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ST. LOUIS – Once again, the St. Louis Rams were playing catch-up. Not for long against the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.
Matt Giordano's 82-yard interception return ended an 11-game first-quarter touchdown drought and set the tone in a 34-20 victory over the winless Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.
The Jaguars scored a touchdown in the first quarter for the first time this season before the Rams (2-3) pulled in front with a 17-point second quarter. Instead of trailing by double digits for the fifth straight game, St. Louis had a comfortable cushion.
"It never gets old getting into the end zone," said Austin Pettis, whose 31-yard TD catch late in the fourth quarter was the clincher. "We played a pretty complete game, and we got a win."
The Rams totaled 16 points in the first half the first four games. They led 24-10 lead at the break against Jacksonville (0-5) and never let them get closer than a touchdown the rest of the way.
During a 10-day break after a dispiriting loss to the 49ers, coach Jeff Fisher advised his players to approach the Jaguars game as if it were the season opener.
"We've put that behind us and we looked at this as if it was the home opener and we just had a poor preseason," Fisher said. "So, we've got 11 games left on the schedule."
Five things we learned from the Rams' win over the Jaguars:
RUNNING ROOKIE: Fisher turned to rookie Zac Stacy to help rev up a running game that entered averaging an NFL-worst 47.3 yards, and the fifth-rounder responded with 78 yards on 14 carries in his first career start. The Rams totaled 143 yards, their best since piling up 173 yards at Arizona on Nov. 25, 2012, with a 4-yard average. Of course, it didn't hurt facing the NFL's worst defense against the run. The Jaguars had been giving up 165 yards per game, nearly 23 yards more than the next-worst team. "It was pretty much a good, productive day," Stacy said. "We came into the game wanting to establish the run and we got that job done today."
OPPORTUNISTIC DEFENSE: After managing only one interception through their first four games, the Rams had two big ones without two of their secondary starters. Cornerback Cortland Finnegan (thigh) was among the game-day inactives and rookie safety T.J. McDonald (leg) is on the injured reserve/designated for return. Darian Stewart replaced McDonald and made his first start since 2011 and had a forced fumble and fumble recovery to set up the go-ahead score in the second quarter.
BAD BREAKS: Jaguars rookie offensive tackle Luke Joeckel broke his right ankle in the first quarter and is out for the season, further depleting protection for quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Last week, Jacksonville traded veteran left tackle Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens in exchange for multiple draft picks. Joeckel, the second overall pick of the draft, was carted off after getting his leg rolled up by Rams defensive tackle Kendall Langford at the end of a 1-yard carry by Maurice Jones-Drew. "I saw it happen and it's unfortunate," Gabbert said. "It wasn't pretty." Gabbert (hamstring) and tight end Allen Reisner (knee) were sidelined in the second half.
TOUGH HOMECOMING: Gabbert entered 2-0 at the Edward Jones Dome before Sunday, a pair of Missouri victories over Illinois, and exited 5-22 as the Jaguars' quarterback. Gabbert threw his first TD pass of the year but had two interceptions — one for a TD and the other costing Jacksonville a potential TD. He's hurt again, too, injuring his left hamstring in the third quarter, and had little to say after the game. "It's another game," Gabbert said. "It was another game on the schedule, no bigger than any other one." Coach Gus Bradley said Gabbert will start next week at Denver if he's healthy.
ALL OR NOTHING: The Jaguars had nothing to show after a partially blocked punt by Chris Prosinski early in the third gave them possession at the St. Louis 25. Down two TDs but with plenty of time left, Bradley gave the thumbs-down to a chip-shot field goal when the Rams were offside and didn't change his mind after offsetting penalties wiped out Gabbert's incompletion. James Laurinaitis intercepted the do-over in the back of the end zone. Jacksonville closed the gap to a TD on Chad Henne's 4-yarder to Cecil Shorts III early in the fourth but got no closer. Down the drain went first-and-goal at the 4. "Not to convert on that situation is disappointing," Bradley said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org