The way it seems to be going with the Los Angeles Rams these days, it's no fun unless they scare their coach, their fans and themselves half to death before winning. Earlier this season, losing to Green Bay 14-13 with less than a minute to play, the Rams won on a Bruce Gossett field goal. The next week they let Atlanta take an early 14-0 lead before waking up. Two weeks ago they were headed for a disastrous loss to San Francisco when, with 17 seconds left, Gossett saved them again with a field goal that tied the game. Finally, last week against the New York Giants, the Rams trailed 14-0 at halftime, surged ahead 21-14, let the Giants tie it up with 42 seconds left and then won it 24-21 on still another Gossett field goal with four seconds to play.
Oddly, victory was less essential to the Rams than to the Giants, whose defeat all but killed what little chance they had to catch Dallas in the Capitol Division. Division titles are decided on a won-lost percentage, tie games not included. Since the Rams and the Baltimore Colts have lost only one game each and since they meet at the end of the season, the team that wins that game—assuming no further losses before then—will win the Coastal Division title.
The victory was essential for the Rams' ego, however, and it was a satisfying one for George Allen, the young coach who has lifted the team out of mediocrity in three years. Against the Giants, the Rams produced a flat, uninspired first half chock-full with errors of execution. The Giants scored two touchdowns and both were the results of gifts.
The first came after Eddie Meador, who usually drops a football once every two years, dropped one twice in two seconds. He fumbled a punt, recovered it, fumbled again and saw it scooped up by the Giants' McKinley Boston on the Ram six-yard line. Fran Tarkenton cashed in on that misplay with a three-yard pass to Tucker Frederickson, who sneaked out of the Giant backfield totally unnoticed and was wide open in the end zone.
Curiously, Ron Smith, the other Ram safety, duplicated Meador's miscue on the next Giant punt and again Boston recovered, this time on the Ram 27. There were only 27 seconds left in the quarter, and Smith might have considered the possibility of letting the punt alone. Given a second break, Tarkenton hit Tight End Aaron Thomas with a 22-yard touchdown pass.
Throughout the first half the Giants contained the stodgy Ram offense with superior speed and opportunistic play by their secondary defenders. They intercepted two Roman Gabriel passes, and their surprisingly good line held the Ram runners to 35 yards. But the Giants are a young team, and like most young teams they break down sooner or later under stress. They began to unravel in the second half, and the Rams took advantage of their mistakes.
The Giants lost their poise in the first minute of the second half. The Rams, playing without Bernie Casey, their best receiver, had Wendell Tucker, a Kansas City Chief dropout, playing flanker. Tucker has speed but a reputation for hands like Ping-Pong paddles.
Gabriel, obviously discarding the rather pedestrian game plan which had produced nothing but monotony, decided to gamble on Tucker's Ping-Pong paddles. He sent the youngster down on a deep post pattern against Scott Eaton, the Giant left cornerback. Tucker went straight down the sideline, broke suddenly toward the middle and was three steps in front of Eaton at the Giant 25-yard line when Gabriel's pass came down. The ball was a trifle overthrown but Tucker stretched, made a remarkable fingertip catch and raced in for a 60-yard touchdown.
That play, coupled with a rash of needless penalties that kept them in deep difficulty most of the second half, destroyed the Giants' fragile composure. The penalties were foolish ones—piling on, tripping and clipping—and after one piling-on penalty, the culprit, 25-year-old Willie Young, compounded his error by protesting so vehemently that he was kicked out of the game. Since the Giant offensive line is not deep, his loss was a serious one, and the Rams scored again the next time they got the ball. Gabriel took it in himself from 19 yards out.
"The play was a pass-run option," he said later. "I was looking for Jack Snow, but when I saw the hole open I took it." He bowled over a hapless Giant defender near the goal line, something he can do, since he stands 6'3�" and weighs 225.