The Rams Play To a Beautiful Tie

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Jeff Fisher, celebrating his tie. And the football game, too. 
You know, I have never been on the Jeff Fisher bandwagon. From the beginning, I thought it was an uninspired hire by the Rams, bringing in an overrated coach who probably won't let the team be quite as mind-meltingly awful as they've been the past couple seasons but isn't going to win the big one anytime soon. In my defense, that may still be true; the Rams haven't really won anything yet under Fisher. But, I have to admit I'm a little impressed with the way he has this team playing, in spite of myself. 

Yesterday afternoon, the Rams traveled to San Francisco to take on the 49ers. The 49ers have received plenty of attention this season as one of the best teams in the NFC, and rightfully so. They have a remarkable defense, a top-flight running game, and Alex Smith has managed to turn into a fairly decent quarterback. It should have been a massacre, watching the just-beginning-to-show-signs-of-life Rams take on the gorillas of the NFC West. 

It took a little extra time, but at the end of the day the Rams walked out of San Fran with a tie. And it felt really, really good. 

Speaking as American sports fans, we all hate ties. Well, most of us do, anyway. I feel pretty comfortable saying that. I think it's a big part of why soccer never really took off here the way it did in, say, Europe. 

I mean, just think of it: you have a whole continent full of people who love cheese and old-school Adidas shoes who also just happen to have a very long history of wars that haven't really been a win for anybody. Even the wins are mostly fought on your own land, and end up with decades of miserable rebuilding, accompanied by starvation and things like National Socialism cropping up.  It's not surprising a people with that background would be okay with everyone deciding at the end of the day to just go home, call it a draw, and nobody has to die. Not a terrible outcome, all things considered. 

Here in America, though, we do things differently. We don't fight wars on our own land (well, except for against ourselves); we go to other people's countries and we kick their asses! Would that sort of background make you okay with a tie?! Of course not. Americans like to know who won and who lost. Hell, hockey used to have ties, until we moved all the Canadian teams to America and decided to base the outcome on something called a shootout. Is there anything more American? It's like the fucking Old West, except instead of Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef you have David Backes and Pekka Rinne. So, almost exactly the same. 

But you know what? I'm completely okay with the tie the Rams pulled yesterday. It was the first in the NFL since 2008, and it honestly seemed the only appropriate end to that particular game. The already-established beasts of the division against the up-and-coming Rams, and neither team blinked. In a playoff game, of course, it would have kept going until someone did finally make that tiny mistake that decided the outcome, but for a regular season contest, it seemed oddly fitting. 

In playing the 49ers to a draw, the Rams served notice this isn't quite the same old sorry-ass team we've all gotten used to, and did some rather remarkable things on the field in the process. The defense played well, pressuring the San Francisco quarterbacks all afternoon (though they did struggle to contain Colin Kaepernick when he went into scrambling mode more often than you would like to see), and didn't let Frank Gore simply own the field the way he had the last few times the Rams met the 49ers. 

The most notable performances of the day, though, took place on the offensive side of the ball for the Rams, where they managed to control the pace of the game and move the ball against one of the NFL's top-rated defenses. 

Steven Jackson had his biggest game of the season, and in doing so looked like there might be some real life left in SJ39's legs after all. Brian Quick had a long touchdown catch, showing off some of the big-play ability we all thought we were getting when the Rams drafted him. Daryl Richardson did some more of that thing he's done all year where he looks like he just might be the biggest steal the team has come up with in, well, longer than I can remember. 

The biggest performance of the game, though, came from one Sam Bradford. I admit I've been doubtful at times that Bradford is really the guy we thought he was going to be following his rookie season. And yesterday's performance wasn't anything historic, numerically speaking. He went 26-39, threw 2 touchdowns, didn't throw an inteception, and ended with a quarterback rating of 82.0. Not the sort of day legends are made of, necessarily. 

But what was legendary was the drive Bradford engineered in the third quarter yesterday. Beginning with 8:43 left in the third, the Rams held the ball continuously until there were just 18 seconds left in the quarter. When you can run over half a quarter off the clock on just one drive, that's the absolute definition of 'ball-control offense'. It kept the 49er offense off the field and went a long way toward allowing the Rams to hold on against a more talented team. 

Of course, you can't say that drive was a complete success. After all, it did end with a field goal,, and while that 8:25 time of possession was mighty impressive, the 16 plays for 60 yards figure is a bit less so. There were penalties all over the place by both teams (a recurring theme for most of the game, actually), which further served to slow things to a crawl. It was sloppy. It was messy. It was...ugly. Just an ugly, sloppy, messy, ultimately unsatisfying drive. (Field goals are the coitus interruptus of football.) 

And yet, Sam Bradford and the Rams were just barely short of masterful on that drive. They faced down every single blitz package the 49ers could cook up and throw at them, and they kept moving the ball. They moved the ball, and converted first downs when penalties threatened to derail the drive. Slingin' Sam was 8 of 9 on the drive, and never has a guttier 8 of 9 been posted. 

In the end, the whole game was a little frustrating, for both sides. Each team had more than its fair share of opportunities to get the win, rather than letting the afternoon end in such half-assed fashion. Neither squad looked anything resembling disciplined. Helmets were removed and thrown, illegal formations were employed. It was just a really, well, weird game. 

And you know what? It was the best tie ever. The Rams needed an eight and a half minute drive just to manage a tie, but that's exactly what they got. They played an ugly game against one of the top teams in the sport, and it ended in a stalemate. 

Coitus interruptus, absolutely. But personally, I was pretty satisfied all the same. 
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