EARTH CITY, Mo. -- Aside from attempting to stay healthy for four consecutive games, perhaps the primary goal of preseason football is to put your team through as much situational football as possible.
The idea being that the more different situations the team goes through, the more valuable lessons you can learn before the real games start. While the St. Louis Rams' preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints was strange in many ways, it also offered plenty of learning experiences for coach Jeff Fisher's team.
“I hope that when you get in preseason games that there’s enough things that take place there that you can learn from and learn lessons and teach from, and we got our share today," Fisher said. "I’ll tell you, that was something."
The fourth quarter alone could serve as a crash course on some of the league's lesser-known rules as well as an instruction book on how not to run a two-minute drill.
Twice, the Rams found themselves in position to score the go-ahead points and each time they failed to convert in part because of some silly mistakes. The offense at the time was comprised mostly of third- and fourth-stringers but the mistakes made could be used by anyone as lessons for the future.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein missed a 46-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and then missed a 59-yarder as time expired to give New Orleans a 26-24 victory.
It was the final sequence that raised the most eyebrows. After starting their final drive with a couple of conservative run calls, quarterback Austin Davis hit tight end Alex Bayer down the middle for a 42-yard gain to the Saints 42.
Things went haywire from there as there was some clear confusion about when the two-minute warning was. Davis hit receiver T.J. Moe for a gain of 4 yards but nobody, officials included, seemed to know whether they had hit the two-minute warning, and the Saints ended up using a timeout. Davis promptly was flagged for delay of game coming out of the timeout but it seemed mostly because of the confusion over the timeout and clock.
After a couple of completions got the Rams in field goal range, they went back to the conservative approach with two runs for no gain. Out of timeouts, Davis let the clock run down and then attempted to spike the ball to stop the clock to set up a 49-yard field goal attempt.
But Davis mishandled the snap before he could spike it. According to league rules, a mishandled snap that touches the ground that is then spiked is intentional grounding. The flag came out, the Rams moved back 10 yards and there was a 10-second runoff which suddenly left Zuerlein attempting a 59-yard field goal and the Rams having to snap the ball as soon as the whistle blew.
Zuerlein had the distance but missed it left.
"I didn’t see it hit the ground, I saw him mishandle it, but I didn’t see it hit the ground," Fisher said. "But it’s correct. It’s the right call, kind of unusual with four seconds left in a preseason game to see that, and then you got a 10-second runoff.”
That's just one glaring example of something the Rams will have to work on this week, not including the bigger issues such as tackling and eliminating silly penalties.