'We're playing to win': Rams look to finish up strong

News-DemocratDecember 22, 2013 

— Although neither team is headed to the playoffs, the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have both shown signs of life late in the season.

The Rams are coming off a 27-16 upset of the New Orleans Saints, while Buccaneers have won four of their last six games since starting off 0-8.

"They were close in some games despite the fact that they lost eight straight, then they win four out of their last six and beat some good football teams," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said of the Buccaneers, who lost four games by three points or less during that eight-game skid. "They hung in there. Their defense is playing with discipline. They're getting a lot of turnovers. They run the football and the quarterback's throwing the ball well, so it's a talented team. It's a very dangerous team at the end of the season."

The Rams also proved to be a dangerous team as they jumped out to a 17-0 lead against the Saints.

The Rams now are 4-3 at the Edward Jones Dome. With a win over the Buccaneers, they can post a winning record at home for the first time in three years.

While the Rams are evaluating a lot of their young players in action, Fisher said they're not playing for next season.

"We're playing to win them," Fisher said. "We're playing everybody. Everybody's getting a chance to play, most everybody. We just want to finish up strong. We're stressing improvement week after week after week."

Neither the Rams nor the Buccaneers have the same starting quarterback that started the season behind center for them.

The Buccaneers have gone with rookie Mike Glennon after releasing Josh Freeman on Oct. 3. Glennon has thrown 14 touchdown passes and only five interceptions in his last nine games.

"I think he's very composed," Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said of Glennon. "I do think he's got a little more maturity than his years, and he's got a tough set of circumstances right now as far as a lot of the guys that started the year on the offense not being with him. But, he's doing a great job and doing as he's coached."

Having a veteran receiver like Vincent Jackson, who has 69 catches for 1,091 yards and seven touchdowns has eased Glennon's transition from North Carolina State to the NFL.

"I think it's really important, not only for Mike, but for our whole football team," Schiano said of having Jackson on his squad. "Vincent brings a work ethic and maturity and professionalism that's critical. He's been a good example since he arrived here just about two years ago now, and for a rookie quarterback to have a guy like Vince, not only to throw to and to know you can trust, but to also gain from his valuable experiences. Vincent's played a lot of football. I know Mike values that."

With Glennon having been sacked 14 times in the last four games, the Buccaneers should be concerned about Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who leads the NFC with 15 sacks and has forced a league-best seven fumbles.

The Buccaneers' defense is keyed by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David.

McCoy has a team-leading eight sacks and David has a team-leading 126 tackles and five interceptions.

David is only player in NFL with 100-plus tackles, five-plus sacks and five-plus interceptions.

"They're talented. They're very talented," Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens said of the Buccaneers' defense. "Up front, Gerald McCoy is one of the best in the league. Then, they've got David running around making a ton of plays at the linebacker position. Then, they're good at every spot in the secondary. They're another strong defense for us to face."

The Buccaneers have intercepted 21 passes, which ranks second in the NFL to Seattle's 22 interceptions.

"Some of them are coming off of tipped balls," Clemens said. "They've got good ball skills, certainly when the ball's in the air and making a lot of plays. I think David might be leading the team, if I'm not mistaken, from the linebacker level. They're doing a really good job of getting depth in the zones from the linebacker position. They do a good job of reading the quarterback's eyes. So, we'll have to be aware of it and make sure we see it before we throw it."

The Rams likely will be without rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin, who hasn't practiced in two weeks due to an ankle injury, for a second straight game.

Austin is listed as questionable for the game.

Another rookie, running back Zac Stacy, is getting close to 1,000 rushing yards for the season.

Stacy, who took over as a starter in Week 5, leads all rookies with 854 rushing yards.

'"Considering he got a late start, I think it would be quite a feat, especially against some of the defenses that we faced this year," Fisher said.

As the last home contest, the game is Fan Appreciation Day.

Upon entering the Edward Jones Dome, each fan will receive a scratch-off ticket. Prizes include 2014 season tickets, autographed items, game-worn jerseys and merchandise.

The first 15,000 fans to enter the Edward Jones Dome will receive a Jake Long figurine, and selected concessions will be discounted.

Contact reporter Steve Korte at skorte@bnd.com or 239-2522.

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