All Ball Sports: Rams survive, Dodgers subdued, Sea Hawks flying

Running back Matt Kraskoukas carried the ball 20 times for 112 yards and two TD’s in Mira Costa’s 34-0 win over West. Photos by Ray Vidal

by Paul Teetor           

The Rams didn’t win Sunday’s game with the Atlanta Falcons as much as they survived it. 

Make that barely survived it.

When Rams Coach Sean McVay faced the media after the game, he summed up the feeling of Rams fans everywhere: “Holy hell,” he said. “I need a couple of drinks.”

In a crazy game at So-Fi Stadium that they once led by the lop-sided score of 28-3, the hapless Rams ended up winning by a too-close score of 31-27 over the woebegone Falcons, who fell to 0-2 and will be lucky to win four games this season.

The Rams proved exactly one thing Sunday afternoon: the Falcons suck. They may very well be the worst team in the entire National Football League.

But thanks to a rare Cooper Kupp fumble late in the fourth quarter, the Falcons were actually in a great position to win the game with a quick touchdown when they recovered the ball just 20 yards from the end zone.

The brutal truth is that any halfway-decent team would have gone on to complete the monumental upset of the Super Bowl champs, and left them reeling with an 0-2 record to start the new season.

But because the Falcons had a career backup, Marcus Mariota, as their starting quarterback, they were unable to close the deal, and instead let the Rams escape with an ugly four-point victory that leveled their record at 1-1.

The fans in the packed-as-usual stadium let out a collective sigh of relief, but as far as what the win said about how the Rams are going to do the rest of this season: who the hell knows?

Certainly not all Ball.

Both fork-in-the-road scenarios are now equally plausible: the Rams will eventually recover from their obvious Super Bowl hangover and reclaim the magic that made them such a dominating force last season — or they could just as easily stumble along stuck in second gear and not even make the playoffs, much less make it back to the Super Bowl again.

It had been 10 days since the Rams were crushed 31-10 by the Buffalo Bills in the season opener, and they had plenty of time to diagnose and fix their offensive woes.

And for the first three quarters, it looked like everything was fixed. Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes to Kupp and one to Allen Robinson, the off-season pickup who was supposed to be their new number two receiver, but who caught only one pass against the Bills. 

Running back Darrell Henderson ran hard for a touchdown, rookie cornerback Cobie Durant picked off a pass and returned it for 51 yards, and suddenly the Rams looked like a Super Bowl contender again while building their 28-3 lead.

Even when the Falcons pulled within 31-17 with five minutes left, everything looked rosy for the Rams. But with 4:37 left the Falcons returned a blocked punt for a touchdown – something they hadn’t done since the 1990 season – and after former USC star Drake London caught a two-point conversion, it was suddenly 31-25 and the Falcons were in position to pull off a miracle comeback with one more touchdown.

But they couldn’t quite make it happen. A relieved McVay admitted there was still a lot to fix if the Rams really expect to run it back to another Super Bowl appearance.

“We have many issues to clean up,” McVay said. “Some of our mistakes were very uncharacteristic of us, but they happened and we still found a way to win. Unless they tell me you get more points for being able to win by more points, I don’t really care.”

His syntax may have been a bit confusing, but his point was clear: it doesn’t matter if you win by one point, four points or the 25 points they once led the Falcons by. A win is a win no matter what the margin, and so the Rams will go into next week’s game at Arizona on a one-game winning streak.

Give that man a drink.

Make it two

Herbie’s human 

After three years of watching Justin Herbert’s supernatural magic show, we finally have proof he’s human after all. 

It wasn’t just that the Chargers were dominating the Kansas City chiefs Thursday night, and about to score another touchdown for a 14-point lead when Herbie suddenly threw a goal-line interception that the Chiefs ran back 99 yards for a touchdown to tie the game and seize the momentum that had belonged to the Chargers just 10 seconds earlier. 

Nor was it the fact that the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Herbert, built like a starting linebacker, was in position to tackle the Chief with the ball, but whiffed when the guy spun around and sprinted another 90 yards to the endzone.  

No, the more sobering realization that Herbert is not a superman savior for a Chargers team with realistic Super Bowl dreams came a few minutes later. That’s when Chargers fans were treated to the single worst sight they could imagine: Herbert lying flat on the ground clutching his rib area while writhing in severe pain.

It got worse from there, when Chargers Coach Brandon Staley made yet another inexplicable decision in a long string of bad decisions that dates back to last season: he kept Herbert in the game in a futile attempt at a last-second comeback in a 27-24 loss to the Chiefs. He absorbed several more brutal body blows while trying to engineer a fantastic finish that was never going to happen, then finally limped off the field. 

Shortly after the game, the Chargers said that Herbert suffered fractured rib cartilage with few details provided on a prognosis or a timeline for his recovery and/or return.        

So now the Chargers entire season, so rich with promise just a week ago, is in doubt. One of the pre-season favorites to make the Super Bowl is now 1-1 and dependent on Herbert making a speedy recovery to come back and lead them to the playoffs.

With journeyman Chase Daniel as Herbie’s only backup, the Chargers are totally screwed if their star and undisputed leader is forced to miss more than a game or two.

