Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, for one day the reincarnation of Otto Graham, broke a 19-year-old NFL passing mark to propel the Cleveland Browns to a 42-14 victory over the Rams.
Sunday’s game drew 34,155 to Anaheim Stadium, the smallest crowd to witness a non-strike Ram home game since Sept. 21, 1963, when 29,295 reported to the Coliseum to watch the Redskins triumph, 37-14.
Testaverde, who threw for more interceptions than touchdowns in each of the last six years, completed 21 of 23 passes for 216 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes to wide receiver Keenan McCardell.
Testaverde’s completion percentage, 91.3, bested Ken Anderson’s 20-for-22 performance (90.91%) for Cincinnati against Pittsburgh on Nov. 10, 1974.
“Pathetic,” Ram linebacker Shane Conlan said. “It’s upsetting.”
Testaverde, who has a lifetime completion percentage of 52.2, left the game in the fourth quarter with the Browns (7-8) leading, 35-7. He completed his final 13 passes against the Ram defense, which was ranked No. 28 against the pass.
“It was so simple,” Ram safety Anthony Newman said. “It was just throw and catch.”
The Rams (4-11) opened the game with a Jerome Bettis one-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead, and then Cleveland posted 42 points before Flipper Anderson caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from T.J. Rubley with 1:37 to play in the game.
The Browns’ 42 points were the most recorded against the Rams since Phoenix’s 45-27 victory here Oct. 2, 1988.
Bettis, who had been the NFL’s leading rusher, now trails Dallas’ Emmitt Smith by 35 yards after gaining 56 yards in 16 rushes for a total of 1,283 yards. Bettis, who lost 31 yards because of a pair of holding calls, had a streak of four 100-yard consecutive games snapped.
“They came into the game knowing they weren’t going to be beaten by the run,” said Bettis, who had only six carries in the second half. “We also didn’t get our hands on the ball much, and that hurt.”
The Rams had the ball three times in the first half. Bettis had averaged 6.8 yards per carry in the past four games, but the Browns limited him to 2.7 yards per rush in the first half.
“We just aren’t playing with any consistency,” Ram tackle Irv Eatman said. “We would like to get the rushing title for Bettis, but whether he wins it or not, we’re still a 4-11 team. We made a good football team look like world-beaters today.
“There is no reason why we should go out and lose to Cincinnati and to Cleveland after beating New Orleans at their place.”
In hindsight, the victory over the Saints ultimately might cost the Rams the first pick in the 1994 draft and an opportunity to improve in a hurry. The Rams are tied with Washington, Indianapolis and New England--one game in back of Cincinnati (3-12) and would select fourth, based on strength of schedule, if the season ended at this time.
The Rams conclude play at home next week against Chicago, and it might be quarterback T.J. Rubley’s final opportunity to impress and keep the team from drafting a quarterback with its top draft pick.
Rubley completed 24 of 32 passes for 294 yards, his finest performance to date as a starter, but two of his passes were intercepted.
“We’re just going to have to try and stay the course and weather the storm,” Rubley said.
Rubley marched the Rams 81 yards in 11 plays to open the game and handed the ball to Bettis for the final yard and a 7-0 lead. The Browns replied with a one-yard touchdown run with Tommy Vardell capping a 14-play, 79-yard drive.
After the Rams punted, Testaverde took his time and carved up the Ram secondary. He completed four of five passes for 50 yards, marched the Browns 80 yards in 10 plays and found a wide-open McCardell in the rear of the end zone with an eight-yard strike.
The Rams tried to rally before the half and moved to the Browns’ 13 with 14 seconds to play. Rubley failed to make connections with tight end Pat Carter in the end zone on second down and, with seven seconds remaining, Rams Coach Knox had kicker Tony Zendejas attempt a 30-yard field goal.
Zendejas, however, slipped as he planted his left foot for the kick and his attempt went low and wide left.
“At halftime, we thought we still had a good chance to win,” Ram linebacker Roman Phifer said, “but we came out with not a whole lot of intensity. We just weren’t up . . . I don’t know why.”
The Browns went up, 21-7, on their first possession in the third quarter when McCardell, playing for an injured Michael Jackson, beat Steve Israel’s man-to-man coverage for a 28-yard touchdown.
“He baited me into thinking it was a run,” Israel said. “It was an excellent pattern.”
The Rams advanced to the Browns’ 39-yard line moments later, but on first and 10, Rubley overthrew tight end Troy Drayton and Eric Turner, former UCLA defensive back, was there for the interception.
The game turned ugly in the fourth quarter after wide receiver Mark Carrier, subbing for a injured Eric Metcalf, returned a Sean Landeta punt 56 yards for a touchdown.
A Randy Hilliard interception on a Rubley pass intended for Henry Ellard quickly gave the Browns another scoring opportunity at the Rams’ 11-yard line. And two plays later, Vardell plowed in from the one for a 35-7 advantage.
On the ensuing kickoff, Ram rookie Deral Boykin dropped the ball and then failed to fall on it before Cleveland defensive back Selwyn Jones recovered at the Ram 8. Running back Kevin Mack ran four consecutive times, the last covering one yard for the touchdown.
“We let the game get away from us,” Knox said. “We had two critical turnovers--two interceptions--and one fumble on a kickoff return. That’s three turnovers all together, and we got none from them.
“We’re not a good enough football team to be able to overcome that.”
Jerome Bettis, the Rams’ rookie tailback, lost his NFL rushing lead Sunday, gaining only 56 yards in 16 carries, his worst performance in six weeks. The league’s top rushers and how they fared Sunday:
Player (Team) Yards Yards Sunday Total Emmitt Smith (Dallas) 1,165 153 1,318 Jerome Bettis (Rams) 1,227 56 1,283 Thurman Thomas (Buffalo) 1,141 61 1,202 Barry Sanders* (Detroit) 1,115 0 1,115
*--injured Source: NFL statistics