It had been a weird game of blown opportunities and cheap points. There were seven assorted scores in the game, and five of them were set up by penalties or turnovers. The Rams could have taken the lead in the third quarter, but with fourth-and-a-yard on the Denver four, White slipped while making a cut. And the Broncos could have put the game away in the fourth period, but they fumbled in Ram territory.
At times Bronco quarterback John Elway looked like a dream, and at times he had big problems with the highly active set of Ram linebackers and defensive backs who roughed up his receivers. In the free and easy passing days of 1978-84, when every little nudge drew an interference call, Elway would have had a big Sunday, but the rules have been modified this year to give defenders some leeway and the Rams took full advantage. Maybe it's the dawning of a new era. The two glamour quarterbacks of 1984, Miami's Dan Marino and San Francisco's Joe Montana, both lost on Sunday.
"This is going to be a dramatic change," Elway said. "You're gonna see a lot more receivers complaining, a lot of people getting mad."
In the second quarter, when Elway got hot and the Broncos scored all their points, he looked like vintage Namath. Elway had the L.A. secondary reeling, zipping a 22-yard rope through tight coverage to Steve Watson, laying the next one out to Butch Johnson with perfect touch for a 28-yard score, coming back seven plays later with another perfecto, this one a 25-yarder to Clint Sampson, for the Broncos' final TD.
Brock paled in comparison. He had no scrambling ability. He couldn't get out of the way of the Broncos' rush, which nailed him four times. His long ball died in the first quarter, when Ron Brown bobbled a pass that turned into a Bronco interception, and after that Brock's only successes were short-range passes over the middle. He made one very amateurish throw, a sidearmer down the sideline, into double coverage, and Steve Foley's interception set up a Bronco TD. Even Brock's lone touchdown pass, a two-yarder to tight end David Hill, was a misfire, an overthrow that Hill saved with a one-handed, fingertip catch.
In the final drive, though. Brock was five for five. For the first time he was hitting short sideline stuff, though he was throwing into a crippled secondary. Louie Wright, the Broncos' fine left cornerback, was out of the game with a knee injury. Steve Wilson, who started in Wright's place, left in the third quarter with a bruised knee, turning the job over to free agent Daniel Hunter. In the fourth quarter strong safety Dennis Smith separated his right shoulder on a diving deflection in the end zone, and three plays later Foley, the free safety who had intercepted two passes, went out with a bruised knee.
Well, even if they weren't very pretty Sunday, the Rams were the only winners in the NFC West. Their quarterback might have been shaky. Their blue-chip runner may have been absent. But Charlie White was back home with his old coach and his favorite old play.