pass skipped on the grass--too short for McGee, but just right for the Saints.
Only the Rams, only in 1990.
From domination to disaster--and they needed just 15 minutes.
This was a pure giveaway, so naturally, most of the postgame attention was directed to the man who gave it away twice, Gary, the Cleveland who keeps playing like a Brown. Five lost fumbles in four weeks. Eleven fumbles--and seven lost--in 13 weeks. Even John Robinson, Gary’s head coach and head defender, couldn’t roust up another rescue attempt.
“He’s not the reason we lost the football game, but I don’t know what I can say to protect him,” Robinson said. “He just can’t fumble any more.”
Earlier in the week, it was suggested that Gary had developed a mental block about holding onto the football, comparing it to the psychological mountain Steve Sax used to face when trying to throw to first base. At the time, Robinson scoffed.
Sunday, Robinson wasn’t scoffing any more.
“It’s hard for me to say it isn’t now,” Robinson said. “It’s happening too frequently now. I can’t do anything but accept that we’ve got a problem and we’d like it to go away.”
This is first for Robinson, a first for Gary. Robinson never coached a runaway fumbler before--Wendell Tyler preceded him in Anaheim--and he drafted Gary out of college in part because Gary never fumbled in college.
But. . . .
“He didn’t carry the ball that much in college,” Robinson said. “He’s carried it, what, 200 times this year? (Actually 179.) And he’s fumbled it five times, six times, eight times--whatever it is. We’d like to say, ’90% of the time, he holds onto it,’ but we’ve got to accept it for what it is, and that he can’t be in there until he makes some adjustments.”
Gary stood firm and handled the hard questions, better than he had handled the hard hits on the field.
“I feel like I let everybody down,” Gary said. “This is the team that drafted me. They drafted me to run the football. I have an obligation to this team. I don’t feel good about this.
“Who cares if you lead the league in scoring? All you’re going to hear about is the negative. I’m the league leader in scoring but, unfortunately, I’m also leading the league in fumbles. I don’t know what the record is. . . .
“In college, I was a big, physical guy who also had a lot of quickness. After awhile, you start to get confidence--'They can’t get a good shot at me.’
“But here, everyone’s quick. You get enough missiles shot at you, some are going to hit.”
Nearby, Everett did what he could to divert attention.
“I think Cleveland runs the ball as hard as anybody. You’d like to think these things just happen at inopportune times, and you hope they’re correctable,” Everett said. “And it’s more than just Cleveland. You can point fingers at all kinds of things, but we had a lot of things go wrong today.”
Those wasted timeouts, for two.
“You’re asking a lot of people to be responsible about where they should line up, and there were times when they weren’t in the right formation,” Everett complained. “I’m always going to call time because I’m always going to line us up correctly.
“I did the exact same thing (call timeouts) in the 49er game, except we won. You win and those things go unnoticed.”
You lose and nothing goes unnoticed.
Did you notice the Rams have nothing more to do in this season than to wait for the next one?