The fourth preseason game for NFL teams typically features brief, if any, appearances by the majority of the starters.
That held true Thursday night for the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, with both teams more concerned with avoiding injuries and taking a final look at players fighting for roster spots in a 24-17 victory by the Chiefs in the annual Governor’s Cup game.
The loss dropped the Rams to 0-4 in the preseason as they begin preparation for the season opener Sept. 13 against the Seattle Seahawks at the Edward Jones Dome.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting on,” Rams tight end Jared Cook said. “The real 16, baby.“
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Empty seats easily outnumbered the full ones at the Edward Jones Dome and many of the occupied seats were filled by Chiefs fans. The announced number tickets distributed was 37,616.
Final preseason action
Rams starting quarterback Nick Foles played only two series, completing two of three passes for 49 yards. One of those came on a 43-yard gain to Tavon Austin, who reversed field and broke loose down the right side early in the first quarter to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Pead.
Pead, a second-round draft pick who has battle injuries, also threw a nice block to help spring Austin on the big play as did wide receiver Kenny Britt.
“Coach (Jeff) Fisher said our plays were limited, so I had to go out there and try to make the best of something and give us a spark,” Austin said. “I believe that’s what I did. Hopefully I just keep on doing that the rest of the year.”
On the Rams’ first possession, a pass from Foles bounced off the hands of Cook and was picked off by Kansas City safety Daniel Sorensen. The Chiefs recovered Sorensen’s fumble at the Rams’ 8-yard line and scored two plays later on a 1-yard run by Spencer Ware.
Pead was the Rams’ leading rusher with 52 yards on 12 carries. The debut of first-round pick and former Georgia star Todd Gurley (ACL surgery) is still uncertain, Tre Mason is dealing with a hamstring injury and Trey Watts, who has looked good in the preseason, can’t play during a four-game suspension to open the season.
That could get Pead some additional time along with experienced back Benny Cunningham and potentially others depending on how the Rams set the final roster.
“Definitely feels good to get back in the end zone,” Pead said.
Rams punt returner Daniel Rodriguez left with an apparently injury after sustaining a hard hit on a punt return. It was later determined Rodriguez had suffered a concussion.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher named Case Keenum the backup quarterback earlier this week, but the team is apparently leaning heavily toward keeping rookie Sean Mannion over veteran Austin Davis for the No. 3 quarterback spot.
Davis played in only one series Thursday, a series that saw him only execute handoffs. Keenum also was limited to one series.
Davis started eight games for the Rams last season and played in 10 following injuries to Sam Bradford and backup Sean Hill. Davis threw for 2,001 yards and seven touchdowns with 12 interceptions.
Mannion got extensive playing time Thursday with mixed results. He completed 11 of 24 passes for 107 yards with no TDs and no interceptions.
Rams backup safety Cody Davis returned an interception 24-yards for a touchdown with four minutes remaining in the first half. Davis has been sharp throughout the preseason, making several interceptions in practice.
“Been making them in practice a little bit, so to see it translate into the game feels real good,’ Davis said. “I just want to put it on film for the coaches and execute to the best of my ability. I saw a three-step drop and the quarterback kind of turned his shoulder that way.
“I made the break and luckily I guessed right.”
The Chiefs (4-0) fought back on a 15-yard TD pass from former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel to Cri Conley and a 23-yard field goal by Cairo Santos, but Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein tied it by crushing a 57-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining in the half.
Offensive line intrigue
Garrett Reynolds got the start at left guard for the Rams and later moved to right tackle in the first half. Demetrius Rhaney started at right guard and Tim Barnes started at center, with Rhaney moving to center later in the opening half.
The only normal offensive starters to see action for the Rams were left tackle Greg Robinson, wide receivers Kenny Britt and Austin, Foles and rookie right tackle Rob Havenstein. Rookie guard Jamon Brown was held out with an ankle injury.
Stadium task force rally
Several hundred Rams and St. Louis football fans gathered Thursday at the Missouri Athletic Club parking lot a few blocks from the dome for a pregame rally.
Among the speakers were St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Dave Peacock, one of the leaders of the stadium task force trying to build a new $1 billion stadium complex on the north riverfront area of downtown.
Peacock stressed the importance of fans attending Rams games this season. Rams owner Stan Kroenke has made clear his desire to move the team to Los Angeles and has unveiled his own stadium project for the Inglewood area of L.A.
“You’ve got a lot of fans down here tonight to watch St. Louis take on Kansas City,” Peacock said after a rally held about a half-hour before the Rams-Chiefs kickoff. “I think if anything, we sometimes forget the fans and the people that are important in this process. We want to celebrate the fans, we want to encourage them to come out, we want to encourage them to come out to the Seattle game.
“This is our team and the more we fight for it and the more people that come out and fight for it and fight for our city, I think the better off we’re going to be”
The rally also drew a small group of close to a dozen anti-stadium project protesters that brought their own signs and tried to gain attention.