Ram cornerback Robert Bailey picked up a chair and had to be restrained from attacking a teammate after Thursday night’s 30-24 defeat by the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
“Don’t tell me I cost us the game,” shouted Bailey before being pushed off to another room by teammates.
Quarterback Jim Everett, who threw two second-half interceptions and who failed to drive his team to victory down the stretch, turned his back on inquiring reporters and let his performance speak for itself.
Safety Anthony Newman, the team’s defensive captain and ordinarily one of its most eloquent spokesmen, said, “I really have no comment on this game; I’m frustrated, that’s all I can say.”
In addition to losing their poise, the Rams (2-4) wasted a 17-3 second-quarter lead, and the Falcons (1-5) registered their first victory since Dec. 13, 1992, before 45,231 fans.
“People can laugh and say it was a meaningless game,” said an emotional Ted Tollner, Ram quarterback coach. “But that was not a meaningless game. That was an extremely important football game to us; extremely important.”
The Rams worked hard, however, to give the game away, and as a result they made Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville’s 52nd birthday a most joyous one.
“It was just great to see so many people spill their guts,” Glanville said. “If all your people do that, you have a chance to win.”
Spurred on by the surprise return of cornerback Deion Sanders, who had been playing for the Braves a night earlier, the Falcons did their best to appease a town still in mourning over their baseball team’s exit from the playoffs.
Billy Joe Tolliver threw three touchdown passes for the first time in his career, two to wide receiver Andre Rison.
Rison beat Bailey’s coverage for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter and then made an acrobatic catch at Bailey’s expense for a 42-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to put Atlanta ahead, 27-24.
“Emotions run high after a tough loss,” said Joe Vitt, Ram assistant head coach. “Robert Bailey is a good football player who works hard every single day. This was a tough, tough loss for us.”
Vitt, cornerback Todd Lyght and Newman attempted to calm Bailey in an adjoining room to the Ram locker room, but Bailey could be heard screaming through much of Coach Chuck Knox’s postgame news conference.
Bailey later declined to talk, but Vitt said, “Robert’s got tremendous pride, and this hurt him.”
The special teams, which have been anything but special this season, also contributed to the Rams’ demise. The Falcons blocked a punt, recovered a fumbled kickoff and gained on the average 10 yards more than the Rams per kickoff return.
“I mean, damn, you’re winning, you’re beating them and you just got to get to a point where you can overcome adversity,” said Sean Gilbert, Ram defensive tackle, who missed the second half because of a hamstring injury. “If you’re going to be a champion you just can’t fold when things go bad.”
The Rams still had a 17-10 lead moving into the third quarter, but then Everett collapsed.
In the first half Everett threw a 56-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Flipper Anderson, and after Tony Zendejas kicked a 52-yard field goal, he put Ram running back Jerome Bettis in position to score from two yards out.
But on the Rams’ initial possession in the second half, cornerback Darnell Walker claimed the first interception of his career as Everett tried to throw on the run to tight end Travis McNeal.
The Falcons took possession at the Rams’ 23-yard line and went on to make it a 17-17 game with Tolliver throwing a three-yard pass to wide receiver David Mims.
The Rams went ahead, 24-17, on Cleveland Gary’s controversial 60-yard touchdown reception with 27 seconds to play in the third quarter. Gary took a short pass from Everett, dived over Sanders’ tackling attempt, fell to the ground and then regained his feet and continued on to the end zone.
The officials ruled that no one had touched Gary, thereby making good the alert running back’s longest career touchdown reception.
The Falcons responded with a 32-yard field goal by Norm Johnson, and then Everett gave Atlanta its chance to claim victory. On second and 16 from the Rams’ 49-yard line with 5:50 to play, Walker recorded his second interception by stepping in front of Everett’s pass intended for Henry Ellard.
The Falcons took possession at their 41-yard line, and four plays later Tolliver found Rison to give Atlanta a 27-24 lead.
Wide receiver Todd Kinchen fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Falcons settled for Johnson’s 34-yard field goal and a 30-24 advantage with 3:29 to play.
A touchdown and extra point win the game for the Rams, but after moving to the Falcons’ 27-yard line, Everett threw four consecutive incomplete passes.
“We got a good team, it’s not winning and people in this locker room are frustrated,” Ram linebacker Chris Martin said. “Everybody is looking around and trying to let off steam on somebody else, but what you have to do is look at yourself first.
“Sure it’s frustrating, and it finally came out, but we can learn from this. It’s not too late if we can pull ourselves together.”