ST. LOUIS — The ball hung in the air long enough for St. Louis Rams safety Matt Giordano to think those three fateful words: Don't drop it.
Giordano made sure he secured the ball on the made-to-order interception off a badly overthrown pass by Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert, and then returned it 82 yards for a touchdown that sparked the St. Louis Rams past the Jaguars 34-20 Sunday.
"That did come into my head,'' Giordano said. "It was right in the bread basket, so it was like: Don't drop it.''
After Giordano caught it, he saw fellow safety Rodney McLeod motioning for him to run left.
"I think Rodney saw everybody going to that right side of the field, and I saw Rodney waving his arms and he got a great block to get me into the end zone,'' Giordano said.
There was a whole convoy of Rams blockers leading Giordano to the end zone for the touchdown that tied the score at 7-7.
"It definitely was a play that I thought we needed as a team,'' Giordano said. "We just needed to get a spark going. I'm thankful enough that I was the one that sparked it off. There were 10 other guys on the field, so I can't take the credit. They did their job blocking after I caught the ball. It was great team execution.''
Rams coach Jeff Fisher said defensive end Robert Quinn also deserves some credit for the interception as he forced Gabbert to rush his throw.
"Gio's play was huge, but you have to give Rob some credit,'' Fisher said. "That was a hurry. Rob was right on the quarterback's shoulder and effected the throw. Then our guys acted like they knew what to do with it.
"They got the blocks made, and it was a great return. It kind of jumped started us after the slow start.''
Giordano, a nine-year NFL veteran, showed some speed in turning the corner around the left side before the Jaguars' offensive unit could recover.
"Thankfully, I still can run,'' Giordano said.
It was Giordano's third career interception return for a touchdown, but his first since the 2007 season with the Indianapolis Colts.
Giordano missed all of the Rams' training camp and preseason with a calf injury. He said he's still trying to shake off the rust.
"You can get the mental reps, but you don't get better until you get the physical reps,'' Giordano said. "That's what it is taking right now as I get playing time on the defense. Get the physical reps to fight off that rust, and just keep on rolling.''
Pettis keeps producing
Even though much of the buzz in the preseason was about the Rams' other young receivers, third-year pass-catcher Austin Pettis continues to produce big plays.
Pettis had two touchdown receptions against the Jaguars, giving him four TD catches for the season.
"You can't say enough good things about Austin Pettis,'' Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I've said it since OTAs, I think he's one of our most dependable (receivers). He's so smart, you can put him all over the field. He knows every route that everyone is supposed to run, and I trust him because I know he is going to see things the right way and he's going to be in the right spot.''
Seven of Pettis' eight career touchdowns have come in the red zone.
The Rams' inactives were cornerback Cortland Finnegan (thigh), right tackle Rodger Saffold (knee), defensive end William Hayes (knee), defensive tackle Matt Conrath (concussion), guard-center Barrett Jones, guard Brandon Washington and guard-tackle Mike Person.
* The Rams' 143 rushing yards was their highest total since running for 173 yards against Arizona in Week 12 last season.
* Defensive tackle Michael Brockers registered his first sack of the season, while defensive end Chris Long registered his second sack of the season.
* The Rams posted 24 points in the first half. It's the most points they've scored in a half since scoring 26 points in the first half of a 36-33 win over the Denver Broncos on Nov. 28, 2010.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.