I'd like to say that was a very good victory for us. It was a gut check. There was some peaks and valleys there in the first half particularly. I thought the opening drive of the second half was the signature drive of the game. It was a great drive by our offense and defensively, we gave up some yards between the 20's, but we were able to make some big plays in this game to get off the field. It's a credit to our football team, obviously. Earnest Graham exploded onto the scene today and the big question is why in the heck hasn't he been playing. I just want to tip my hat to him, that's a tribute to a guy that has really been a team guy. [On] Mark Jones' long return, the guy who throws a great block on that play is number 34 [Earnest Graham]. He's done a lot for us, and I'm really proud of him.
On the running back situation
Well, we feel good about our backs. Obviously Carnell had the fumble and I talked to [Head Athletic Trainer] Todd Toriscelli, I felt to a degree that maybe he got nicked up a little bit. We had the fumble and I decided that it was best to give Earnest Graham an opportunity. He's run the ball well when given the ball and he took advantage. I also thought Michael Pittman was stellar today. He made some great plays, runs and catches and we have good backs. No one's going to talk about it, but B.J. Askew was the winning edge for us today. He made some unbelievable plays as the lead back in this football game and he deserves a lot of credit as does our entire team in there.
On RB Earnest Graham's playing time
You have one ball and we think Carnell Williams is a great back. I think he's proven at times to be tremendous and I believe he has an unbelievable future ahead of him. Michael Pittman has been given a lot of the leftovers and rightfully so, he's an outstanding football player. Obviously, now we have to put our minds together and figure out how to get Earnest more involved because clearly he's also deserving of the football and that's a good problem to have.
Do you think he's shed the Mr. August label
Well, you see, it's not August anymore. It's September. You have to give him credit. Those were really good runs and great finishes. I'm really happy for him because he's a special guy.
On the way the team finished the game
I can't be more pleased. We were punishing at times offensively, just the way you want to close out a football game. For two weeks in a row we weren't really creative with play selection. Anything like that, we got some big plays that set up our second touchdown to make it a 17-3 game. After that there wasn't a lot of smoke and mirrors, it was pretty much [Jeff] Garcia handling the running game, taking us to some premier looks and our guys blocking theirs and we made some plays in the process.
On the defense playing well for three weeks in a row
We don't want to tell them that because it's just not good enough. We have to do a better job getting off the field quicker. We gave up some six- or seven-minute drives and we gave up some field position in the process. I want to hold them accountable to revving up the pass rush. It's just not there yet. We're pleased with the performance and obviously giving up three points is a tremendous feat in pro football, but we're expecting a lot more from them. The effort's good, but it's not great yet, collectively. Nothing's good enough yet on defense and we're going to hold the standards where they belong here and until we get some quick three-and-outs and we start scoring touchdowns on defense, we're going to be asking for a lot more.
Talk about Phillip Buchanon, John, and his play today.
Well he's a guy we're very excited about. It's a credit to Phillip, and to Brian Kelly for not playing at 100 percent today. Phillip is a very good player and playing with the hand issue and doing the things that he's doing is proof that he's a very good cover guy in this league. And he made some nice tackles out there today. He's bought into our system. And, once again, I want to praise our secondary coach, Raheem Morris, for clearly making a difference on this football team.
John, can you talk about the interceptions? Marc Bulger is a guy that's pretty hard to pick off and you guys picked off three today.
Obviously they've struggled in pass protection. They've lost some key guys up front. They came into the game, it appeared to me, committed to Steven Jackson. They stayed with Jackson throughout the game. They tried to throw it quick and sometimes when you don't see throws, opportunistic players can make plays. We victimized them a couple of times, uncharacteristically of his (Bulger's) game. When you can shut the St. Louis Rams down to a field goal, there's a lot to be excited about. But we have to play a lot better, because I'm telling you we're capable of doing that.
Is Michael Clayton going through something mental right now?
I'm sure he's mad at me for taking him out of the football game. I'm sure Carnell Williams is mad at me for taking him out of the game, too. For us to be the offensive team we're going to be here, by God, we do not turn the ball over and we handle the ball better than everybody in the league. Michael had a chance to really make an impact play, wide open in the middle of the field, but you have to secure the catch first. I don't think he's going through anything other than he struggled today with a couple of opportunities that are normally routine for him. We're going to need him. He's a talented guy and we're going to need a lot more from him.
