ST. LOUIS -– For three quarters, the Rams played about as ugly as possible Sunday night.
Fortunately for St. Louis, the Baltimore Ravens played uglier for a full four.
St. Louis forced seven Baltimore turnovers and sacked Baltimore quarterbacks Kyle Boller and Chris Redman seven times in a 33-22 win before 66,085 fans at the Edward Jones Dome.
The win moved St. Louis (6-3) into a tie with Seattle for first place in the NFC West. Baltimore, which leads the AFC North, fell to 5-4.
“Thanks to the defense,” the Rams’ Dane Looker said. “They pulled out this win for us.”
Trailing 22-21 entering the final quarter, St. Louis forced two fumbles and an interception. The first two turnovers led to Jeff Wilkins field goals. The third, Brian Young’s third fumble recovery of the game, helped ice the win.
The key was the Rams’ ability to hold down Baltimore’s Jamal Lewis, the NFL’s leading rusher. Lewis, who entered the night averaging more than 130 yards, picked up 43 yards on his first two carries and looked to be on his way to a big night.
Those first two runs turned out to be the highlights of Lewis’ night, though. After picking up 60 yards in the first quarter, he gained only 51 the next three and fumbled twice.
“The key to the whole deal was not allowing them to run the ball in the second half,” said Tyoka Jackson, the Rams defensive tackle.
St. Louis overcame two fumbled punts, four turnovers of their own and a failure to run effectively for the second straight game.
Even with the return of Marshall Faulk from a knee injury, the Rams could not establish their running game. St. Louis gained 7 yards on nine carries in the first half.
That inefficiency affected the entire offense.
Quarterback Marc Bulger was 6-of-11 for 47 yards and one interception in the half. The Rams managed only four first downs in the half.
“We weren’t getting into a rhythm,” Looker said. “When you keep going three-and-out, three-and-out, it’s hard to get into a rhythm.”
The Rams had the chance to put the Ravens away early. St. Louis took a 7-0 lead 3:48 into the game on a 5-yard run by Faulk. That touchdown came after Jerametrius Butler intercepted a Boller pass deep in St. Louis territory and returned it to Baltimore’s 36.
After St. Louis forced a Baltimore three-and-out, Looker provided a spark on special teams to set up another Rams’ touchdown. Looker alertly picked up Dave Zastudli’s short punt as it took a St. Louis bounce and ran 44 yards down the left sideline to the Baltimore 1. Faulk’s touchdown run one play later pushed the lead to 14-0.
The Rams’ sloppy play, though, let the Ravens creep back. A fumbled punt by DeJuan Groce set up a Matt Stover field goal with 5:23 left in the first quarter that cut the lead to 14-3.
On the Rams’ next drive, Ray Lewis intercepted Bulger, setting up another Stover field goal. After the teams traded touchdowns, Baltimore cut the lead to 21-19 shortly before the half, thanks in large part to a pass interference call on Adam Archuleta.
Things went from bad to worse for St. Louis in the third quarter. After forcing Baltimore to punt on its first possession, Gross fumbled another punt at his own 28. That set up a third Stover field goal that gave the Ravens a 22-21 edge.
St. Louis seemed to catch a break when Butler intercepted his second pass and returned it to the Baltimore 35. Bulger gave the break back, though, on the next play, as Ed Reed intercepted him in the end zone.
The Rams gained one first down in the third quarter, committed two turnovers and went three-and-out three times.
St. Louis held the ball less than 23 minutes. They finished with 121 total yards to Baltimore’s 267, but they outscored Baltimore 12-0 in the fourth quarter to escape with a win.
“We were on the field for a long time and you’re going to have games like that,” Rams defensive end Grant Wistrom said. “Fortunately we were able to make the plays when we had to.”