As usually happens when the St. Louis Rams beat the Seattle Seahawks, it took a major bit of production from the special teams units to get the job done.
Last season it was a fake punt and a fake field goal and on Sunday it was another buffet of special teams treats that helped the Rams stun the Seahawks 34-31 in overtime.
Speedster Tavon Austin returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter and kicker Greg Zuerlein added two field goals, including the 37-yard game-winner in overtime.
“That’s what it’s all about, it’s opportunities,” said Austin, who found a seam on the left side then followed his blocking and managed to stay in bounds down the left sideline. “Coach (Jeff) Fisher really believes in me, my team believes in me. I’m just thankful for the the opportunity that I had. I’m glad I made the play for us.”
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Austin also scored the Rams’ first TD Sunday on a 16-yard run. Among his 11 career touchdowns are four via receiving, four rushing and three on punt returns.
Rams rookie wide receiver Bradley Marquez made a heads-up play when he called for a fair catch after Seattle tried to catch the Rams napping at the start of overtime by trying an onside kick.
Marquez alertly called for a fair catch, then was sliding to the turf as he caught the ball and was jumped on by numerous Seattle defenders intent on stripping it away by any means necessary.
“Hold on for dear life,” said Marquez, a former Texas Tech standout who signed as an undrafted free agent. “The things that go on under those piles is crazy, so I was just holding onto that ball and making sure I was going to come out of the pile with it.”
Marquez said the Rams’ kick return team definitely had the onside kick on its radar, though Seahawks coach Pete Carroll later explained it was supposed to be a kick further down the field.
“I’m just being alert there, anything that can happen,” Marquez said. “At that point in the game it presented a time for maybe some trickery, so you just have to be ready for it. We were all aware of what could happen.”
What was going through Marquez’s mind as the play unfolded?
“I saw the ball just kind of pop right up, so maybe I could get some protection,” he said of the decision to call for a fair catch. “It was just kind of instinct for me.”
Fisher praised the quick thinking by Marquez.
“He’s a very mature player right now as a rookie,” Fisher said. “We trust him. He’s just a real heads-up kid. It’s a great effort.”
The officials talked after the play and at first, it was announced there would be a re-kick because the ball had been kicked off the ground first. That would have made Marquez ineligible to call for a fair catch with the Rams also assessed a 5-yard penalty.
However, with much prompting from the Rams’ coaching staff — and possibly the replay on the stadium’s giant scoreboard that showed the ball clearly being popped up into the air — the officials reversed their decision and the fair catch stood.
“Bradley waved fair catch and clearly fielded the ball, and then he was hit,” Fisher said. “So he should get fair catch protection on the play. It should have been a penalty that put us in better field position. I wanted to get an explanation and I was a little confused when they initially said they had to re-kick. That didn’t make any sense to me.”
NFL referee Jeff Triplette explained the ruling after the game.
“Originally, one of the officials said that the ball had been kicked into the ground, so that was the original (call),” said Triplette, who added another official who had more responsibility said it had been kicked into the air. “So therefore, I went with the official who had the primary responsibility on that.”
A year ago when the Rams adopted the #SackCity nickname, it took them five games to collect their first sack and the nickname seemed all but forgotten.
Flash forward to 2015, when the Rams sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson six times and had constant pressure on the elusive signal caller. Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald each had two sacks and Wilson now has been sacked 31 times in seven career games against the Rams, the most of any team he’s faced.
“This is as athletic a group as we are going to face,” Carroll said. “They had an edge on us early. Whenever we give up (six) sacks we have a heck of a fight.”
Quinn liked the impact the defensive line had on what the Seahawks were doing.
“If we want to start fast,” Quinn said. “We’re definitely far from last year, we don’t want to start like that. The guys got on a roll, we got our energy and the guys are feeling great so once we got back there, we just tried to stay consistent.”
Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson left with a concussion not long after making a diving interception in the second quarter. Defensive end Eugene Sims suffered an apparent knee injury while sacking Wilson late in the fourth quarter and special teams ace Chase Reynolds left in the first quarter with a knee injury.
On the inactive list for the Rams on Sunday were receiver Brian Quick, running back Tre Mason, linebacker Daren Bates, running back Todd Gurley, offensive linemen Darrell Williams and Andrew Donnal and rookie quarterback Sean Mannion.