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The first half of the opening quarter couldn't have been scripted any better for L.A. The Rams' initial two possessions produced 14 points, the first score coming on a 39-yard pass to Ellard, the second set up by a 30-yarder to Ellard. Meanwhile, Cunningham was having big problems. First three possessions: three downs and out. Fourth possession: interception. Net passing yardage for the quarter: —15.
The Philadelphia defense took hold after that. Jerome Brown, the 295-pound right tackle, was just about uncontrollable, sacking Everett once and spilling running back Greg Bell twice for losses. But everyone kept waiting for Philly's offense to do something. "The thing about having four linebackers on the rush is that they're more agile and can cut off Cunningham's scrambling," said Shurmur. "And the thing about all that zone is that everyone's always facing Cunningham and seeing what he does. No one's back is turned."
The score remained 14-0 in favor of L. A. until Philly scored early in the fourth quarter. The Eagles stopped the Rams on their next two possessions, but the offense remained ineffective. Then Philly's defense cracked. The front four had come into the game weary and bruised from a pressure-filled season. " Reggie White and Mike Pitts have knee sprains," Brown had said on Saturday. " Clyde Simmons is just wore out. I've got two bad knees and a shoulder that will have to be operated on after the season. We've just got to piece it together."
With a little more than three minutes left, Bell broke a 54-yard run, down to the 10, and punched it in on two more carries. The hunt was over. Cunningham had filled the air with dink passes but never got anything going downfield. He had scrambled six times for 39 yards, but he had started to run a lot more times, only to change his mind. "He was running around, pulling up and then throwing, but that's not his game," said Ram linebacker Mel Owens. "Randall's normally a one-looker. If he doesn't see what he likes, he goes. He can't pull up and deliver the ball with a soft touch, like Joe Montana can."
"Buddy got on me all week to run more," said Cunningham, "but if I get hurt in the beginning of the game, then where are we? The way they played their zone, well, I never saw that on film. You can dink and dunk all day, but you have to make big plays, and we didn't have them. The way they played those zones, it was like they knew we couldn't go deep—and we couldn't. No excuses."
Still, L.A. beat the Niners once during the regular season and had them by 14 points going into the fourth quarter of their second game. The Rams also match up well with the other NFC playoff teams. They lost 23-21 to the Vikings in overtime in Week 9 and crushed the Giants 31-10 in Anaheim a week later. Now L.A. faces the Giants again, this time in the Meadowlands.
"Please say this about the Rams," said Ron Heller, the Eagles' offensive right tackle. "They have real class. No cheap shots, no talking. The two guys I played against, Greene and Shawn Miller, I have nothing but respect for. They're just a well-coached team."