New Rams Play Despairingly Like Old Rams : Opener: Five fumbles, two interceptions make Phoenix Cardinals easy 24-14 winners.
The new Rams, with the new defense and the new offensive line and the very new kick returner and the self-proclaimed new vigor, reverted to some old foibles to kick off their new season Sunday afternoon, handing away a 24-14 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals.
Many of the names and faces from last year have been changed to protect the innocent, but after turning the ball over seven times Sunday, there were few Rams who could escape blame before 47,069 at Anaheim Stadium.
After it was over, Coach John Robinson, choking back his anger and rapidly rising emotions, refused to point out any individual player in a blanket rebuke of his football team. But his words were not without bite.
“I can’t remember a more painful loss or a loss that angered me more,” an ashen Robinson said after an unusually long post-game talk to his club. “We will not fumble the football. We will not throw interceptions. We’re not going to turn the ball over any more.
“I’m not going to talk to you about individuals . . . but that just is not going to happen. We’ve worked too hard, we’ve come too far and we’re too good to do it like this.”
It began with a blown exchange from new center Tom Newberry to quarterback Jim Everett on the Rams’ first possession. Cardinal linebacker Eric Hill easily returned the ball 85 yards for the game’s first score when no Ram touched him while he lay on the ground.
Newberry, a left guard for five seasons, was switched to center this off-season, but because of a contract holdout and the birth of his twin sons, he played only two halves in exhibition games.
It continued through new kick returner Vernon Turner’s second fumble of the game, setting up Phoenix’s last score and pushing the Rams out of contention. Turner was claimed off the waiver wire last Tuesday.
It ended with Everett’s second interception of the game, a futile pass in the game’s final minutes.
In between, Everett had another pass intercepted and the Rams fumbled two more times, including tailback Cleveland Gary’s first of the season.
Phoenix’s cautious, turnover-free offense, behind backup quarterback Tom Tupa, capitalized on four turnovers for all of their points.
Weren’t the Rams playing with fire heading into the regular season with so many changes and so little time to adapt to them?
“Yeah,” Robinson said. “We’ve just got to fight through it. There’s nothing I can say. Those are the places where the things popped negatively, but we’ll straighten that out.”
If it reminded you of last year’s dreadful season-opening five-turnover loss to the Green Bay Packers--who also were playing with a backup quarterback--you were not alone.
Up next for the Rams, still trying to shake off last year’s 5-11 tailspin, are three consecutive tough road games--at New York, New Orleans and San Francisco.
The way back from 0-1, especially after this offensive give-away, is not smooth.
“The league is too good to waste away games like that,” said cornerback Darryl Henley. “So now, we’re going to have to bite and scratch for 15 more weeks, fighting like hell, hoping it never comes back to haunt us. You never want to waste a game.
“We gave this one away. Not let it slip by. Just gave it away.”
Robert Delpino, given the team’s main ballcarrying duties after Gary fumbled on his third carry, carried 15 times for 81 yards and two touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 113 yards. His best game as a pro was wiped out, as Everett said, by “all our . . . play.”
Robinson would not comment when asked if Delpino, usually a fullback, is now the team’s starting tailback in Gary’s place.
Robinson seemed most furious because he saw so much potential in his Rams--too much to be kicking it away with goof after goof.
The new defense of Jeff Fisher played as well as it could, with Phoenix always handed terrific field position. And when the offense wasn’t tossing the ball away, it moved rather effectively, piling up 375 yards and 25 first downs to Phoenix’s 193 and 13.
“I believe we have a good football team. I believe it more now than I believed it before we went on (the field),” Robinson said.
“I thought we did some things well. We played the game hard. There are few teams in however many years I’ve been coaching that I’ve believed more in than in this group. I know this is going to be a good team. I’m embarrassed that it played the way it did today, but I know it.
“It better hurry, though,” he added sharply.
If a quick deficit on the fumble-away for a touchdown wasn’t enough to remind the Rams of their 1990 woes, Gary immediately helped.
Gary, who fumbled 12 times last season, burst through the middle on the Rams’ next drive, before losing the football when he was bumped by strong safety Tim McDonald. Linebacker Ken Harvey recovered the ball. This time the Rams actually touched him.
But that did not stop Phoenix from moving the ball 65 yards, taking a 14-0 lead on a 28-yard scoring pass from Tupa to Ernie Jones.
The Rams regained a sense of cool when they hammered out a 13-play, 77-yard drive, ending in Delpino’s one-yard touchdown dive in the second quarter.
But after stopping Phoenix on three plays, Turner fumbled on the ensuing punt when he was hit in the elbow. The ball was recovered by Phoenix punter Rich Camarillo at the Rams’ 46.
Assisted by a 16-yard pass interference call on Henley in the end zone on third and 14, Phoenix pushed in their third score after three Ram turnovers.
The Rams made a one-touchdown rally on their first drive of the second half, closing to 21-14 on Delpino’s second touchdown.
Turner’s second fumbled punt, this time after trying to scoop up a bouncing ball to stop it from rolling inside the 10, was recovered by Steve Hyche and gave Phoenix the ball at the Ram 14 with 6:21 to play.
“I don’t think anybody in this locker room is even thinking about last year,” said strong safety Michael Stewart. “We’ve got new coaches, new players, a lot of new faces here. This is a new season.”
But, for now, one without any new results.
The Rams de-activated late-signing No. 1 pick Todd Lyght and middle linebacker Frank Stams. . . . Right tackle Jackie Slater played in his 210th game as a Ram, breaking the previous Ram record of 209 held by Merlin Olsen. . . . The Rams rotated Robert Jenkins and Gerald Perry at left tackle. . . . Quarterback Jim Everett was 25 for 35 for 290 yards. . . . The Rams suffered three minor injuries in the game. Strong safety Michael Stewart strained his abdomen, cornerback Rodney Thomas suffered a contusion in his left eye and receiver Henry Ellard bruised his left elbow.