I don't want to overstate the importance of the Xs and Os of tonight's win over the Jaguars, or the Rams' sterling 4-0 record in games that don't count. But outside of a few well-executed cutback runs by Maurice Jones-Drew and his backup Deji Karim, the first team Jaguars had little fight to offer the first team Rams.
Sam Bradford and the starting offensive unit played until the whistle of the first quarter, and had put together an impressive resume consisting of one scoring drive and 3/4 of another. However, another Rams quarterback stole the show with his play in the second half, making a case for himself for the Rams' 53-man roster -- not necessarily as the third QB, but as the primary backup for Mr. Franchise.
First team highlights: Too many weapons.
On offense, Bradford seemed out of synch with his wide receivers early in the contest, a bit of a troubling sign with the regular season knocking on the door. But when he trained his sights inside to Lance Kendricks and Steven Jackson, the offense found its stride.
Bradford's scoring pass to Lance Kendricks was almost criminally easy. Kendricks broke out of a bunch formation on third and inches, getting behind the strong safety as Bradford showed the ball to the aggressive Jaguars' defense on a gorgeous play-fake. All he had to do was stifle the urge to bust out laughing until after releasing the ball to his wide-open tight end.
On defense, the Rams' defensive line went Waffle House on the Jaguars' quarterbacks, leaving them scattered, smothered and covered. Garrard completed only one of five passes before stumbling off the field, tending to various parts of his body that will only hurt more in the morning.
His replacement, Luke McCown, was also battered into a 1-for-5 start before the Rams began substituting in earnest.
Second team highlights: Wait, there were highlights?
The resulting mix of first and second teamers on defense gave up a tying score on an eleven-play scoring drive, as Deji Karim carved out running lanes inside and out, and McCown suddenly found his form. He completed his last four passes, including a touchdown to someone named Cecil Shorts, a rookie from football power Mount Union University. (The camera found Justin King and Darian Stewart looking at each other in disbelief as Shorts split between them.)
To be fair to King, he had a strong game while getting a lot of work, both as a nickel guy and then taking over as starting CB after a few series. He was targeted often, getting flagged once for a dubious pass interference, but defending several other passes well. He was also a presence in the run game. The Rams' limited depth at CB made him a safe bet to make the roster, but it was still heartening to see him do positive work.
Meanwhile, on offense, AJ Feeley did little to cement his status as the Rams' backup, killing a scoring drive with a very un-veteran-like decision to float a ball up for grabs as a mountain of pressure came sliding toward him. Did I mention the Rams were in scoring position at the time? Not a good look.
The highlights of this offensive grouping came from Donnie Avery flashing some speed and elusiveness after the catch, and Fendi Onobun making plays as Illini Mike sat and watched.
Third team highlights: The Thaddeus Lewis Show.
First, the bad. Thad Lewis helped the Jaguars finally break their preseason-long sackless streak by holding the ball for a combined forty-seven minutes on two second half plays. At least it seemed that long. Like many quarterbacks who can make the throws and can run, from Mike Vick to a young Brett Favre, his belief that he can make a play on every play is going to lead to him hitting the turf a bit more often than he should.
Aside from that, though, Lewis shone. He threw fifteen passes and hit his receivers in the hands fifteen times. Twelve were caught, including a picture perfect deep ball to Danario Alexander down the left sideline for 44 yards. A glorious throw and catch like that was almost reward enough for taking the time to watch the second half of a 4th preseason game.
Before that play, Marshall Faulk sat in the announcer's booth and gave Lewis his endorsement for the 2nd-string QB job. You'd have to say he's done everything he could to make his case. (Here at RamsHerd, Derek has an article in the works to help make it for him.)
On defense, we hoped to see Robert Quinn take over, but the Jaguars' reserve tackle did a fine job of simply swallowing up the rookie's speed. Quinn isn't ready to crack the first team yet, even as a sub, as James Hall came out earlier than planned and was spelled by George Selvie and CJ Ah You.
As a result of having some decent protection, St. Louis native Blaine Gabbert had himself a nice half of football, easily looking like the best quarterback on the Jacksonville roster. Of course his job was made easier by a series of players in the Rams secondary whose roster hopes are slim to none.
Early returns on the bubble watch
At the end of the day, those watching the WRs on the bubble had little to hang their hats on. Gilyard looked shaky early but settled down with Thaddeus; Alexander had one nice play out of three or four looks; Pettis barely saw the field and got no targets; Salas paired two catches with a couple of drops. Avery had the best night of them all, it seemed.
During the game, Rams GM Billy Devaney said that the decision may come down to who practiced better, with little gameday differentiation. Presumably this would help Pettis, but all of the Rams receivers have practiced well. So it's a game of wait and see.