PRO FOOTBALL / BOB OATES : Untimely Mistakes Ruined Best Game of Season for Rams

Until late in the fourth quarter Sunday, when they tried to throw the ball past Raider safety Ronnie Lott, the Rams appeared to be the better team.

If they played again, you would take the Rams.

You would, that is, if they would promise:

--Not to give the ball away at the Raider one-yard line on an exchange fumble at the end of the first half.

--Not to throw two interceptions to Ronnie Lott in the final minutes.

Those were the misplays that knocked the Rams out of their best game of the season, 20-17, after quarterback Jim Everett had outpassed the Raiders' Jay Schroeder by a slender margin--300 yards to 271 and two touchdown passes to one.

Most of the 85,102 who saw it probably concluded that the game turned on Lott's first big play--an end-zone interception of Everett's second-and-seven pass at the Raider eight-yard line.

Should the Rams have called that pass?

Ram Coach John Robinson said yes. "We had moved down the field throwing the ball," he said, adding that his club was in position to win only because of Everett's yards gained passing on that last drive.

Many fans disagreed. They noted that, at the time, the Rams had a 17-10 lead with less than half of the last quarter remaining, that another run or two would have taken the clock into the last five minutes, and that a field goal would have put the Raiders out of business, 20-10.

Well, maybe.

One NFL problem this year is that there has been too much running, too little passing, too little scoring, too many fumbles. This time it was an interception. It could have been a fumble.

In the first half, it was.

Unexpected plays: The Raiders moved Lott to a new position this year, strong safety. And even for a potential Hall of Famer, a position change isn't easy.

Several years ago, when it happened last time, the 49ers moved him from cornerback to free safety, prompting Coach Bill Walsh to say: "It's taking Ronnie more time to learn it than I expected."

Lott fought against that change, and was unhappy to be reassigned by the Raiders three months ago. But he seems to be getting the hang of his new job now. The Raiders weren't going to win this game without him.

Many said of Lott's second interception Sunday that he "simply happened to be there" when Everett's pass bounced off defensive end Howie Long's helmet.

But that's Lott. When it's big-play time, there's usually a lot of Lott.

As 49er Coach George Seifert said last year: "Much of Ronnie's value for the 49ers lies in his ability to make the unexpected play."

For the 49ers then, for the Raiders now.

Day of comebacks: The NFL has offered a lot of drab football this season. Although there has been some excitement, too, most pro coaches have been taking advantage of the rules to slow things down, to call conservative plays, to ignore the obvious truth that, like it or not, they are in the entertainment business.

This game wasn't one of the drab ones. Both coaches, Robinson and the Raiders' Art Shell, came out throwing, and the result was a series of long drives, big passes and, at some appropriate times, good defense.

The Rams, who never trailed until the last :02, drove 80 and 54 yards before Everett's two touchdown passes, the second going to their new free agent rookie, Carson-Newman's Vernon Turner.

Turner, who looks smaller than his listed 5 feet 8 and 185 pounds, might have previewed his professional future during his 19-yard scoring play. Crossing swiftly from right to left through the Raider secondary, Turner took Everett's pass and turned it into a touchdown with a clever move at the goal line.

Most of Everett's other passes were also vintage old-time Everett passes. The troubles he had earlier this season seemed far, far away--until the fourth quarter, when, once more, he found himself face to face with Lott.

This was also one of Schroeder's finest hours.

"There's no give-up in this football team," he said, and he is one of the main reasons he can say that.

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