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Defense Pushes Rams Around Corner, 17-10 : Pro football: Conlan's play against the Giants epitomizes L.A.'s effort to salvage a .500 record by the break.

October 17, 1994|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bloody and bruised Shane Conlan, the embodiment of the Rams in a season of hard knocks, drove his helmet into Giant running back Rodney Hampton Sunday and exorcised the second-half demons that have bedeviled his teammates.

Hampton had run the same play in the first quarter for 27 yards and a touchdown but, with the Rams clinging to a seven-point lead on the Giants' opening possession of the third quarter, he was dropped for a one-yard loss on fourth and one from the Ram 35-yard line.

"We're learning how to win these games after letting a couple get away," said Conlan, after the Rams held tough for a 17-10 victory before 40,474 at Anaheim Stadium. "We approached this like a playoff game and--thank God--I think we've turned the corner."

In a similar situation a week ago, the Rams squandered a 17-3 halftime lead and saw the Packers score on their first possession of the third quarter on the way to rallying for a 24-17 victory.

But not this time.

Conlan stopped Hampton, safety Anthony Newman completed the second half shutout with an interception and the Rams (3-4) toppled the Giants (3-3) for the sixth time in their last eight meetings.

"Atlanta made us mad," Newman said, referring to the Falcons' come-from-behind 8-5 victory here two weeks ago. "On defense, we had the possibility to win the game and we let it get away. We wanted the ball in our court today . . . we wanted to be the hero, not the goat. We wanted to redeem ourselves."

Newman, playing with his right hand wrapped into a club to protect a dislocated little finger, made a one-handed interception at the 50-yard line on a Dave Brown pass intended for Mike Sherrard with 1:06 remaining in the game. While his teammates yelled, "Fall to the ground! Fall to the ground!" Newman ran 16 seconds off the clock and returned the ball to the Giant 26-yard line to secure the victory.

"We were going to win this game as a defensive unit," Newman said. "Look at Conlan; there's blood on his nose, he's limping, he's hurting and he's going to bust you in the mouth. . . . We just feel when it comes down to the nitty gritty, we can't be beat as a defensive unit."

The Ram defense had a streak of 10 consecutive quarters without giving up a touchdown before the Packers' second-half comeback, but they now have a new one started after yielding only a first-quarter touchdown against the Giants.

"They no doubt whipped us," said Giant Coach Dan Reeves. "When you lose three in a row, you certainly aren't doing many things right."

Hampton became the first back to gain more than 100 yards against the Rams this season, with 112 in 27 carries. But after gaining 74 yards in the first half in 16 rushes, Hampton managed only 38 yards in the second half in 11 carries.

"We just didn't run the ball that much," Hampton said. "You saw how Jerome Bettis got it in the fourth quarter. He got his tank going and kept the chains moving. I just wanted the ball, but the Rams kept the ball in the fourth quarter."

Bettis ran 30 times for 88 yards, including 42 in the fourth quarter, and played keep away from the Giants.

"We didn't have the ball much, but we're still supposed to do more with it when we get it," Reeves said.

The Giants' touchdown came in the first quarter when the Rams were caught with only 10 defenders on the field. David Treadwell added a 24-yard field goal in the second quarter, but in the second half they were unsuccessful four times on third down and were unable to sustain an attack.

The Rams, meanwhile, started as quickly as they had a week ago in Green Bay. Linebacker Joe Kelly's interception at the Ram 48-yard line and return to the Giant 21 set up Chris Miller's 19-yard touchdown pass to rookie Isaac Bruce three plays later.

The Rams went ahead, 14-7, in the closing minutes of the first quarter with Miller completing a 12-yard pass to tight end Troy Drayton. It was Drayton's fourth touchdown reception of the year.

"They are making a great effort to get me the ball," said Drayton, who had three catches for 39 yards. "The touchdown play was something we saw on film . . . Howard Griffth ran underneath and I made a cut and the linebacker fell off me. Chris Miller stayed with me and it showed he has a lot of confidence in me that I could get open."

Miller, who is battling to keep Chris Chandler on the bench, had time to throw behind a makeshift offensive line featuring first-time NFL starters Wayne Gandy and Chuck Belin.

"I played well in the first half, but I had time to throw the ball," said Miller, who was 13 of 26 for 197 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The bottom line is that we executed. We at least took a little pressure off the defense. But we have to score some points in the second half. I'm getting too many gray hairs and too thin up top to go through all this stress."

Miller's 12-yard pass to wide receiver Jessie Hester on third and eight with less than three minutes to play not only extended Hester's streak to 69 games in which he has caught a pass, but kept the Giant offense on the sideline. Two costly Giant penalties--directed at Miller--also kept the Ram offense in operation.

"The mistakes aren't just happening to us . . . finally, a good sign," Conlan said. "It was a must win if we were going to turn this season around. Our goal was to be 4-4 going into the break, and now we have that chance in New Orleans this week."

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