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Rams' playoff hopes die despite win at Tampa Bay

The SportsXchange

TAMPA -- The St. Louis Rams are finishing the 2012 season in impressive fashion, even though their efforts won't result in a playoff berth.

The Rams' defense stifled the ailing Tampa Bay Buccaneers, sacking Josh Freeman five times and intercepting four of his passes in a 28-13 win Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

St. Louis (7-7-1) won for the fourth time in five games. However, with the Minnesota Vikings beating the Houston Texans on Sunday, the Rams were eliminated from playoff contention.

"This team is very resilient," Rams running back Steven Jackson said. "Our defense is tenacious. They are going to create turnovers. They are going to get after the passer, and they are going to make it tough on the opposing offense."

St. Louis offensive tackle Rodger Saffold said the win helped ease the pain of a defeat the last time the Rams traveled to Tampa, in 2010.

"We lost by one point. It was terrible. It was absolutely terrible. I can definitely say that this is a better team all-around," Saffold said. "It's been a long time coming for this. We had a long losing streak, everyone's energy was down, and we're clawing back now. ... Everybody's fighting."

Three of the Rams' four interceptions led to touchdowns.

Early in the second quarter, Janoris Jenkins intercepted a Freeman pass and took the return 41 yards for a touchdown. The rookie cornerback's fourth defensive score of the season put St. Louis on top 7-3, and the Rams never trailed again.

On the play, Mike Williams, the intended receiver, slipped out of his route.

"The first interception, I blame that all on me; I slipped. It would have at least been a broken-up pass, but I slipped down and he got an interception," Williams said.

Jenkins said, "I read my man (Williams) good, and I just got out before he did, after he slipped."

With 3:38 left in the first half, Freeman attempted to hit Vincent Jackson underneath but was picked off by James Laurinaitis at the St. Louis 35-yard line. At the end of a nine-play drive, Steven Jackson took an inside handoff 5 yards, lunging his body across the goal line for a touchdown that put the Rams up 14-6 just before halftime.

Rookie cornerback Trumaine Johnson stepped in front of Williams on an in-route early in the third quarter, intercepting Freeman at the Tampa Bay 30. Six plays later, quarterback Sam Bradford connected with Austin Pettis over the middle for a 5-yard touchdown, putting the Rams up 28-6.

Eugene Sims finished off a banner day for the Rams' defense, intercepting a pass tipped by teammate Michael Brockers with 8:03 left in the fourth quarter.

Bradford completed 13 of 27 passes for 196 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception. He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lance Kendricks on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.

"They came out on play-action and we bit up on the run fake. We saw the guards pull, and, as a linebacker, our mentality is if you see that, you have to come downhill, but I was wrong. I should have looked out at the tight end and read that it was a pass," Bucs weak-side linebacker Lavonte David said.

Kendricks led the Rams with four receptions for 119 yards.

"I was just wide open," he said of his touchdown. "I didn't think I was going to be that open. At that point it was just, 'Run.' I saw the safeties closing in. I slowed down a bit."

After failing to score a touchdown last week against the Saints and then in the first half against the Rams, the Buccaneers' offense snapped its end-zone drought with a 61-yard catch-and-run from Williams with 9:06 remaining in the third quarter.

"We were doing the play all week for me to just get the first down on third-and-1 and third-and-2. It was just like it looked in practice," Williams said. "There was nobody over there, and Freeman found me. There was no way they were going to stop me from getting in the end zone."

Williams (seven catches, 132 yards) was one of two Tampa Bay receivers who enjoyed big days. Vincent Jackson added seven catches for 108 yards.

Freeman completed 30 of 54 passes for 372 yards and one touchdown.

The Rams held Bucs rookie running back Doug Martin to 62 yards on 18 carries.

"He's a really good running back. He does a lot of things for them offensively. The defense did a great job of stopping and trying to contain him," Kendricks said.

NOTES: Despite missing practice all week with a thigh injury, Courtland Finnegan started at left cornerback for the Rams. He finished with three tackles. ... Bucs receiver Tiquan Underwood left the game in the first quarter with a back injury, but he returned. ... Bucs cornerback E.J. Biggers left the game in the second quarter with a groin injury and did not return. ... Tampa Bay cornerback Leonard Johnson left the game with an arm injury before returning to action. ... Rams safety Craig Dahl left the game with a shoulder injury. ... Bucs guard Jeremy Zuttah came out due to an ankle injury. ... Steven Jackson's touchdown was the 56th of his career, tying him with Eric Dickerson for second-most touchdowns in Rams history. ... With his 372 passing yards, Freeman set a single-season record for the Bucs with 3,843 yards. He also tied Vinny Testeverde for the most passing touchdowns in franchise history (77), and he matched Brad Johnson's single-season mark for touchdown passes (26).
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