Rookie Jerome Bettis charged to the league lead in rushing Sunday, but the Rams’ inability to throw a scare into their opponent via the passing game cost them once again.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who are 2-0 against Los Angeles-based teams and 0-12 against the rest of the country, rocked the Rams, 15-3, before 36,612 in Riverfront Stadium.
“They beat us, they beat the Raiders, they played the 49ers tough and obviously they’re just hell on California,” Ram tackle Irv Eatman said. “They might be looking to put us on the schedule more frequently.
“But I’ll tell you, it just makes you sick to your stomach to lose like this. After beating New Orleans last week, we come here and stink the place up. It’s just sad. It’s been that kind of year, though, and that’s why we’re 4-10 right now.”
The Rams stunned the Saints a week ago in the Superdome, 23-20, and were counting on a strong finish against Cincinnati, Cleveland and Chicago--three teams with a combined record of 14-25 before Sunday.
Poor play at the quarterback position, as it has all season, quickly sabotaged those plans and left the Rams discouraged.
“You have to put everything in perspective,” Bettis said after running 24 times for 124 yards--the fourth consecutive game he has topped the 100-yard mark.
“If I’m getting it done, but I’m not helping the team to win, what good is it? What we’ve got to do is find a way to put some points on the board.”
Bettis earned a $100,000 bonus for climbing above the 1,200-yard mark, and his 1,227 rushing yards lead the league. Bettis’ performance, which affords him an opportunity to become the first rookie to win a rushing title since 1983, when the Rams’ Eric Dickerson did it, should also be a boon to the team’s passing attack.
But in the last four weeks, quarterback T.J. Rubley has completed 34 of 80 passes for 410 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions. Against the Bengals, Rubley completed 11 of 24 passes for 107 yards.
“They came at us from a defensive standpoint with the things we expected,” Ram Coach Chuck Knox said. “We moved the ball running, but we just could not make enough plays with our passing game. And that’s where it is.”
Knox said he never considered switching to quarterback Jim Everett Sunday, which offers a telling insight into just how far Everett has fallen from favor.
“We’ve done that (switched to Everett) and that didn’t work in Phoenix,” said Ted Tollner, who coaches the Ram quarterbacks. “That’s Chuck’s decision, but I felt the best thing to do was to continue with what we were doing.”
When the Rams fell behind, however, it negated Bettis’ effectiveness and put Rubley in command of the team’s destiny.
“At this point, when we fall behind we have a very difficult time trying to overcome it,” Tollner said. “It happens that way for a lot of reasons, and T.J. is one of them--no question about it. But to put the whole thing on him would be totally unfair.”
Rubley appeared to have the Rams in the end zone early in the second quarter after Doug Pelfrey had given the Bengals a 3-0 first-quarter lead with a 43-yard field goal. Rubley handed the ball to Bettis at the Bengals’ three-yard line and Bettis plowed over the goal line.
The referee, however, threw a late flag and charged Bettis with illegal motion, thereby negating the score.
“‘He said I was leaning (forward),” Bettis said. “I don’t believe that one. It was frustrating because we weren’t able to put that one in.”
On the next play, Rubley rolled right and fired a pass to a diving Pat Carter in the end zone. The tight end dropped what would have been a touchdown, just as wide receiver Ernie Jones had done a week ago.
After Rubley failed to complete a third-down pass to Henry Ellard, the Rams settled for a 26-yard field-goal attempt by Tony Zendejas. Rubley had trouble with the snap, however, and Zendejas’ kick was wide left.
“You get down there and you give them back two touchdowns,” Eatman said. “Frankly, that’s the game right there. You can’t be giving points back to anybody in this league. Man, it was just an ugly game.”
The Bengals disagreed. They came into the game with the NFL’s 28th-ranked offense and rolled up a season-high 393 yards, including a season-high 170 on the ground.
Quarterback David Klingler passed for a career-high 223 yards and running back Derrick Fenner ran 15 times for a season-high 89, including a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter--the first touchdown for the Bengals in 11 quarters.
“It’s been two years since I’ve done that, but I’m used to it,” said Klingler, who completed 16 of 30 passes. “I’ve done it a lot in the past and plan to do it a lot in the future. Today was a step in the right direction.”
The Rams’ only score came late in the second quarter after Rubley’s pass on third and five from the 14-yard line for Flipper Anderson sailed beyond the end zone. Zendejas kicked a 32-yard field goal to make the score 9-3, and the Rams came no closer to scoring the rest of the game.
“We obviously didn’t stop Bettis,” said Ron Lynn, Bengal defensive coordinator. “The plan, though, was to make them throw and when they had to, their passing game wasn’t real efficient or effective.”
Rubley, who fumbled twice and suffered a minor eye injury, reported progress, however, after falling to 1-4 as a starter.
“This may sound a little strange,” Rubley said, “but in our passing game we neared getting into a groove. We really did. We clicked on a couple of passes we had been struggling with earlier and there was some improvement in the passing game, but we just couldn’t put it together play after play.”
The Rams failed to score a touchdown for the fourth time this season, however, and because of such poor results, they have placed themselves in position to secure one of the top three picks in the 1994 draft should their free fall continue.
“This is real discouraging; this upsets me,” defensive tackle Sean Gilbert said. “We didn’t play to win. Obviously we didn’t prepare enough to win.
“I’m the type of guy who likes to finish strong, and I would hope that every man in here who likes his job would think the same way.”