The only good piece of news – and it is a small piece – is that Herbert will have 10 days to rehab before their game next Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Chargers play in the American Football Conference West, the NFL’s toughest division. They opened their season with a hard-fought, five-point win over the Las Vegas Raiders, who made the playoffs last year.

Then this week they had to face the Chiefs, who not only made it to the playoffs last season but almost made it to the Super Bowl.

After the loss to the Chiefs, there were plenty of what-ifs for pained Chargers fans to ponder besides Herbert’s injury. The reality is that the Chargers gave the game away, blowing a huge opportunity to win at Kansas City on a night when their superstar quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, was having a good-but-not-great game.

And it wasn’t just Herbie’s rare pick-six. Twice, cornerback Assante Samuel Jr. had an interception in his hands, and twice he fumbled it away.

Wide receiver Mike Williams had a great game, stepping up to replace the Chargers’ best receiver, the injured Keenan Allen, with eight catches. But his contributions were wasted.

And then there is the continuing issue of Head Coach Brandon Staley, who came over from the Rams last year touted as a defensive genius, but spent all of last season trying to prove he also has offensive chops.

Last year the Chargers led the league in going for it on fourth down and short yardage. Staley said he was doing it to instill an aggressive mindset in his players. But toward the end of the season he went too far several times, trying and failing to make it on fourth downs deep in his own territory and setting his team up for an avoidable loss.

So after hearing that too-reckless criticism all spring and summer, he now has turned too conservative, twice passing up fourth-and-very-short opportunities that the huge Herbert could have safely run a quarterback sneak on. Instead, he sent in the punter to play it safe.

For Staley’s sake, and for the sake of his team, he needs to find a middle ground, of balancing caution and aggression when faced with fourth-down-and-short situations.

Of course, if Herbert isn’t back on the field some time in the next few weeks, and playing as well as ever, it won’t matter what approach Staley takes.

That’s how important Herbert is to the Chargers’ prospects.

Dodgers Do It Again

The Dodgers clinched their ninth National League West title in the last 10 years this week, but you never would have known it by the muted celebration in the locker room.

Oh, sure, there were the obligatory scenes of players and coaches wearing goggles while they sprayed each other with champagne, but it felt more like an orchestrated ritual than a genuine outpouring of enthusiasm.

Just winning a spot in the playoffs is hardly the goal this year. They have much bigger dreams to chase. Anything less than a World Series title will be a huge disappointment. 

As of Sunday night, the Dodgers had the best record in all of baseball with 101 wins, so they long ago assumed they were going to make the playoffs this year. Therefore the lack of excitement Wednesday night was understandable.

Manager Dave Roberts set the bar as high as humanly possible before the season even started when he guaranteed that the Dodgers would win the World Series this year.

Such a wildly optimistic forecast was completely out of character for the normally smooth, low-key field general. And it simply isn’t done by smart managers for fear of looking stupid – and/or arrogant – if and when it doesn’t happen. 

But Roberts is a smart, savvy guy and rarely says anything without thinking through the consequences and ramifications. So you can bet he had a good reason when he made his startling prediction.

Let’s hope he’s right.

Mira Costa sophomore Nico De La Cruz connected on 19 of 24 passes Friday night for 320 yards and two TD’s against West.

Redondo, Mira Costa football both Winners  

They’re baaack!

The Redondo football team pushed its record to a startling 4-0 Friday night with an overwhelming 42-13 win over Paramount. This is the best Sea Hawks start since 2015, a streak that is giving fair warning to the rest of the Bay League before league play starts in two weeks: we’re back and we’re ready to rumble.

The contrast with the last two seasons couldn’t be starker. Over those two years the Sea Hawks fell to the bottom of the league and absorbed pounding after pounding, humiliation after humiliation, and blowout after blowout.

It got so bad that Coach Matt Ballard resigned right after the season, and former Sea Hawk star and NFL player Keith Ellison took over. Whatever he’s doing, it’s working wonders.

Of course, it helped that quarterback Christian Hunt had been the starter for two years while learning his craft. Now a confident and experienced senior leader, he was ready to lead the Sea Hawks back with a passing game that is so effective it sets up their running game when defenses try to load up on stopping the pass.

Against Paramount, Hunt completed 10 of 17 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. But on this night at least, their running game was dominant as they piled up 233 yards, 126 by Colin Kelly. Roman Broughton also had two rushing TD’s.

Mira Costa, with only one loss and a 3-1 record, was close behind Redondo with yet another win Friday night, this time by a score of 34-0 over West. The Mustangs are busy developing their own star quarterback in sophomore Nico De La Cruz. He connected on 19 of 24 passes Friday night for 320 yards and two TD’s.

Workhorse running back Matt Kraskoukas carried the ball 20 times for 112 yards and two TD’s. 

The Mustangs travel to Villa Park Friday night and then open Bay League play September 30 when they host Culver City.

Redondo travels to West Friday night and opens Bay League play at Peninsula on September 30.

The climax of the regular season for both beach city teams will come October 28, when Mira Costa travels to Redondo for the annual backyard brawl with the Sea Hawks. The way both teams are playing right now, that game could also decide the Bay League championship.     

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