The lopsided final score might have been predictable, but blink again, that was Jim Everett and all his Ram pals who were dancing from the field Sunday in Anaheim Stadium with a 27-0 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a startling reversal from last week’s 36-6 dismal showing against the Packers, the Rams could do no wrong in their home-opener before a crowd of 50,588.
“Maybe we underestimated the Rams, thinking they were a sub-par team,” said Steeler safety Carnell Lake, the former UCLA star.
Get in line.
“Everybody outside this room, who saw the score last week, thought this was just another terrible team,” said Ram safety Anthony Newman. “But we knew differently, and let me tell you: That was total domination out there.”
The Rams, while en route to racking up their largest margin of victory since defeating the Falcons, 33-0, on Oct. 9, 1988, generated a long list of noteworthy performances:
--Tony Zendejas kicked his way into the record books with the longest field goal in Ram history, a 54-yard shot off the right upright in the third quarter.
--Defensive tackle Sean Gilbert sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Neil O’Donnell four times, and led the Rams with nine tackles.
--Quarterback Jim Everett exorcised the demons that had hexed his play, and completed 21 of 34 passes for 221 yards, including his first touchdown pass in exhibition or regular-season play this year, a 22-yarder to rookie tight end Troy Drayton.
--Wide receiver Henry Ellard, who had all but disappeared in the Ram attack, caught nine passes for 127 yards, the 25th time in his career that he has topped the century mark.
--Rookie running back Jerome Bettis, who replaced an injured Cleveland Gary (thigh bruise), ran 29 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
“I think our football team was embarrassed with our effort last week and obviously with the outcome,” said tackle Jackie Slater. “This week there was a focus about what we did, and what we had to do to get better.”
The Steelers, however, also contributed to the Rams’ resurrection. After marching 65 yards in 13 plays to the Rams’ 17-yard line in the first quarter, O’Donnell failed to connect on a handoff to Steeler running back Leroy Thompson.
Ram defensive tackle Marc Boutte recovered the fumble at the Rams’ 19-yard line, and although the Steelers didn’t know it at the time, the rout was on.
Everett moved the Rams from their 19-yard line to the Steelers’ 22 with a mixture of runs and passes, including six consecutive completions. On first and 10 from the 22-yard line, offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese called for a tight end screen pass, the same play he had employed successfully while working in San Diego with tight end Kellen Winslow.
Everett rolled right, stopped and threw back left to a wide open Drayton, who easily made his way into the end zone. Drayton’s first NFL touchdown gave the Rams a 7-0 lead, and touched off an unusual display of emotion from Everett, who has been roundly criticized for his ineffective play.
Everett raised both hands above his head before head-butting fellow quarterback Mike Pagel and slapping both hands alongside Pagel’s helmet. Then, as he made his way to the sideline, Everett raised an arm and pointed toward the press box.
“I was pointing to Ernie Zampese because I thought he had called a great series,” Everett said. “At times, Ernie Zampese doesn’t get a lot of credit, and I thought that was a good example of the kinds of things he can do.”
Everett, who received a brilliant blocking performance from Slater, who was assigned to stop former Ram linebacker Kevin Greene, moved the Rams smartly down the field again on their next possession to establish a 14-0 first-half advantage.
Everett completed passes of seven, 13, 33 and seven yards to Ellard before handing the ball to Gary for a six-yard touchdown rush up the middle.
Everett and Ellard, who have teamed up for 35 touchdowns during their time together, took advantage of soft coverage by Steelers’ cornerback D.J. Johnson throughout the game.
“Henry Ellard did a tremendous job today,” Everett said. “He went after the ball, he was aggressive and that stuff is contagious.”
The Steelers rallied from a 17-0 deficit against the 49ers last week to close within 17-13 before losing, 24-13. However, they failed to mount a charge against a hyperactive Ram defense.
Defensive end Robert Young notched his fourth sack of the year and linebacker Tom Homco, who started in place of Shane Conlan, out with a groin injury, recorded his first NFL interception to keep the Steelers scoreless in the first half.
In the second half, the Rams unleashed Gilbert.
And while Gilbert played havoc with the Steelers’ offensive attack, it was up to Zendejas to extend the Rams’ lead in the second half. On fourth and 21 from the Steelers’ 36-yard line, Zendejas attempted a 54-yard field goal.
The ball hit the right upright and successfully dropped over the crossbar. Mike Lansford previously held the record for longest field goal in Ram history with two 52-yarders in 1985.
Zendejas, who holds the NFL record for best field-goal percentage from 50 yards or beyond, later connected from 50 yards to give the Rams a 20-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Zendejas has made 13 of 17 field goals (.765) in his career from 50 yards or beyond.