ST. LOUIS (AP)—Joe Vitt took over as St. Louis Rams’ interim coach with a no-nonsense reputation and just-the-facts demeanor. That doesn’t put him above using some inspirational tools now and then.
Before a 24-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Vitt dug a copy of the 2000 film “Gladiator” out of mothballs to show his players a clip to keep them fired up and fighting—despite being without their head coach and most of their stars.
It couldn’t have hurt: The Rams got another big finish from the defense and a career day from Steven Jackson, who said he was ready to play immediately after watching the video clip.
Jackson had 179 yards on 25 carries and scored the winning touchdown, Mike Furrey’s 37-yard interception return led to the go-ahead score and the Rams stuffed the Jaguars’ attack most of the second half.
“You’ve got to be innovative and be young and fresh, new with it,” Jackson said. “I think he’s doing a great job of getting us ready to play. The juices are flowing when you go into the stadium, you’ve got 70,000 looking for entertainment and they don’t want anything but entertainment.”
Fred Taylor, who was questionable with a bruised right ankle, had 165 yards on 22 carries for the Jaguars (4-3). That included a 71-yard scoring run in the first quarter. But after the first quarter he was limited to 51 yards on 14 carries.
“I feel as though there were some cuts out there that I could have made that I could not really get to because of my ankle,” Taylor said. “It was like only one-half cut and go.
“I’m just (upset) because there was so much more opportunity that I felt like we could do damage with, but it just didn’t happen.”
The Jaguars were hurt by two missed field goals. Josh Scobee was wide right on a pair of long attempts, including a 44-yarder that could have tied it with 9:25 left. He also flubbed a 48-yarder in the first half after entering the game 11-for-13.
“There were a lot of things to look at that weren’t very good,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “They all added up to a loss.”
The Rams (4-4) have won two of three since losing coach Mike Martz for the season due to a heart illness and with Vitt in charge. They expect quarterback Marc Bulger (shoulder) and wide receivers Torry Holt (knee) and Isaac Bruce (turf toe) to return after their bye next week. Defensive end Leonard Little, the team’s best pass rusher, also should return after missing two games following the shooting death of a younger brother.
Jackson carried the load for the decimated offense, easily topping his previous career best of 148 yards against the Eagles last year. Four plays after Furrey took a bobbled reception by Ernest Wilford out of the air, Jackson scored on a 19-yard screen pass from Martin for a 24-21 lead with 12:45 to go.
Furrey’s 67-yard interception return clinched last week’s 28-17 victory over the Saints.
The Rams’ defense made it hold up as the Jaguars ran out of downs at the St. Louis 45 with 1:21 remaining.
The Rams, not known for special teams play in recent seasons, scored on a blocked punt for the first time since 1987 at the end of the Jaguars’ first series. Drew Wahlroos came in so clean he nearly took the ball out of punter Chris Hanson’s hands, and Brandon Chillar broke one tackle on a 29-yard return.
Jacksonville answered two plays later on Taylor’s 71-yarder before Kevin Curtis’ 83-yard catch from Martin put the Rams ahead 14-7 with 10:54 still to go in the first quarter.
The Jaguars capitalized on Mathis’ interception of a poorly thrown Martin pass to tie it on Leftwich’s 20-yard pass to Wilford. The ball was tipped near the goal line by linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa before Wilford hauled it in with one hand near the back of the end zone.
Rookie offensive tackle Alex Barron, the Rams’ first-round pick, had penalties on three consecutive plays near the end of the half to help shortcircuit a drive that ended with a 41-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins on the final play for a 17-14 lead.
Marshall Faulk gained 23 yards rushing to surpass Franco Harris for 10th in career yards with 12,129. … The last Rams player to score a touchdown on a blocked punt was Jerry Gray on Nov. 15, 1987. It was the Rams’ first blocked punt overall since Erik Flowers at Detroit on Dec. 28, 2003. It also was the first punt returned for a touchdown in Jaguars history. … Jaguars WR Reggie Williams missed much of the first half after taking a blow to the head, and had no catches. Wilford had six catches for 145 yards after entering the game with only nine receptions all season. … The Rams’ Kevin Curtis caught three passes for 105 yards, his first 100-yard game.