The Rams' ground game is in limbo and the passing game is just coming around, but their luck is running strong.
They held onto a 14-13 win over the New England Patriots at Anaheim Stadium Saturday night when Tony Franklin's field goal on the last play of the game was disallowed because of a holding penalty.
The result left the Rams the momentum of a 3-1 exhibition season to carry into the opening game against the Denver Broncos at home next Sunday. The Patriots (1-3) play Green Bay at Foxboro, Mass.
Dieter Brock, the new Ram quarterback, had his best game, completing 11 of 19 passes for 163 yards and the Rams' first passing touchdown of the summer. His target was wide receiver Henry Ellard, only a third-year pro, but the most experienced of their kiddie korps of receivers.
Ellard caught five passes for 80 yards, ran a reverse for 13 and there were none of the drops or confused pass routes that marked some earlier Ram outings.
The down side is that while Eric Dickerson remains a holdout, his understudy, Barry Redden, left the game early in the second half with an injured right ankle. Coach John Robinson said his status is "about a 50-50 chance he'll miss the (opening) game."
Next in line is Charles White, the former Heisman Trophy winner whom Robinson signed as a free agent last spring, reuniting a pair of old USC Trojans. But White rushed 5 times for only 7 yards Saturday night, and the next man, A.J. Jones, was 3 carries for 5 yards.
Patriots quarterback Tony Eason picked away at the Rams' defense, completing 30 of 46 for 318 yards and one touchdown, with two interceptions.
But it was a sandlot play that almost won the game for New England. On fourth down at the Rams' 17 with less than a minute to play, Eason passed to tight end Derrick Ramsey, who lateralled to Craig James coming by to the outside for a 30-yard gain.
A 16-yard pass to Derwin Williams reached the 14, and then Eason fell down twice in a row to kill time before stopping the clock with two seconds remaining.
Franklin lined up from 34 yards out and kicked the ball true, but Don Blackmon was caught holding Gary Green, the Rams' regular cormerback who rushes from the outside on field goal attempts.
Because a penalty against the offense on the last play of the game is not played over, the game ended.
In the first half the Rams' defense gave the Patriots only three points until the Rams' offense found itself. And even that was a gift.
New England probably wouldn't have had even a field goal if Charles White hadn't run into punter Rich Camarillo early in the drive after nose tackle Charles DeJurnett and linebacker Carl Ekern--a new defensive captain--stuffed Patriot runners on successive third-and-one plays.
The Patriots stretched their new life into a possession lasting 7 1/2 minutes. Eason's 36-yard pass to Irving Fryar, a first-round draft choice last year, reached the Rams' 19-yard line, but then the yards came tough.
Linebacker Jim Collins stuck Tony Collins for a yard loss when the Pats tried to sweep right, and when they went left, linebacker Mike Wilcher forced Robert Weathers into LeRoy Irvin for no gain. They settled for Franklin's 24-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Rams scored quickly on their next two possessions.
Olympic sprinter Ron Brown's crackling comeback block on safety Roland James turned Brock's pass to tight end Mike Barber into a 17-yard gain. Then Ellard swept left on a reverse for 13 yards and Brock hit Brown for 16 and a first down at the Patriots' three-yard line.
From there, Redden followed an honor guard of blockers over left tackle for an easy touchdown and 7-3 lead.
Defensive end Reggie Doss stopped Collins for no gain on third and two to give the ball right back to the Rams, who zoomed 56 yards in three plays to a 14-3 lead.
Brock passed 13 yards to Ellard, Redden skipped up the middle for 20 and Brock went right back to Ellard for a touchdown from 21 yards out--the Rams' first scoring throw of the summer.
Ellard came across the goal line from outside, and Brock waited until he broke past Ronnie Lippett and Fred Marion before drilling him with a perfect pass that left the Patriot defenders looking at one another.
The game was on the verge of an early rout two plays later when Jim Collins, dropping back into coverage, intercepted Eason's pass to Weathers at the New England 43. Brock passed 20 yards to Tony Hunter, but the drive died on Mike Lansford's 43-yard field goal attempt that was wide left.
Sacks by Gary Jeter and DeJurnett broke up subsequent Patriot drives. Brock tried Brown deep a couple of times, and the second time Ray Clayborn had it covered all the way and intercepted it in the end zone.
That combination might start to click when Brown's left knee recovers from last month's arthroscopic surgery.
"He'll have to play through it," Robinson has said.
Translation: on-the-job rehabilitation.