For the second consecutive week, the Rams drew silly penalties, offered up a costly turnover that was returned for a touchdown and continued to cut themselves with self-inflicted wounds that would ultimately have them facing a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter.
The Rams overcame it last week in the friendlier confines of the Edward Jones Dome against a team not unlike themselves. On Sunday afternoon, the Rams couldn’t repeat the feat against a talented Falcons team in a difficult road environment.
“There’s no doubt,” Bradford said. “Obviously Atlanta is a very good football team. When you play a team like that on the road, you really have to limit your mistakes and your self-inflicted wounds. Last week we were able to overcome those but on the road against a good opponent, today we just weren’t able to do that.”
By the time the clock hit all zeroes Sunday, the Rams had racked up seven penalties for 53 yards. The Rams apparently have made it a point to one-up their local theme park as the seven flags matched the total they posted last week.
Making matters worse for the team that was the league’s most penalized in 2012 was a particular penchant for drawing flags on special teams. There, the Rams had four penalties for 33 yards and those flags resulted in dreadful field position starts at their 8, 11, 13 and 5.
The one area the Rams didn’t seem to get penalized last week was special teams but it was a problem in 2012 and it bubbled to the surface again Sunday.
“You had a special teams unit that played really well last week and didn’t hurt themselves and then we come up with three or four penalties this week,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was frustrating ... when you get backed up 10 yards we have to start with that bad field position and it makes it hard especially when you are behind.”
Penalties don’t tell the whole story of the Rams’ continued mistakes, either. Maybe it’s just bad luck but Bradford has two interceptions in as many weeks, a rate that isn't ideal but not the end of the world except for the fact that both were returned for touchdowns.
This time, Bradford fired in the left flat for running back Daryl Richardson, who couldn't handle a pass that was coming in hot.
“I took my eye off of it,” Richardson said. “I was looking to run and I need to make sure I eyeball that ball and catch it.”
Of course, Richardson wasn’t alone with his drop issues, either. Rookie Tavon Austin had his share as well, enough that he felt the need to talk to Bradford about it at one point.
There were also blown coverages, missed assignments and other run-of-the-mill errors that can lead to big plays.
“When you are playing on the road against somebody who is an elite team with an elite quarterback and a lot of weapons, they are going to be rolling and you can’t give them plays,” defensive end Chris Long said. “You make mistakes like that, you might be able to do it at home but not on the road against a team that was in the NFC championship last year.”
As the youngest team in the league for the second year in a row, the easy assumption might be that the Rams simply might not be ready to win a game like Sunday’s against a team many believe will be a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the Falcons.
Whether they have the talent or not to compete with teams like Atlanta didn’t seem like the question coming out of this one. No, for the Rams to get to the point where they can beat a good team on the road, they’re first going to have to learn to stop beating themselves.