The St. Louis Rams played as if they wanted to extend their season. The Carolina Panthers acted as if they couldn’t wait for theirs to end.
The Rams ended their first year under Coach Dick Vermeil with a 30-18 victory over the error-prone Panthers on Saturday, giving St. Louis three victories in its last four games.
After the game, 5-foot-9 Panther linebacker Sam Mills announced his retirement after 12 years in the NFL and five Pro Bowls.
“I couldn’t ask for much more from this game,” Mills said, his voice cracking briefly as he made the announcement.
Mills, 39 in June, walks away from the game with more than 1,300 tackles, including 116 this year. He led his USFL and NFL teams in tackles 11 times in 15 professional seasons, and last year became the oldest defender in NFL history to be named a starter in the Pro Bowl.
Despite Mills’ retirement, this day belonged to the Rams, who finished 5-11 after losing 10 of their first 12 games.
“I’m really proud of them,” Vermeil said. “I think it’s a mark of at least what they are, not how good they are, but what they are as people and what character they have.”
Jerald Moore rushed for 112 yards and Tony Banks threw for 163 yards and a touchdown for the Rams, who even with their strong finish still wound up in last place in the NFC West.
Jeff Wilkins added three field goals to help St. Louis put together its first three-game winning streak on the road since 1990.
“We could still play when the season’s basically over and the other teams have given up,” Moore said. “We’re still going strong. We played hard every game this season. I think it really counts at the end, how you close it out.”
Carolina (7-9) completed a transition from division champion one year to expansion team look-alike the next. The Panthers were penalized a franchise-record 12 times and Kerry Collins had three passes picked off to push his NFL-leading interception total to 21.
“We just didn’t look good at all,” tackle Greg Skrepenak said. “It was almost as if we were going through the motions.”
Collins finished with 132 yards on 11-for-25 passing as Carolina lost for the third time in four games. Keith Lyle had two of the interceptions to help drop the Panthers to 2-6 this season at Ericsson Stadium, where they were 9-0 last year.
Many in the announced crowd of 58,101 spent the game alternately showering Collins with boos after his poor throws and directing mock cheers at him on the rare occasions when he completed crucial passes.