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Tex Maule
December 02, 1968
The Rams beat the Giants on a last-ditch field goal, but should they face the Colts for the Coastal Division title they'll need more
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December 02, 1968

Still Alive Because They're Kicking

The Rams beat the Giants on a last-ditch field goal, but should they face the Colts for the Coastal Division title they'll need more

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Just as the fourth period started, the Rams scored a third touchdown to go ahead, and it appeared that the Giants were in full flight. But by now the Rams' massive front four—David Jones, Roger Brown, Merlin Olsen and Gregg Schumacher—were beginning to trip over their tongues after a long afternoon spent in comic pursuit of Tarkenton, who at 190 pounds seldom runs over anyone but can leave you feeling slightly silly. In a peculiar stop-and-go march in which he once gained 20 yards on a scramble, Tarkenton finally brought the Giants back even with an 11-yard pass to Thomas with 42 seconds left to play. The fans who began to leave the Coliseum should have stayed—or at least told Gabriel that the game was over.

When the Rams got the ball at their 30-yard line after the kickoff, there were 41 seconds left to play. The Giants went into a prevent defense, using a three-man rush, and Gabriel promptly picked it apart, taking the team to the New York 29. He hit Mike Dennis on a 17-yard sideline pass, and twice he called draws with Tommy Mason carrying the ball through the middle of the attenuated—and astonished—Giant line. Finally, in came Gossett and the Rams had won another laugher.

Although the victory kept the Rams virtually locked with the Colts, it could hardly have made them overconfident. Against a Giant defense which has been so completely rebuilt in the last two years that just two starters remain from 1966, the Rams could move only sporadically. Gabriel completed nine of 20 passes for 154 yards, but he had two interceptions. The Ram ground game, against a defense not notable for invulnerability to a good running team, was barely adequate. Neither Dick Bass, who has recovered from the injury which slowed him for a long time, nor Willie Ellison, who played the whole game at halfback, are game-breaking runners. They grind out small, steady gains, but neither is enough of a threat to distort a defense.

With Bernie Casey out, Gabriel's corps of receivers was unimpressive. Of the nine passes Gabriel completed, five were to his running backs, and the only really significant catch made by a spread end or a flanker was the 60-yard touchdown pass Tucker caught. It was his only catch of the day.

After the game, George Allen sipped a paper cup full of milk to soothe his ulcer and talked in a hoarse voice.

"When the season started," said the Ram coach, "I was the only milk drinker on the team. Now about half the guys on the team are drinking it. It seems like we have to come from behind almost every week to win. We call the second half the Rams' half, but it's tough. It shows a lot of character. At the half today, we figured we only had 30 minutes of life left, what with Baltimore winning. We had to win. We're not playing great football but we're getting by, and one day we'll put it all together. Each week a different guy makes the big play. Today it was Wendell Tucker, with Casey out."

Allen can draw some consolation when he remembers that in 1967 the Rams survived a flat spell in midseason which saw them lose one game and play two ties on successive weekends, then explode into violence to overwhelm their opponents in the last month of the year.

They need much the same kind of regeneration now. Their next three opponents are the Vikings at Minnesota, and the Chicago Bears and the Colts in Los Angeles. At least two of those teams—Minnesota and Baltimore—will surely be tougher than the Giants. If the Rams do not raise the level of their play for Minnesota this week, the Baltimore game on the last Sunday of the season could be meaningless. If that game does decide the Coastal Division championship, it will require a superhuman effort by the whole Ram team to win it.

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