ST. LOUIS — Even without Deuce McAllister, the New Orleans Saints’ running game is in good hands.
Perturbed after being described as a journeyman, fill-in Aaron Stecker responded with his first career 100-yard day in the Saints’ 28-25 overtime victory against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.
Stecker’s performance added balance for the Saints, who also got big games from Aaron Brooks, kicker John Carney and defensive end Charles Grant, who had three of his team’s five sacks.
Stecker, who entered the game with 443 yards in four-plus seasons, was supposed to split time with Ki-Jana Carter, and the Saints figured to struggle on the ground with McAllister sidelined by a high ankle sprain. Stecker ended up with 106 yards on 18 carries, including a 42-yard touchdown run.
“Hey, I’m a running back,” Stecker said. “It’s not like they pulled me out of the front office and said ‘Deuce is out, do you know how to play some running back?’
“I believe in myself and my teammates had no doubt in me.”
Brooks calmly directed the winning drive, Carney kicked five field goals and Grant led a strong defensive effort that combined to end the Rams’ 15-game regular-season home winning streak. The Rams have never intimidated the Saints in St. Louis. New Orleans won there in 2000 and ‘01, when both teams were in the NFC West.
“I don’t know if they don’t like to play us,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said. “I know we don’t like to play them because of all the talent they have, but I don’t know if they like to play us, either.”
New Orleans (2-1) forced overtime after the Rams (1-2) took the lead on Marc Bulger’s 19-yard scramble with 28 seconds to go. Then, the Saints stuffed the Rams’ once high-powered offenseand won on Carney’s 31-yarder with 7:59 left in overtime.
The Rams won the toss in overtime, and converted a fourth-and-1 play from their 41 to keep the drive alive. Then, they promptly lost momentum, punted and never got the ball back.
The Rams who won the NFC West last year, have yet to force a turnover. Last year, they lost two of the first three on the road before recovering to go 12-4.
“We were 1-2 last year and no one thought we could come back and take the lead in this game,” Bulger said. “So, we’ve been there before. No one is this locker room is going to give up.”
Brooks was 24-for-41 for 316 yards and a touchdown. More important, he was 3-for-4 for 42 yards on the winning drive, and his 12-yard bootleg run to the St. Louis 13 set up Carney’s field goal.
He also was cool and calm on the tying drive, accomplished with only 24 seconds to go. The Rams tried to avoid return man Michael Lewis and Jeff Wilkins’ line-drive squib kick gave New Orleans possession at its 42, a big break.
Four plays later, Carney connected from 38 yards to tie the score with 2 seconds to go.
Isaac Bruce caught eight passes for 134 yards, his third straight 100-yard day, for the Rams. Bulger was 32-for-49 for 358 yards.
The Rams never got the running game going, though, with 78 yards on 15 carries against a team that allowed an NFL-high 174.5 yards per game the first two games. Marshall Faulk had more yards through the air (five catches for 46 yards) than on the ground (44 yards on 12 carries).
Starting in the second quarter, the Saints scored on five straight possessions. Joe Horn’s juggling 9-yard grab gave them a 22-17 lead with 8:23 left. Aeneas Williams deflected the pass, but Horn, who caught seven passes for 91 yards, didn’t give up on the ball and caught it in the back of the end zone.
The Rams appeared to stop the Saints much earlier on an 11-play, 81-yard drive, but Anthony Hargrove was whistled for running into punter Mitch Berger. Berger spun down after getting nudged on his follow-through.