Surprising Rams tied for NFC West lead

By R.b. Fallstrom

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 29 2010 4:35 p.m. MST

ST. LOUIS — Steve Spagnuolo has checked off the last two items on his wish list. Finally, a victory on the road. Finally, a victory in November.

The St. Louis Rams and their second-year coach are one of the NFL's surprise success stories, tied for the lead in the weak NFC West at 5-6 coming off a dismal one-win season.

They won two straight for the first time under Spagnuolo earlier in the season, they've beaten their first two AFC teams, knocked off a team that made the playoffs last year and now they've ended a seven-game road losing streak. Beating Denver on Sunday was only their second road win in 18 games dating to October 2008.

"Yeah, that's huge," rookie quarterback Sam Bradford said. "For us to clear that hump and get the victory was a great feeling."

This is the second time they've been tied for the division lead. And apparently, they can win shootouts, too.

The Rams scored on five consecutive possessions in the first half of Sunday's 36-33 nail-biter at Denver, building a 20-point cushion and then hanging on. The first 10 games, the Rams topped 20 points only once.

The point total is the franchise's best since a 37-29 victory at New Orleans on Nov. 11, 2007.

The Rams have two more road games, at Arizona and New Orleans, before returning home against Kansas City on Dec. 19. They finish with two division opponents, facing San Francisco at home and playing at Seattle.

So, that wish list?

"We can invent more," Spagnuolo said. "We've got December. We've got everything else."

Bradford had his first 300-yard passing game, throwing for three touchdowns and directing an offense that produced a season bests for points and yards against a defense determined to stop running back Steven Jackson. The tight ends had big days, with Billy Bajema catching the first two touchdowns of his six-year career and rookie Michael Hoomanawanui scoring for the second straight week before leaving with a high ankle sprain that could sideline him the rest of the season.

Another rookie, 6-5 Danario Alexander, gave the team a deep threat again after missing a month following knee surgery. Alexander had four catches for 95 yards, one of them a 45-yarder to the 1 to set up Bajema's second touchdown.

"It feels great to be able to go out there," Alexander said. "Sam put the ball in the right place all the time."

They nearly got burned for sitting on a 33-13 fourth-quarter lead. St. Louis was three and out its last two series, trying to work the clock, and needed a defensive stop at the end.

The Broncos outgained the Rams 449-431 and put up 20 points in the fourth quarter. It's by far been their worst quarter, with opponents outscoring them 84-38.

The defense allowed an average of 16 points the first nine games, but opponents have totaled 67 points the last two.

"Whenever they're moving the ball up and down the field on you like that, it's not a good atmosphere on the sidelines," defensive end Chris Long said. "We had to take out the anger that we were getting from them driving up and down the field and unleash it on that last series."

This isn't the first time Spagnuolo has been criticized for sitting on a lead. A 17-point lead was whittled down to three in a victory over the Chargers and the Buccaneers rallied for a 1-point win in October.

Spagnuolo said all three phases failed in the fourth quarter against the Broncos, including a partially blocked punt that traveled only 22 yards to the Broncos 33 with 1:06 to play. They did cut down on penalties, whistled only four times for 30 yards.

"We have to find ways to close games out," Spagnuolo said. "You go into a fourth quarter up 33-13, you'd like to think you could finish it the right way.

"But we'll get better at that. I like the fact we're able to work on that after getting our fifth win."

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