The Rams stopped the Chicago Bears, 20-6, but party hard as they did after finishing 5-11 Sunday, they dropped from second to fifth in the NFL draft, thereby hurting their chances of landing a quality quarterback next season.
Jerome Bettis ran a team-record 39 times and gained 146 yards before 39,147 at Anaheim Stadium, but he fell 58 yards shy of passing Dallas’ Emmitt Smith for the NFL rushing title.
Smith had 168 yards in an overtime victory against the New York Giants in Sunday’s early game to earn his third-consecutive rushing title with 1,486 yards.
Bettis broke Eric Dickerson’s 1986 Ram record of 38 rushes against the St. Louis Cardinals on the final play of the game after Coach Chuck Knox called for a timeout with five seconds remaining. Bettis lost one yard on the record-breaking carry, but finished the season with 1,429 yards--fourth best in Ram history behind Dickerson’s 2,105 in 1984, 1,821 yards in 1986 and 1,808 yards in 1983. It was also the seventh-best rushing season by an NFL rookie.
“There was some confusion down the sideline as to how many carries he needed to get the record that Dickerson had,” Knox said. “I didn’t have any problem with (calling a timeout). I felt he deserved the record the way he had run.
“I think this guy is as good as any running back that I have ever had. That’s 31 years of coaching, and that says a lot for a lot of backs. He brings the best he has to the ballpark every Sunday, and he’s in the locker room now thanking the defense for giving him the number of opportunities he had today. He didn’t get the rushing title, but he’s still thanking the defense . . . that’s the kind of guy he is.”
Bettis, the 10th pick in last year’s draft, has been selected to play in the Pro Bowl and probably will be voted NFL rookie of the year.
“Big players play big games and Emmitt showed that by having a big game and putting a lot of pressure on me,” said Bettis, who didn’t start four of the team’s first five games.
“They told me before the game I was going to probably have to have a 200-yard day to catch him, but I’m not disappointed by what happened because I think I’ve done a lot of good things for this team.”
In addition to running for more than 100 yards for the seventh time this season, Bettis ran for a four-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter and caught a season-high five passes for 71 yards.
Now if he could just throw the ball, too.
“I can throw a little bit; I can get it down the field,” Bettis said with a grin. “But I don’t think they are ready for that part yet.”
The victory might have cost the Rams an opportunity to select Fresno State’s Trent Dilfer or Tennessee’s Heath Shuler, who are expected to be the two top quarterbacks in this year’s draft.
As juniors, both players must declare themselves eligible for the draft before Jan. 11.
“Obviously, we need somebody who can throw the ball because you just can’t run it all the time,” Ram tackle Irv Eatman said. “But when you do have somebody like Jerome, it sure takes a lot of pressure off whoever you have at quarterback back there.”
Ram management has talked privately about moving on next season without quarterback Jim Everett, who did not play in the final four games. T.J. Rubley, who completed 18 of 28 passes for 213 yards in his seventh start, is being projected as a backup next season by club officials.
The Cincinnati Bengals have a young quarterback and will select first in the draft, and have already expressed an interest in San Diego State running back Marshall Faulk. Indianapolis will select second, Washington third, New England fourth and then the Rams.
“We weren’t playing for a draft choice today,” Ram safety Anthony Newman said. “We were playing to win. We are professional athletes, and we went out there to get the job done.”
The Rams held the NFL’s No. 28-ranked offense to 163 yards. The Bears were one for nine in third-down opportunities, had only 74 net passing yards against the NFL’s 27th-ranked passing defense and averaged 3.1 yards per pass play.
The Rams took a 6-0 lead on two 29-yard field goals by Tony Zendejas, and held on for a 6-3 halftime lead after Kevin Butler’s 27-yard field goal.
Both teams failed to score in the third quarter, but the Rams took a 13-3 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter with Rubley throwing an 11-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Troy Drayton.
“I noticed their defensive end (Trace Armstrong) kept coming up the field to get the quarterback, so I told the coaches and they called the play,” said Drayton, who finished with five catches for 49 yards. “I hit Armstrong, released and I was wide open for the touchdown.”
The Bears removed quarterback Jim Harbaugh from the game in the fourth quarter after he had completed nine consecutive passes. Harbaugh finished nine for 10 for 62 yards, and was replaced by Peter Tom Willis, who completed four of 11 for 33 yards.
“We were just trying to do something to find a spark,” Bear Coach Dave Wannstedt said.
Butler brought the Bears within a touchdown with 8:20 remaining on a 53-yard field goal, but the Rams drove 78 yards, capped by Bettis’ four-yard run off right tackle.
After scoring, Bettis ripped off his helmet, pounded his chest and began screaming at the fans in the end zone seats.
“I was gyrating,” Bettis said. “I was just so happy and proud of the guys and what they had done and I wanted everyone to know about it. I wanted to show my appreciation by going crazy.”