After stunning loss, Fisher accentuates positives

Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, right, runs for a 44-yard gain as St. Louis Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree pursues during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
Tom Gannam

ST. LOUIS (AP) The St. Louis Rams enter their bye at 1-2, and seemingly with a lengthy to-do list.

They've been sloppy in critical times both of their home games. About the only good news after blowing a 21-point lead against the Cowboys is no one got hurt.

Rather than rant, coach Jeff Fisher's strategy in the wake of a dispiriting 34-31 loss is that the Rams remain a franchise on the rise, and that warts and all, there was improvement in all three phases. What else can he do?

''As I said to the team and we agree wholeheartedly with the staff, we took a step forward,'' Fisher said Monday. ''I thought we played much better. We've got to continue to build from that and we've got some time to make some little adjustments, look at what we're doing and get some things corrected.''

At least publicly, he's still in Shaun Hill's corner.

Austin Davis generally got a thumbs-up after throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns in his second career start, an effort marred by a pick six that gave Dallas a 10-point cushion. Hill was the backup after taking numerous snaps during pre-game warmups, and Fisher said he'll be the starter when he's over a strained left quadriceps.

The Rams return Oct. 5 at Philadelphia.

''We'll see how things go this week,'' Fisher said. ''We'll see how Shaun is, but as I've maintained, Shaun is our starter and Austin is our backup.''

There'll no doubt be plenty of time to stew when players clear out Friday for a four-day break.

''Extremely frustrating,'' middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. ''At home up 21-0, that's got to be a blowout.''

Penalties are easy to pinpoint. The Rams are second-highest in the NFL with 305 yards in penalties, including 119 yards on eight calls Sunday, while the Cowboys had just three penalties for 15 yards.

Fisher's teams have always played with an edge.

The Rams were third in yards penalized in 2012, Fisher's first season in St. Louis, and fourth last season.

Fisher disputed several calls, in particular defensive holding on Eugene Sims to give the Cowboys a first down late. He wasn't happy with holding calls on Janoris Jenkins and Kenny Britt, either, and thought Kendall Langford had been pulled down on Dez Bryant's 68-yard touchdown catch.

''In my opinion, there were a dozen or so, maybe more, offensive holds that weren't called (on) the Cowboys,'' Fisher said.

Play calling, not so much.

Fisher refused to second-guess the delayed hand-off on fourth and inches that resulted in a 1-yard loss for Zac Stacy in the second half that led to a Dallas field goal. The Rams converted on fourth down on a similar play in the second quarter and the Cowboys were ready for the repeat.

''There's no secret to what we're doing,'' Fisher said. ''And that's OK. Good running teams do that. You get the first down if you block it right.''

The offense was very productive, but could have had more. Jared Cook dropped a certain touchdown pass and the Rams settled for a chip shot field goal. Scott Wells flubbed a snap that resulted in a lost fumble that gave the Cowboys time for a field goal at the end of the half.

Cook barged into Davis on the sideline when it appeared the quarterback was about to offer support, leading to a confrontation with defensive end William Hayes.

''Well, obviously he can't put this game on himself,'' Davis said. ''On the sideline we're all frustrated, trying to keep it together. I mean, that stuff happens all the time.''

There were numerous culprits on defense for the blown lead that matched the second-worst in franchise history.

On the go-ahead drive, Alec Ogletree got juked by Tony Romo scrambling to convert on third-and-13, and Dallas picked up 33 yards on Jenkins' interference penalty.

Jenkins scored his fifth career defensive touchdown on an interception return that made it 21-0, but also shares blame along with safety Rodney McLeod for allowing Bryant to get away by at least 20 yards on his 68-yard TD.

McLeod was trying to cover for rookie E.J. Gaines, who'd blown an assignment, and Fisher said he should have told Jenkins to stay with Bryant.

''It was supposed to be passed off, but it was not communicated,'' Fisher said.

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