Quarterback Jim Everett got the hook, running back Jerome Bettis earned a promotion and so it goes for the up-and-down Rams, who continue to befuddle on a weekly basis.
Bettis ran the Rams into position to upset the New Orleans Saints on Sunday in Anaheim Stadium with a 102-yard rushing performance, but Everett threw the opportunity away with unproductive play and two fourth-quarter turnovers.
New Orleans (5-0) scored 24 consecutive points after the Rams trailed by only a touchdown with 5:39 to play in the third quarter and won, 37-6, before 50,709. It was the Saints’ seventh consecutive victory over the Rams (2-3) and seventh victory in a row in Anaheim Stadium.
The 31-point deficit was the largest margin of defeat for the Rams at home since losing, 33-0, to San Francisco on Oct. 28, 1984.
“They’re killing us,” said Anthony Newman, Ram safety. “They have our number. It’s nothing fancy. They just play good, disciplined football and wait for us to make mistakes.”
The obliging Rams fell victim to a fake punt, a 74-yard punt return by cornerback Tyrone Hughes for a touchdown and reserve fullback Derrick Ned’s 35-yard run for a touchdown with 1:10 to play.
“In the fourth quarter we just stunk,” said Irv Eatman, Ram tackle. “I don’t know what happened, but we just fell apart.”
Mike Pagel replaced Everett with 9:26 to play, but like his predecessor, Pagel failed to mount a charge and completed three of nine passes for 23 yards, with an interception.
Everett, who spearheaded the Rams’ 28-13 upset of Houston a week ago, began bouncing passes to his receivers in the first quarter. Eight times he tried to hit Henry Ellard, and eight times he failed before finally making connections on his ninth try on the final play of the third quarter.
On one occasion Everett came closer to hitting the tuba player in the Ram band than Ellard.
Still, with more than 14 minutes left, the Rams were trailing only 16-6 and had the ball at the Saints’ 34-yard line, first down, five yards to go.
Everett went back to pass and had time to look for friends and family in the stands, as well as all eligible receivers downfield. He waited long enough for linebacker Rickey Jackson to circle the blockers and knock the ball from his hands.
“I looked at four different guys and I still saw absolutely nothing,” Everett said. “It surprised me. I was trying to make something happen and give everyone a chance (to get open), and Rickey came back and swatted the ball. A good play by a good player.”
Saint defensive end Wayne Martin recovered at the New Orleans 45, and five plays later Wade Wilson threw a 30-yard pass that bounced off the hands of the Rams’ Newman and into the hands of New Orleans’ Patrick Newman for a touchdown and a 23-6 lead.
On the preceding play, Wilson threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Quinn Early, but a holding call on tackle Richard Cooper negated the score.
“The killer was the first and five, and all we’ve got to do is get any kind of score,” said Ted Tollner, Ram quarterback coach. “There is no question that’s the turning point, and it just shouldn’t happen. It should not happen.”
On the next series, Everett’s pass on second and one from the Ram 29-yard line was intercepted by cornerback Reginald Jones. That was it for Everett.
“I just felt at that point that we could bring in Mike Pagel and maybe he could get something going offensively,” Coach Chuck Knox said. “We were struggling with our passing game, and that’s the reason (for bringing in Pagel).”
While the few remaining fans in the stands were chanting for quarterback T.J. Rubley at game’s end, Tollner said his recommendation for the Rams, who draw a bye next week, is to stay with Everett.
“I think our best chance to win is with Jim Everett,” Tollner said. “I’m as disheartened as Jim is about what happened today because we had a chance to make that a football game and we didn’t do it.”
Everett missed on nine of his first 11 passes, while Wilson hit five of his first six, including a 15-yard touchdown pass to running back Derek Brown to open the scoring in the first quarter.
The Saints grabbed a 10-0 lead on Andersen’s 48-yard field goal, but Tony Zendejas answered from 53 yards with three seconds to play in the first quarter. Zendejas has now hit his last nine field-goal attempts from 50 yards or beyond.
Cleveland Gary started the game at running back and played later in passing situations, but the Rams clearly turned to Bettis as their No. 1 battering Ram.
The Rams ran Bettis seven times on their first possession in the second half and he gained 22 yards to help push the ball to the Saints’ 20-yard line.
Instead of continuing to run, however, the Rams asked Everett to pass and he fired three consecutive incomplete passes in the general direction of Ellard.
The Rams settled for a 37-yard Zendejas field goal, and trailed, 13-6.
The Rams stopped the Saints at the New Orleans’ 49-yard line on the ensuing possession, but instead of kicking, punter Tommy Barnhardt took off running on fourth-and-two and gained 18 yards to set up a 43-yard Andersen field goal.
“That was a called fake punt,” Saint Coach Jim Mora said. “We felt like we could take advantage of something they did. They had to lined up in a certain front. It wasn’t on regardless, but when they lined up the way we wanted them to, we went ahead and it worked.”
The faked punt, coupled with a pair of Ram turnovers in the fourth quarter, then provided the impetus for the Saints’ rout.