ST. LOUIS -- Go figure. It was one of those days for the Rams, and there have been a few of them this year. Days when the Rams get off to an unexpected big lead.
It happened against Jacksonville, when the Rams led 24-10 at the half.
It happened in Houston, when the Rams led 17-6 at halftime and 38-6 at the end of three.
And it happened in Indianapolis, when the Rams led 28-0 at halftime and 38-0 midway through the third quarter.
On Sunday, it happened against one of the NFC's elite teams, the Saints. Pounding the ball on the ground and getting effective and accurate passing from Kellen Clemens, the Rams stunned the Saints early by jumping to a 24-3 halftime lead.
Despite the best of efforts by New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, that lead was too much to overcome. The Rams (6-8) sprung a huge upset, toppling the Saints 27-16 Sunday before 58,442 at the Edward Jones Dome. That dropped the Saints to 10-4, leading to a showdown next week against Carolina, which improved to 10-4 with a 30-20 victory over the New York Jets.
Rams running back Zac Stacy, who had only 97 yards rushing combined the past two Sundays against San Francisco and Arizona, had 106 yards and a touchdown by halftime. That set a Rams rookie record for yards rushing in the first half.
Meanwhile, Clemens was 10 for 13 with two TDs and a passer rating of 142.0 at the intermission.
The defense chipped in as well.
On New Orleans' first offensive play of the day, Robert Quinn hit Brees just as Brees was releasing the ball. Rookie safety T.J. McDonald grabbed the underthrown pass for his first NFL interception.
The Rams took over at the New Orleans 31, and on the next play, Clemens threw a short pass in the flat to tight end/fullback Corey Harkey. Harkey, a second-year player, had only eight NFL catches on his resume entering Sunday's game. But he turned his ninth into his second NFL touchdown, bull-dozing his way down the right sideline for a 7-0 Rams lead.
Harkey, 6-4 and 260, shrugged off a low tackle by safety Malcolm Jenkins and then made cornerback Corey White miss en route to the end zone. Harkey's previous long reception had been 21 yards as a rookie in 2012.
The Rams' defense struck again on the Saints' next possession. This time, New Orleans had driven all the way to the St. Louis 10. But on second-and-goal, Brees lofted a pass into a crowd intended for all-world tight Jimmy Graham.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson left his man, backed up and leaped to intercept the pass at the goal line. In his first 13 games, Brees had thrown only eight interceptions. He had two interceptions by midway through the first quarter Sunday.
After the takeaway, the Rams then marched 93 yards in nine plays -- aided by two unnecessary roughness calls against the Saints. Those two penalties accounted for 29 yards on the drive. Stacy accounted for 29 more, bouncing a play outside that began as a run off right tackle.
The culmination of the drive came on a four-yard pass lofted to tight end Lance Kendricks. It was only Kendricks' second reception since suffering a fractured finger Nov. 3 against Tennessee.
Then it became the special teams' turn to contribute.
The Rams repeatedly practiced the on-side kick during the week, and after Kendricks' TD, they executed it to perfection. Stedman Bailey, a wide receiver by trade, pounced on Greg Zuerlein's bouncing kick, so the Rams took over at the Saints' 47.
The Rams were able to parlay that into a Zuerlein field goal -- his 21st in 23 attempts this season. The Saints finally got on the board with a Garrett Hartley field goal, but the Rams scored again before the half to take a 24-3 lead into intermission on a 40-yard TD run by Stacy.
It was Stacy's team-high seventh touchdown of the season, and it came on what was a career-long run. Once again, Stacy bounced the ball outside, something he hadn't been doing last week in Arizona.
The 24 points matched the Rams' second-highest scoring output in the first half this season. And the 21-point lead was their second-largest halftime lead of the year.
The Rams went into a conservative shell offensively in the second half, and it almost cost them. Zuerlein added another field goal, to stretch the lead 27-3 in the third quarter. But then the Saints added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter -- missing on a two-point conversion on the first TD.
So it was 27-16, when after a successful on-side kick, New Orleans faced a fourth-and-4 from the St. Louis out. Coach Sean Payton sent out kicker Garrett Hartley for what would have been a 26-yard field goal. That would make the score 27-19 and then give the Saints time to tie the game with an on-side kick, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion.
Alas, Hartley's kick went wide left with 1:50 to play, and that was that for New Orleans.
Here are the updates posted during the game by Post-Dispatch football writer Joe Lyons:
A week after being eliminated from the NFL playoff hunt, the Rams took on the spoiler role Sunday, posting a 27-16 victory over the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints at the Edward Jones Dome.
The Saints, who fell to 10-4, needed a victory to clinch a playoff spot. The victory, which snapped a two-game losing streak for the Rams, who improved to 6-8.
With his team down 27-3, Drew Brees scored the Saints' first touchdown of the day, lunging over the top of the pile from the 1 with 11:25 to play to make it 27-9. But Pierre Thomas (Illinois) was stopped short on the run for two, with Kendall Langford making the stop.
New Orleans scored again, making it 27-16 with 3:07 left as Brees threaded the needle on a fourth-and-goal pass from the 6 to Marcus Colston. It was the third fourth-down conversion of the 18-play, 80-yard drive for the Saints.
New Orleans did their best to make things interesting late. An onside kick bounced off the Rams' Chase Reynolds and was recovered by the Saints' Ramon Humber. Brees and New Orleans drove to the St. Louis 8 before attempting a field goal. But Garrett Hartley hooked the 23-yarder to the left and the Rams took possession and closed out the 27-16 victory.
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