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Rams put the clamps on Chargers to pull off stunner

ST. LOUIS -- A week after losing by 38 points to the Detroit Lions, the St. Louis Rams used their defense to rebound in a big way.

The Rams' defense sacked San Diego's Philip Rivers seven times to set the tone, stuffing the NFL's top offense in a 20-17 victory over the Chargers on Sunday.

James Hall, Chris Long and Larry Grant had two sacks apiece for surprising St. Louis (3-3), which won only one game last season.

"We thought we could get pressure. We might have exceeded our expectations," Long said. "You have to aim high."

Sam Bradford threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Danario Alexander, making his NFL debut, to help build a 14-point cushion in the first half. Bradford finished 18 of 31 for 198 yards.

Steven Jackson had 109 yards and a touchdown and added several key late carries for the Rams, who won their third straight at home for the first time since 2004 after entering the season with a 14-game losing streak.

Expectations were low after the Lions handled them 44-6.

"After a loss like last week it's not easy to come back and go to work, but I thought we had a great week or preparation," Bradford said. "I feel like everyone in that locker room expects to win.

"If we continue with that mentality, we have a lot more victories in store."

The Rams dominated most of the way on both sides of the ball against the Chargers, who had been averaging 28 points. San Diego was held to 287 total yards, 175 fewer than its leading-leading average, and was only 4 for 12 on third down.

The sack total was the Rams' biggest since they had eight Nov. 30, 2003, at home against the Vikings. They totaled 10 sacks the first five games.

"When we're successful, we're getting to the quarterback," Hall said. "We wanted the pressure and we wanted this on our shoulders."

Fans stood much of the fourth quarter, helping to rattle the four-time defending AFC West champions.

"Bottom line, we have no more games to give," linebacker Kevin Burnett said.

Special teams stumbling had a lot to do with the Chargers' first three road losses. Nate Kaeding slipped on a field goal attempt that got blocked by Hall in the fourth quarter, straining his groin in the process, but this one was a stumble for the Chargers, who were 13-3 last season.

"We can't keep saying what we are, 'but we're doing this,' " Rivers said. "What we are is 2-4 and making mistakes that allow us to be 2-4. We've got to get them straightened out and keep grinding or it'll get away from us."

San Diego (2-4) lost tight end Antonio Gates with a left ankle injury in the first half and Malcom Floyd also left with a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter.

Patrick Crayton had a season-best 117 yards on six receptions, after totaling six catches for 94 yards the first five games.

X-rays are scheduled Monday for Gates, who said players landed on the leg a couple of times.

"I just couldn't go, I couldn't move," Gates said. "It got real stiff."

Gates finished with two catches for 12 yards, ending his NFL-record run by a tight end with touchdowns in nine consecutive regular-season games.

Rivers threw a touchdown pass for the 19th straight game, connecting on a 5-yarder to Buster Davis with 3:16 to go in the fourth quarter to cut the gap to three points, but the Chargers never got the ball back.

Rivers also threw an end zone interception in the first half. He was 22 of 37 for 249 yards.

The Rams sat on their lead with conservative play most of the second half. Jackson bailed out that strategy with 28 yards on five consecutive carries on the final clock-killing drive.

The Rams took a 17-3 halftime lead, getting 172 yards passing by Bradford and five sacks -- already topping their previous season best of four -- from a defense that held the Chargers to 87 yards and seven first downs.

Alexander, elevated from the practice squad this week, had the big play of the half with a diving end zone grab for a 38-yard touchdown that put St. Louis up 10-0 late in the first quarter.

Alexander, a former Missouri star who led the nation in receiving yards last year, was undrafted after undergoing a fourth operation on his left knee.

Alexander spread his arms wide after the catch.

"The Rams took a chance on me and gave me this opportunity, so I'm trying to make the best of it right now," Alexander said. "I'll remember this first touchdown the rest of my life."

Bradford was sacked on consecutive plays inside the San Diego 10 late in the half, one of them on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Burnett, but the Rams rebounded on Jackson's 7-yard scoring burst to make it 17-0.

The Chargers, who entered averaging 14.6 points in the first half, avoided getting blanked with a 41-yard field goal by Kaeding in the final minute.

Game notes
Danny Amendola had a 42-yard punt return in the first half for St. Louis. ... Chargers punter Mike Scifres averaged 59.5 yards on six attempts, but two of them sailed into the end zone. ... Rams WR Mardy Gilyard and S Darian Stewart injured hamstrings. ... The Rams won their last four home games in 2004.