ST. LOUIS (KSDK Sports) - Did the Rams grow as a team in Sunday's 42-21 win over the Chicago Bears? It surely appears that way, although we won't really know until the final five games plays itself out.
But there was ample evidence:
*Three starters were lost to possible concussions, but, as coach Jeff Fisher simply said, "They just kept playing."
Running back Zac Stacy wasn't able to play in the second half, but Benny Cunningham made it so no one noticed. Cunningham was especially productive in the drive to the clinching touchdown when he had 61 yards on six attempts, including a 9-yard touchdown run, his first in the NFL.
Also lost was left guard Chris Williams, who was replaced by Shelley Smith, and cornerback Trumaine Johnson, whose replacement was essentially safety Rodney McLeod.
Although Bears quarterback Josh McCown completed 36 of 47 passes for 352 yards, 10 of the completions were to running backs and his average per completion was only 9.8.
The Rams rushed for 258 yards, which, of course, includes wide receiver Tavon Austin's 65-yard run that provided an early 7-0 lead. Most significant is that Cunningham (13-109-8.4) and Stacy (12-87-7.3) combined for 196 yards on 25 carries, an average of 7.8. There were nine runs of 10 yards or more.
*The critical possession occurred after the Bears scored a touchdown to cut the Rams lead to 27-21 with 7:24 left in the game. The score was aided by a brutal roughing the passer penalty by defensive tackle Michael Brockers on third down that gave the Bears a first down inside the 1-yard line.
Had there been no penalty, the Bears would have likely kicked a field goal, and the Rams would have still led by 10 points.
Taking over at their own 20-yard line, the signature moment came after Cunningham rushed for four and 27 yards to give the Rams a first down at the Chicago 49-yard line.
Quarterback Kellen Clemens completed a strike to wide receiver Chris Givens at the Bears'30-yard line. However, center Scott Wells was flagged for a hands-to-the-face penalty, making it first-and-20 at their own 41.
Without hesitation, Clemens found tight end Jared Cook for 29 yards right back to the 30-yard line and four Cunningham runs later, he was in the end zone. Or, at least the ball was, as he dived for the goal line and the ball broke the plane.
A two-point conversion pass to rarely used Isaiah Pead, and the lead was 35-21. Exactly 60 second later, defensive end Robert Quinn finally got his first sack of the game after supplying relentless pressure all afternoon. He stripped McCown clean, picked up the ball and easily ran 31 yards for the final touchdown.
For Quinn, it was his 13th sack of the season, and he is 1.5 behind league leader Robert Mathis of Indianapolis. The takeaway was the third of the game for the Rams, and they had no turnovers. That pushes their turnover ratio to plus-8, tied for sixth in the league with New England and pending the Monday night game between San Francisco and Washington. The 49ers enter that game at plus-6.
Describing the touchdown drive, Fisher said, "Well the offense was, I think, a little visibly upset at the penalty and they decided to take things into their own hands, which was great."
Said Clemens, "I think that we're starting to believe, which is what you need. As a whole, we're starting to believe. We're coming off a big win at Indianapolis. I was proud of the guys. There's no letdown. We didn't come out flat coming off a bye week. A lot of times that happens. I think, again, that goes back to the veterans on this team, the offensive line, a lot of guys on the defense leading this group and making sure we're heading in the right direction."
Howard Balzer will be contributing to KSDK Sports throughout the 2013 season. Howard hosts "H and Friends" Monday-Friday from 9-11 on Fox Sports 1490 The Champ. He is also a host on SiriusXM NFL radio and one of 44 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.