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Last Play Only Highlighted Big Day by Ram Defense

October 07, 1985|JOHN WEYLER | Times Staff Writer

Most of the 61,139 fans at Anaheim Stadium on Sunday went home talking about the Rams' goal-line stand with one second left that preserved a 13-10 victory.

They were telling their neighbors how linebacker Jim Collins went over the top of the pile, got his arm around Minnesota running back Darrin Nelson and how Nelson and the Vikings fell just shy of victory.

The play was a fitting showcase for a defensive unit that has carried the Rams to a 5-0 record and has allowed the fewest points in the National Football League this season (62). But it was just one of three big defensive plays by Ram defenders in the final 19 seconds.

Minnesota had a third-and-two situation at the Ram 17 with 19 seconds left when Nelson broke through the middle of the line and was heading for the end zone when cornerback LeRoy Irvin dragged him down at the one.

"Gary (Green, the other Ram corner) walked over after the play and told me, 'That was the play of the game. We're gonna win it now.' " Irvin said.

With seven seconds left, it was Irvin's turn to congratulate Green for coming up with another candidate for Play of the Game honors.

Minnesota's Steve Jordan slipped past Green in the end zone and Green immediately grabbed the tight end's arm as Viking quarterback Tommy Kramer's pass sailed out of reach--and a number of yellow flags sailed out of the officials' pockets.

It was a brilliant decision, one that cost the Rams a pass interference penalty of about a foot. That 12 inches was enough to make Viking Coach Bud Grant change his mind and go for a touchdown instead of a game-tying field goal; a decision that may have cost Minnesota the game.

"Jordan released to the outside and he was running full speed and I was standing still," Green said, "so I hooked him. I wasn't gonna let him score a TD . . . let 'em try again with one second left."

That's exactly what they did, producing the goal-line stand that highlighted the Rams' defensive effort on a day the offense suited up, but didn't accomplish much more than that.

The Rams' only touchdown came after Irvin stripped the ball from Leo Lewis on the first play of the second half and linebacker Mel Owens picked it up and staggered 14 yards to the Viking 19-yard line.

After Eric Dickerson's two-yard run five plays later put the Rams ahead, 13-0, the Vikings dominated the action the rest of the way, running 44 plays to the Rams 14.

"When we stopped them at the end, I had the feeling that this (the Rams defense) is more than a fine team, they're something special," Coach John Robinson said. "That was a great statement about our football team.

"Minnesota played outstanding football. I'm not sure we did, but we came away with the win. The defense is clearly ahead of the offense at this point and the defense has to get the lion's share of the credit for this game."

You won't find too many NFL defenders who dislike working up a sweat in the wash of television camera lights, but one wonders how long the Rams can remain unbeaten with their defense doing all the work.

"It would've been nice to sit on the bench and watch the offense put together a couple of five-minute scoring drives," said Collins, who had 15 other tackles and a sack to go with the game-saver Sunday. "But we don't mind having the destiny of the game in our own hands. If they score, we lose. If they don't, we win. That's what the game is all about."

Green, for one, said he doesn't mind being on the field at the end of every game with "the outcome resting on us."

"You should've seen it out there in the huddle before the last play," he said. "There was no blinking of the eyes whatsoever. We were meshed as one down there."

Irvin agreed, but he was also willing to admit that they all had another thing in common: They were tired.

"We were tired, sure, but Coach Robinson always says that games are like boxing matches and the champions win them in the 15th round. We were in good enough shape and that's just another example of Coach Robinson's great coaching."

Inside linebacker Carl Ekern, who slammed into Nelson just after Collins, summed up the feelings of his teammates who would prefer to keep the drama level down and their stomach acid levels similarly low.

"Our defensive motto is that you have to keep banging away and banging away because you never know which play might determine the outcome of the game," he said. "Hopefully, we'll do it a little earlier in the game next time."

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