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Rams need QB to go from mediocrity to contender

SAN DIEGO – Citing experience, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher did an about-face and named Shaun Hill as his starting quarterback on Nov. 12.

Fisher wanted the steady hand of the 13-year veteran Hill, knowing that too many games had slipped away because of the mistakes of young signal-caller Austin Davis.

On Sunday afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium, Fisher and the Rams found out the hard way that experience goes only so far. It went far enough to get the Rams to San Diego’s 4-yard line with a little over a minute to go and a prime opportunity to knock off the Chargers.

But that’s where it ended. Given the chance to tie at worst and win at best, Hill threw a game-ending interception into the waiting arms of San Diego strong safety Marcus Gilchrist. It was the one mistake Hill couldn’t make in that situation.

“I think that’s pretty evident whether this is your first year playing or 13th year,” Hill said.

The interception gave San Diego a 27-24 victory, dropping the Rams to 4-7 and killing their hopes of getting consecutive wins for the first time this season. It also all but mathematically eliminated them from the postseason and moved them perilously close an 11th consecutive nonwinning season.

In some ways, Hill was to be commended for even having the Rams in position to pull off the win. But he was also partly to blame for the situation after throwing an early interception that set up San Diego’s first field goal and coughing up a fumble that Chargers linebacker Andrew Gachkar returned 13 yards for a touchdown and a 20-10 lead San Diego would not relinquish.

The defensive touchdown was the seventh such touchdown the Rams have allowed this season, two more than any other team in the league. As in many of the team’s losses with Davis at the helm, those turnovers were too much to overcome.

“It’s hard to win when you turn the ball over,” guard Davin Joseph said. “Last week we didn’t have any I don’t think and this week we had three. And they cost us.”

None more so than the final interception. After Kenny Britt made a ridiculous 27-yard catch to give the Rams a first down at San Diego’s 6 with plenty of time to go, all signs pointed to the Rams improbably overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit.

On first down, running back Benny Cunningham gained 2 yards before the Chargers called timeout in hopes of preserving time to put together their own last-minute drive.

Over on the Rams’ sideline, Fisher saw no need to counsel Hill on what to do if the throw he wanted wasn’t there. The options were simple: Hit an open wideout or airmail it out of the end zone.

Before the snap, Cunningham went in motion to the left, where Britt and receiver Chris Givens were bunched. Tight end Lance Kendricks was attached to the line on the right side with Cory Harkey in the backfield.

Absent the threat of the run after Cunningham went in motion, Hill looked to the left but said his first read, presumably Givens, was covered. Cunningham ran a jerk route, and had Hill seen him with a bit more patience the QB would have had an easy throw for a touchdown.

Instead, Hill’s eyes followed Britt coming across underneath in man coverage against San Diego cornerback Shareece Wright. Wright got his hands on Britt near the goal line, a call Britt said he felt should have been made but wasn’t.

Of more importance was Gilchrist roaming free on the other side. His assignment was Kendricks, but with Kendricks staying in to block, Gilchrist was able to freelance.

Sure enough, Hill went to the next read and attempted to force it in to Britt. Gilchrist was waiting. Interception. Game over.

“The coaches put the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game and I appreciate that,” Hill said. “I let them down with my decision. There’s no way you can sit there and second-guess play-calling. If you’re going to second-guess anybody, second-guess the guy executing the plays. That’s me.”

The backbreaking and avoidable turnover from a quarterback has been a sight all too familiar for the Rams this season.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was the Rams’ NFL-leading fifth interception this season when trailing in the fourth quarter by seven or fewer points. That’s three more than any other team.

Veteran, rookie, it doesn’t matter. Sunday’s loss reaffirmed this simple truth: For the Rams to take the next step from mediocrity to contender, it starts with the quarterback.