They Make Bold Play and Then Must Pay for It

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If they had played this game against the Raiders in the first quarter of the season, the Rams very well might have beaten them. During the first four games this year, the Rams fancied themselves a power running team. And, given the sorry state of their passing game, it was just as well.

But the Rams have rediscovered their pass offense of late, and Jim Everett and his receivers spent most of Sunday afternoon playing catch up and down the floor of the Coliseum.

Everett had completed 21 of 31 passes for 290 yards when he stepped behind center on a second-and-seven play from the Raider eight-yard line with a little more than six minutes to play. Any thought of conservative play-calling had evaporated with the Raiders' see-through pass defense and the Rams' fancy passing.

No way the Rams were going to simply run another minute and a half off the clock and build on their 17-10 lead. They were going to bury the Raiders under their own turf.

Everett dropped back to pass, looked away from primary receiver Robert Delpino underneath and spotted his roommate, H-back Jim Price, scooting along the back end of the end zone. Everett tossed the ball up . . . and Raider safety Ronnie Lott jumped in for the interception.

Instead of dealing a knockout punch, the Rams were left staggering and soon defeated, 20-17.

A month ago, the Rams would have slammed into the line a couple of times and gone for the field goal in a New York minute. During a 19-13 victory over New York Sept. 8, they were happy to settle for four Tony Zendejas' three-pointers.

But now that they're Air Everett again, they never even considered it.

"We wanted to stay aggressive," offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese said. "Obviously, we were wrong, but we wanted to stay aggressive."

Coach John Robinson was convinced that he made the right call, never mind the outcome.

"If we get three, it's fine, but we had moved down the field throwing the football, and we were going to stay aggressive throwing the football," he said. "We had been accurate and pretty efficient throwing, and we weren't going to run enough time off the clock to make a huge difference. So we were going to go in and score. That was our thought process.

"And if Jim has (Price) for the touchdown, it puts the game out of reach."

For a second or two, as the ball spiraled toward the west end zone, both Robinson and Everett thought they had a Raider-killing touchdown. Then Lott showed up.

"Ronnie was playing the other side of the field, and whatever he read, he came out, voided his zone and flew over." Everett said. "Jimbo was open and I just tried to lay it in to him, and then Ronnie came and picked it."

Everett, who didn't throw a touchdown pass until last week, had complained openly when the Rams called a draw on a third-and-goal situation from the nine-yard line against Green Bay three weeks ago. So it probably was no surprise that he agreed with Robinson's play selection in the fourth quarter Sunday.

"You can always second guess, but, boom , if we hit Jim Price in the end zone, it's 24-10. It's a jugular shot. I was having a very productive game and you've got to take the chance."

So the Rams rolled the dice and it looked like a seven, until a wily Lott turned it into snake eyes.

"Everett, you could see before he released the ball, 'Yeah, I got this one.' " Lott said. "He didn't account for me."

Lott may have had a bead on the ball all the way, but both of the Rams' intended receivers--Price and Delpino--were left dazed and confused about what transpired.

Delpino: "It's not clear in my head, but I think there was an opportunity to get it to me early. But Jim obviously saw something else. Quarterbacks look at different things and make a decision."

Said Price: "It's still kind of fuzzy in my mind, but I think I was open for a minute. I kept going and I think Jim anticipated I was going to stop where I was. It's a read on both our parts, and I guess I could've done a better job of hooking up in the zone because he threw it behind me."

Everett called the mix-up "one of those minor things."

"Still, I think it's a great call," Everett said. "You can be conservative, run (the clock) down and get your three points. But I don't think that's our football team."

"We just can't seem to get that balance," Delpino said. "First we live and die with the run, and now we live and die with the pass."

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