SPORTS DIGEST: Rams face Cowboys after loss to Steelers

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By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

A week after the Chargers lost a home game where their fans were totally outnumbered by Dallas Cowboys fans, the same thing happened to the Rams.

The Rams were defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers, 24-17 Oct. 22, as thousand of Steelers fans waved their Terrible Towels, drowning out the cheers of badly outnumbered Rams fans.

It was a critical loss for the Rams, who dropped to 3-4 on the season heading in to their game Oct. 29 in Dallas. The Rams led 9-3 at halftime and 17-10 going in to the fourth quarter.

But the Steelers outscored the Rams 14-0 in the fourth quarter and used a couple of questionable officials’ calls to prevent the Rams from completing a late comeback.

There was plenty of blame to go around for the Rams. It started with place kicker Brett Maher, who missed two field goals and an extra point. That accounted for seven points, the margin of defeat. 

Maher was let go by the team Oct. 24, being replaced by Lucas Havisik, who grew up in Norco and attended the University of Arizona. 

Quarterback Matt Stafford threw a brutal interception on the first play of the second half. T.J. Watt returned the pick inside the 10-yard line and three plays later quarterback Kenny Pickett scored on a quarterback sneak to give the Steelers a 10-9 lead. 

The Rams responded with a scoring drive that ended with a 1-yard run by Darrell Henderson Jr. and a two-point conversion pass from Stafford to Cooper Kupp, but the Rams never scored again.

They lost their last chance to get the ball back with slightly more than two minutes to play when officials credited Pickett with a first down on a fourth-down quarterback sneak. Replays showed Pickett was probably a half-yard short of the first down but Rams coach Sean McVay had used all his time outs and couldn’t challenge the spot. 

The Steelers then ran out the clock.

It was the kind of game a playoff caliber team should have won. The Rams now trail both the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Western Division and face the 4-2 Cowboys on the road this week followed by another road game against the 2-4 Green Bay Packers Nov. 5 before their bye week.

There were some bright spots in the loss to Pittsburgh. The Rams brought back Henderson to fill in for injured Kyren Williams. Henderson carried 18 times for 61 yards and teamed with Royce Freeman for 127 yards from the backfield.

Puka Nacua continued to sparkle as a rookie wide receiver, catching eight passes for 154 yards, but Kupp had as many drops as he did receptions, settling for two catches for only 29 yards.

Nacua continues to lead the league in receptions with 58 and is third in the league in receiving yardage with 752. 

Defensively, the Rams held the Steelers to 300 total yards but the defense couldn’t get off the field in the fourth quarter when the Steelers secured the win.

Their young defensive players need to grow up fast this week against the high-powered Cowboys offense.

The game is at 10 a.m. and will be televised by Fox.

UTES RULE: In the year and a half he has coached the USC Trojans, Lincoln Riley has lost only five games. Three of those losses have come against Utah, the latest on a game-winning field goal as time expired for a 34-32 victory Oct. 21 at the Coliseum.

The Trojans may have better athletes than the Utes but they don’t play as hard or as smart and now the Trojans find themselves on a two-game losing streak with their national championship hopes shattered and games upcoming against Washington, Oregon and UCLA following a supposed breather against Cal Oct. 28.

The Trojans did fight back against Utah. Trailing 28-14 going into the fourth quarter, the Trojans got back into the game on a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Calen Bullock early in the fourth quarter and then, after both teams exchanged field goals, a 61-yard punt return by Zachariah Branch set the Trojans up for a 11-yard scoring run by Caleb Williams that put the Trojans ahead 32-31 with only 1:46 to play.

That was enough for the Utes, thanks to the play of back-up quarterback Bryson Barnes and two-way performer Sione Vaki. 

Barnes scrambled for 16 yards on a crucial third down play to set up Cole Becker for his game-winning 38-yard field goal.

Barnes has filled in well for Cam Rising, the Utes quarterback who suffered a severe knee injury in the Rose Bowl last January. Barnes completed 14 of 23 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns.

Vaki, who also starts at safety for the Utes, carried the ball nine times for 68 yards (7.6 yards per carry) and also caught five passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. 

USC’s offense again was led by Williams, who probably saw his Heisman Trophy chances disappear with USC’s national title hopes.

Williams was ordinary, completing 24 of 34 passes for 256 yards, but no touchdowns.

The Trojans ran the ball well early, gaining more than 100 yards in the first quarter, highlighted by MarShawn Lloyd’s 45-yard touchdown run. But Riley got away from the run the rest of the night and the Trojans finished with only 145 yards on the ground, even though they averaged more than six yards per carry.

The Trojans can still salvage their season with a big winning streak, but Washington and Oregon will be formidable opponents on back-to-back weeks Nov. 4 and 11. 

Those will be huge tests for the Trojans defense.

OPENING JITTERS: The Lakers opened the season Oct. 24 against the Denver Nuggets, the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last May by sweeping a four-game series. 

The opening-night results were similar: he Lakers trailed by 14 points after one quarter and never caught up, eventually losing 119-107.

The Lakers still don’t know how to stop Nikola Jokic, who had a triple-double on opening night with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.  

All five Nuggets starters scored in double figures with starting guards Jamal Murray and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scoring 21 and 20, points, respectively.

LeBron James led the Lakers in scoring with 21. Anthony Davis got off to a fast start with 17 points in the first half but he was shot out in the second half. Newcomer Taurean Prince added 18 points, making four of six three-point shots.

The Lakers might take a while to blend everybody into a solid rotation. Head coach Darvin Ham played nine players more than 10 minutes and limited James to only 29. 

Things don’t get any easier for the Lakers, who play the Phoenix Suns Oct. 26 in their home opener at Arena and then ace the Sacramento Kings Oct. 29.

The Clippers opened the season Oct. 25 against the Portland Trailblazers and then face the Utah Jazz Oct. 27 and the San Antonio Spurs Oct. 29.

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