Jon with 11:30 left to play they (St. Louis) had just kicked and field goal and on offense the past two possessions you really hadn't done a whole lot. Can you talk about what you did to come out and attack after that?
We didn't have two good series. One of them I think we were backed up at our 10 or 11-yard line and we had a sack that set us back to the 4 yard line. Obviously we got a little conservative there on third and 20. On the next series we fumbled the ball on the first play of the series. So, except for the first series of the second half we didn't really have a true offensive series in normal situations. We leaned on (Jeff) Garcia, honestly. We expected him to make some plays on that drive and he did. He started it with a big completion to (Ike) Hilliard and another one to (Michael) Pittman. And another unbelievable play to Michael Pittman crossing the formation. So those three completions were really super big plays in this game today.
Jon, can you talk about how key it is to get these two wins this early in the season?
It's key to win anywhere. It's hard to win in this league. Every week you're looking at a good opponent, and if they play great they're capable of knocking you out. And St. Louis is a team, although 0-2 (coming in), should not have lost their two opening ball games. They outplayed their opponents, in my opinion, statistically. They turned the ball over and lost a couple of games. It's great to win and it's great to have an opportunity to close out the first quarter of this season at North Carolina to play our favorite team the Panthers. And it'll be a hell of a game. We're looking forward to it. I hope our fans are excited. Our fans are somewhat rejuvenated and expectations are raised here because we do have some good guys on this team that are playing with some great effort.
Yeah, I said, ‘Well, we're going to have to talk to those guys, you know?' They were uncharacteristic fouls. But one of the foul, I think on Ronde, was out of excitement. He's one of the most emotional players that we've had here in a long time. Maybe ever. He's a guy that got too animated, and it's one of the things the NFL is cracking down on. It might be a little ticky-tack in my opinion, but I'm trying to coach enthusiasm back into this football team and I'll take that one on me. In fairness to Derrick, (Randy) McMichael looked to be like Phillip (Buchanon) undercut his legs and it looked like Randy might still be alive, so Derrick made an instinctive play. I can't really fault either one of them, but we have to do a better job, certainly.
Jon, you talked about a couple of issues on defense, like the lack of a pass rush and not being able to get off the field as quickly as you like. This is two games in a row where you haven't played, arguably, your best football. How important is that for the psyche of this team?
It's important. I mean, we're playing pretty good. It's not like we're laying an egg out here. We're playing pretty good. But the goal is to win a championship. You're not going to win a championship if you turn the ball over at your own 15 yard line in a 10-0 game. You're not going to win the Super Bowl if you're not able to score some on defense and force a lot of quick three-and-outs and create field position for your offensive football team. Turning the team around and having more wins that last year — that's for losers. That's a loser coach talking to you. We want to win a championship and we want to win one this year. It's bold and it's all that, but these guys are working their butts off and they don't deserve anything else (but that).
How worn down did the Rams defense look to you in the second half?
I don't know. You would have to ask them. Obviously they played their hearts out. It was a tight football game. Earnest Graham made some magnificent runs. Michael Pittman had a couple of runs that hurt them today. They're a talented defense and I'm sure they're going to have some moments this year.
Has your opinion changed on Steven Jackson?
I love Jackson. I've said that all week. He is a horse. He's a big guy that can do it all. I'm sure he's a little frustrated with them being 0-3 and not scoring points the way they're used to. But you just have to keep pounding away and he'll be fine.
Jon, Mark Jones had a 35-yard punt return and a 36-yard kickoff return and you scored touchdowns off of both of them. Can you talk about how important those returns were?
It's huge. I say it again. When you're an offensive football player or coach — and I've been accused of being more offensive than defensive — you do better when you have the ball repeatedly and in good field position. Last year I think we had 12 possessions all season that started on the other team's side of the field. That was last in the NFL. Mark Jones in two plays today had a lot to do with the victory. It's a credit to Rich Bisaccia (special teams coach). Mark Jones helped us tremendously today.
Jon, what about that one call where they flagged you for celebrating? Are they taking all the fun out of the game?
I don't know. I try to save my money. I don't want to get fined, you know what I mean? They're (the officials) doing their job the best they can and Mike Perreria has made some points of emphasis, celebration and sportsmanship and things like that they want to enforce. And — whatever. That's what we're going to do.