The St. Louis Rams had three trips into the red zone Sunday afternoon in Miami but only cashed in with one touchdown, an abysmal rate of 33 percent. For this reason alone, the Rams are 3-3 instead of 4-2 following a 17-14 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.
Well, maybe not just that reason. St. Louis had many opportunities to make plays on all areas of the field, in all phases of the game. There was crucial play after crucial play that altered the final score in hindsight. But the most glaring disposition is one the Rams have faced all season and seasons’ prior: they can't convert red-zone trips into touchdowns.
Although they had been getting away with this flaw in 2012, the Rams’ safety net — rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein — finally showed signs of wear and tear. Zuerlein missed his first three field goals of the year, including a game-tying attempt to end the game.
This was the Rams’ second loss outdoors, but playing away from the Edward Jones Dome hasn't been a big advantage for opponents. In terms of yards, the Rams out-gained the Dolphins 462-192, including 259 yards in the first half. St. Louis got 162 yards rushing from Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson against the No.1 rush defense in the Dolphins.
Quarterback Sam Bradford had another stellar game for the Rams between the 20s, completing 26 of his 39 pass attempts for 315 yards. However, emphasis must be put on “between the 20s” as Bradford failed to get a touchdown in the air.
The first drive was promising, as Jackson and Richardson carried the ball to the edge of the red zone for the first time. However, Bradford took a sack on third down from Miami's all-pro defensive end Cameron Wake, causing the to Rams settle for a 48-yard field goal from Greg Zuerlein.
After forcing the Dolphins to punt, Bradford hit rookie receiver Chris Givens on a play-action pass for 65 yards down to the 11-yard line, the longest play from scrimmage for the Rams this season. Again, Miami's defense held and forced a 32-yarder from Zuerlein, his 15th straight to open his rookie season.
The Rams’ rush defense did their job against an ever-improving Reggie Bush on Sunday, limiting him to 17 of Miami's 19 rushing yards on 12 carries. The defensive line maintained their position and forced Bush to stretch his carries to the sidelines often. That is, when they weren't ganging up on him in the backfield.
Bush, as he's known to be, was more effective in the passing game, catching 5 passes for 44 yards. Dolphins’ rookie Ryan Tannehill made sure to get Bush involved to open up his other options, including receiver Davone Bess and tight end Anthony Fasano. Brian Hartline, the team's leading receiver and top-10 in the league in yards and yards-per-catch, was shut out by corner backs Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.
After scrambling twice to lead St. Louis to the Dolphins' 26-yard line, Bradford was subjected to another third-down sack, this time at the hands of linebacker Olivier Vernon. Zuerlein finally proved he was human on the following play. Kicking from the Miami 34 with a strong side wind breezing through Sun Life Stadium, the rookie hooked the ball left for his first career miss.
After the change of possession, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar got in the backfield for a sack of Tannehill on first down, almost in response to Vernon. Tannehill responded with completions to Fasano and Bess to get the first down. He then found Marlon Moore across the middle for a 12-yard completion to the Rams’ 34. Two plays later, Moore caught his second-straight pass, streaking past a daydreaming Jenkins for a 29-yard touchdown reception to put the Dolphins up 7-6 with 5:27 left in the first half.
On the ensuing kickoff, fullback Brit Miller somehow found himself with the ball and fumbled it back to Miami. After a three-and-out stop by St. Louis, kicker Dan Carpenter knocked through a 42-yarder to add to the Dolphins’ lead.
Bradford connected with Brandon Gibson three times as the Rams marched down the field yet again with under two minutes left in the half. He then found tight end Lance Kendricks across the middle in heavy coverage to move the offense to the Dolphins’ 14. In what has almost become routine for the Rams, the offense stalled and again gave the scoring opportunity to Zuerlein, who responded with his second consecutive miss, this time from 37 yards.
The Dolphins picked their way down the field on the opening drive of the second half, which led to Tannehill hitting Fasano on a play-action pop pass from the goal line to put Miami up 17-6.
The game was still within reach as the Rams got the ball midway through the final period. Bradford led an inspired drive before punching the ball in himself for the touchdown. On 4th-and-goal, with the ball inches from the goal line, the third-year quarterback took the snap and stretched the ball forward as Dolphins’ linebacker Karlos Dansby leaped over the pile and landed on Bradford's head and shoulders, awkwardly bending him backwards as his legs buckled under him. The effort closed the deficit to 17-14 with 8:30 left in the game.
After getting the ball back, the Rams defense physically abused Miami en route to forcing a fourth down with just under four minutes remaining. Instead of relenting possession, however, the Dolphins converted a fake punt opportunity by snapping the ball to safety Chris Clemons for the first down. Although St. Louis stopped the Dolphins’ again, precious time had been taken off the clock. Punter Brandon Fields then pinned the Rams at their own 6-yard line with a 51-yard boot.
With 1:41 left in the game, receiver Steve Smith finally got involved in the Rams’ offense with two catches. Bradford then found Gibson twice, including a highlight grab, to move the ball into Dolphins’ territory. However, the worst thing that could've happened did: the Rams got into a third-down passing situation. Vernon found his way to Bradford for his second sack of the game, pushing the ball back to the Miami 49. Zuerlein attempted an NFL-record 66-yard field goal with time expiring, and even having a day like he was having, the rookie showed the distance was there as he missed the equalizer.
Gibson would finish with a team-high seven catches for 91 yards. Jackson rushed for 52 yards on 12 carries, while his rookie counterpart Richardson had 11 carries for 76 yards. The Dolphins’ Tannehill threw for 185 yards on 21-of-29 passing to go with his two touchdowns.