Trap game (n.) — Sporting event in which lesser opponent (St. Louis Rams) is sandwiched between two important games (Saints will play Carolina twice in three-week span) and favored team loses, caught “looking ahead” to bigger matchup.
Sunday’s game is, by definition, this type of game.
Sunday’s outcome, though, should defy the dictionary and sports superstitions, thanks Drew Brees’ not-so-fun road trip memories at Edward Jones Dome.
Less than two seasons have passed since Brees and the 2011 Saints left St. Louis with a 31-21 loss, giving the previously winless Rams their first win in seven tries.
“They beat the breaks off of us, and we were a 13-3 team,” Brees said of the Rams after the Saints beat Carolina 31-13 Sunday night, the first of two NFC South showdowns against the Panthers.
Against the Rams, Brees passed for 269 yards —his second-lowest passing yardage of 2011 — with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was sacked six times.
“So we understand the challenge of going up there,” Brees said. “We know the way they probably view us; we’ve had difficulty playing well there. We’re going to need our best preparation and our best performance to win up there. And that’s what we want to do. We want to keep this thing rolling.”
Rolling as in offense and defense taking turns making plays, neither suffering the setbacks that can ruin a gameday, or a season. The Saints are working to secure an NFC South championship and earn a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, the easiest route possible to Super Bowl XLVIII.
While the Saints (10-3) are one game away from ending the regular season undefeated at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, they are 3-3 on the road, with losses at New England, the New York Jets and most recently, Seattle.
“I think that we like to be able to take our show on the road,” Saints center Brian de la Puente said. “But definitely playing in the (Superdome) is an advantage, and we know that, teams know that come in here. It’s a difficult place to play. There are unique things that present themselves when you’re on the road. And that’s part of it, and you just have to go out there and put your best foot forward.”
St. Louis (5-8) enters as losers of its past two games, a product of its struggling offense.
After beating Chicago 42-21 on Nov. 24, the Rams have managed just 23 points during consecutive losses to San Francisco and Arizona. Quarterback Kellen Clemens, a starter since Week 8, has thrown for 1,200 yards in seven games, along with five touchdowns and just as many interceptions.
He’s been sacked 18 times.
The Rams may suffer an even bigger blow if rookie receiver Tavon Austin (40 receptions, 418 yards, four touchdowns) is unable to play because of an ankle injury he suffered after a 56-yard run against Arizona.
Tight end Jared Cook led St. Louis against Arizona with three catches for 49 yards.
Sounds like a good week for Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his ever-improving defense, against one of the NFL teams he tried to land a job with after being ousted last offseason in Dallas. Ryan, after a second-interview, was viewed as not a good “scheme fit,” and the Rams opted for Detroit secondary coach Tim Walton.
On Sunday, the Saints defense recovered from an awful outing last Monday at Seattle to contain the sometimes-uncontrollable Cam Newton, limiting the talented Carolina quarterback to 160 passing yards and one score while sacking him five times. Defensive end Cameron Jordan moved closer to earning his first Pro Bowl bid with two sacks, and outside linebacker Junior Galette also bothered Newton, finishing with a team-high three sacks.
Just as important, Newton’s scrambling was held to a minimum: He finished with 49 yards, approximately half of it after the game was decided. This occurred partly because of the improved play of cornerback Corey White, who has started three games in place of Jabari Greer (knee), who will miss the rest of the season.