Column: Rams’ fake on punt return is all too real for Seahawks

St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey played a big role in the team's upset win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
(Evan Habeeb / Getty Images)

Usually the 12th Man is a difference maker for Seattle.

Sunday, the man wearing 12 played a role in the Seahawks’ demise.

Stedman Bailey, a second-year receiver for the St. Louis Rams, pulled off the best trick play of the NFL season, fooling everyone — including the TV camera operator — on a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown.

That was the signature play of a stunning 28-26 upset of the defending Super Bowl champions at the Edward Jones Dome, a game that had football fans all over the country wearing out the rewind button on their DVRs.


On a Sunday when Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and Dallas running back DeMarco Murray broke NFL records, the Seahawks tried to make sense of their second consecutive defeat.

Murray made history by rushing for 128 yards in a victory over the New York Giants. He broke Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s record with a seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing game to start the season.

That set the stage for the marquee milestone of the season, Manning breaking Brett Favre’s mark for career passing touchdowns. In the Sunday night game against San Francisco, Manning set the record with his 509th touchdown pass — and his third of the game — an eight-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas in the second quarter. The game was stopped for a celebration, and Manning’s teammates playfully engaged in a game of keep-away as their star quarterback tried to collect the record-setting football.

Earlier in the day, the Rams played a far more frustrating game of hide-the-ball with the Seahawks.

Shrewd special-teams play by St. Louis made the difference. Here’s how the Stedman hoax unfolded: Tavon Austin lined up to receive the punt and pretended to field it near one sideline. While everyone was watching Austin — and most of the St. Louis blockers were moving in his direction — Bailey, alone on the other side of the field, was actually fielding the punt, retreating to make a Willie Mays-style, over-the-shoulder catch.

Seattle’s coverage team, following the blockers’ lead, was zeroed in on Austin, who dropped to his backside as if the ball might have come loose or bounced past him. Meanwhile, Bailey took off up the other sideline, football in hand.

“The downside was, he doesn’t catch it, the ball goes in the end zone, it’s a touchback or it’s downed,” Rams Coach Jeff Fisher said. “The upside was, we felt like if he was able to field it, then we had a chance to probably put points on the board.”

While the Seahawks converged on Austin, Bailey turned upfield and raced untouched for a touchdown, the TV cameras snapping to attention once they located him. The trickery was torn from the pages of the Chicago playbook, as the Bears ran an identical play in 2011 with Johnny Knox (and Devin Hester as decoy), but that touchdown was called back on a holding penalty.

The Rams had three huge plays by their special teams, the first a 75-yard kickoff return by Benny Cunningham that set up an early touchdown. Then, there was the back-breaker, a fake punt by St. Louis on fourth and three from their 18 with 2 minutes 55 seconds to play. They were protecting a two-point lead and didn’t want to risk putting the ball back in the hands of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who looked primed to make a comeback.

Punter Johnny Hekker, a former high school quarterback, took the snap and fired a short pass to a wide-open Cunningham, who caught the Seahawks flat-footed and gained 18 yards.

“The last play, if they didn’t catch the ball we would have kicked a field goal and gone home,” Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said. “Very gutsy play by Jeff, the kind of stuff he has done in the past and the way we anticipate him being and we prepared for it.”

The Rams got one more first down — getting the benefit of a controversial call that appeared to be a fumble recovery by the Seahawks — and ran out the clock on their second victory of the season.

For the Rams, it was the first time they beat a defending Super Bowl champion since knocking off the New York Giants on Sept. 8, 1991 — the first year of life for the St. Louis player who happens to wear No. 12.

Fantastic finishes

Week 7 might have been the NFL’s best in terms of down-to-the-wire games, with four more stirring conclusions in addition to the Seattle-St. Louis classic:

• Kansas City rookie Cairo Santos kicked a 48-yard field goal with 21 seconds left to lift the Chiefs to a 23-20 victory at San Diego, snapping the Chargers’ five-game winning streak.

• Buffalo rookie Sammy Watkins made a two-yard touchdown catch with :01 on the clock as the Bills beat Minnesota, 17-16. Quarterback Kyle Orton converted on fourth and 20 and third and 12 to keep the winning drive alive.

• Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes in the final 3:38 as the Detroit Lions came back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the visiting New Orleans Saints, 24-23.

• After benching quarterback Kirk Cousins at halftime, the Washington Redskins put the ball in the hands of Colt McCoy and the little-used reserve came through. The Redskins halted a four-game losing streak and clinched a 19-17 victory over Tennessee with a 22-yard field goal by Kai Forbath as time expired.

Horse race

The Indianapolis Colts are rolling on both sides of the ball.

Andrew Luck has passed for at least 300 yards in five consecutive games, tying Manning (2009) for longest such streak in franchise history.

Then again, we expected the Indianapolis offense to be good. But what about that defense? Not only did the Colts slam the door on Cincinnati in a 27-0 shutout Sunday, but they also assembled a string of 15 consecutive third-down stops from the second quarter of their last game (against Houston) to the fourth quarter against the Bengals.

Marveled Luck: “I may as well be a fan when our defense is out there.”

Wait . . . what?

The Arizona Cardinals, who won at Oakland, are 5-1. That hasn’t happened since 1976.

That’s the year Peyton Manning was born.

Worthless without W

The even-keeled Wilson had a tremendous game for Seattle, throwing for 313 yards and two touchdowns and running for 106 yards and a touchdown. He made history, becoming the first player to throw for 300 yards and run for 100 in the same game.

Predictably, he didn’t thump his chest.

“It doesn’t mean anything unless you win,” he said. “So I’m not about stats, I’m far away from stats. The only thing I really care about is winning. I’ve got to figure out a way to help our team win, whatever it takes. I’ve got to find ways to play better.”

The Real McCoy

The Redskins trailed the Titans at halftime, 10-6, and were booed by a home crowd that watched Cousins commit his 10th and 11th turnovers of the season.

Enter McCoy, who hadn’t played a significant role in a win since Nov. 20, 2011, when he helped Cleveland beat Jacksonville.

“I don’t want to get emotional,” McCoy told reporters after Sunday’s victory. “But I’m just thankful that I’ve hung in there and kept fighting.”

McCoy started in style, completing a curl to Pierre Garçon on his first pass. The receiver turned and raced up the sideline for a 70-yard touchdown. In the end, McCoy completed 11 of 12 passes for 128 yards.

Redskins Coach Jay Gruden said the way McCoy finished was “a good sign” for his chances to start Washington’s next game, at Dallas, but that the first option is the on-the-mend Robert Griffin III.

“You’d like to have your decision made as soon as possible because you have to get them ready,” Gruden said. “You throw Robert in the mix, and Robert’s got a chance to practice on Wednesday, so we’ll have to see where he is. I think it starts with him and where he is health-wise, then from there, I’ll try to make a decision after watching the tape about what I’m going to do moving forward to Dallas.”

Second city

Victories at Soldier Field this year:

Chicago Blackhawks, 1.

Chicago Bears, 0.