October 24, 2010

1993: Rubley Rallies Rams, But Lions Prevail in Final Seconds

(NOTE TO READERS: Today's post marks the first anniversary of the launch of Today in Pro Football History. For regular readers, thank you, I hope you have enjoyed it and will continue to do so. For newcomers, I encourage you to take a look at the archived material. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome - there is an e-mail link on my profile page. And now, back to the game...)

The Los Angeles Rams were off to a 2-4 start as they hosted the Detroit Lions (4-2) at Anaheim Stadium on October 24, 1993. The Rams had fallen on hard times since going 11-5 in 1989 and making it to the NFC Championship game. In the intervening three seasons they were a combined 14-34. Nine-year Head Coach John Robinson had been replaced by Chuck Knox in ’92 – it was a second stint in LA for the coach who had led the club to a 57-20-1 mark and five division titles from 1973-77. A 6-10 tally in 1992 had been considered progress.

Los Angeles added quality with first round draft choices DT Sean Gilbert in 1992 and RB Jerome Bettis in ’93. But while Gilbert was putting together a Pro Bowl season and Bettis had gained 187 yards in the previous two games, eighth-year veteran QB Jim Everett was still in a prolonged slump and had thrown 9 interceptions as opposed to 7 touchdowns.

The Lions, under Head Coach Wayne Fontes, relied most heavily on star RB Barry Sanders. With an improved defense under the guidance of defensive coordinator Hank Bullough, Detroit had held its opponents to 20 or fewer points in five of the six games thus far.

The first quarter was scoreless. Detroit’s offense drove to the LA 28 yard line on its second possession, with QB Rodney Peete connecting with WR Herman Moore on passes that covered 15 and 18 yards, but Jason Hanson missed a 45-yard field goal attempt.

The Rams got a break in the second quarter when CB Todd Lyght intercepted a Peete pass at midfield. But a drive to the Detroit 23 ended with Everett being intercepted by CB Tim McKyer. In the last two minutes of the half, another Rams drive ended when Everett fumbled at the Detroit 44 and NT Lawrence Pete recovered for the Lions. Eight plays later, Hanson was successful on a 25-yard field goal attempt as time ran out and the Lions went into halftime with a 3-0 lead.

Bettis had run well for the Rams, gaining 85 yards on 16 carries, but Everett was a dismal two of nine for 12 yards passing. Sanders gained 50 yards on 15 attempts for the Lions.

The third quarter promised more futility for the Rams as they went three-and-out on their first possession, which ended with Everett being sacked. But following a 12-play drive by the Lions that resulted in another Hanson field goal, this time from 24 yards, Knox benched the ineffective veteran quarterback and replaced him with second-year backup T.J. Rubley (pictured at top).

Rubley had been selected by the Rams in the ninth round of the 1992 draft out of Tulsa. He had played well in the preseason but saw no action during his rookie year and was making his regular season NFL debut against the Lions.

In his first series, Rubley largely kept the ball on the ground, handing off to Bettis five times for 25 yards. He took off on a six-yard run himself and completed one of three passes before the Rams were forced to punt.

Taking over on the last play of the third quarter, Detroit’s offense methodically drove down the field. The big play was a 40-yard pass completion from Peete to WR Aubrey Matthews to get to the LA 25 yard line. Six plays later, Sanders ran around end for a five-yard touchdown and the Lions had what appeared to be a safe 13-0 lead.

However, Rubley completed five of six passes on the next possession, took off on an 11-yard run along the way, and with the last completion hit WR Ernie Jones for a four-yard touchdown.

The Lions went three-and-out on their next possession and Rubley and the Rams took over at their own 32 with 3:39 left to play. The young quarterback tossed two completions to veteran WR Henry Ellard that totaled 17 yards and then found WR Todd Kinchen for 24 to the Detroit 21 yard line. Two plays later, and just after the two-minute warning, Rubley connected with Jones once again for a 21-yard touchdown. While Tony Zendejas missed the extra point attempt, the score was now tied at 13-13.

There would be no storybook ending for LA on this day, however. Peete completed two passes, including a key 25-yard completion to TE Rodney Holman that set up an 18-yard field goal by Hanson and the Lions prevailed, 16-13.

In relief of Everett, T.J. Rubley completed 12 of 17 passes for 151 yards with two touchdowns and none intercepted. Jerome Bettis had another outstanding day as he gained 113 yards on 23 carries. Todd Kinchen was the leading receiver with four catches for 60 yards (Henry Ellard also caught four passes, for 32 yards).

For Detroit, Barry Sanders ran for 91 yards on 26 carries, including the one TD. Rodney Peete was successful on 15 of 25 pass attempts for 249 yards and an interception. Herman Moore gained 120 yards on 6 pass receptions.

Rubley’s magic wore off over the remainder of the season. While he led Los Angeles to two wins, overall the team went 5-11 to finish at the bottom of the NFC West. Rubley completed 57.1 % of his passes for 1338 yards with eight touchdowns and six interceptions. In the offseason, Everett was dealt to New Orleans but Chris Miller was obtained from Atlanta to take over the starting role, and another veteran, Chris Chandler, arrived to be the backup. Rubley became an afterthought.

More lasting success came to Jerome Bettis, who ranked second in the NFL with 1429 yards rushing on 294 carries. He outrushed Barry Sanders, who gained 1115 yards on 243 carries for the Lions. Detroit went 10-6 and won the NFC Central but fell to the Packers in the Wild Card playoff round.

As a footnote, T.J. Rubley’s NFL career came to a bad – and abrupt – end. After seeing no action with the Rams in 1994, he moved on to become the number three quarterback in Green Bay in ’95. In a game against Minnesota, both starter Brett Favre and primary backup Ty Detmer were injured and Rubley entered with the score tied at 38-38. On a third-and-one play, Head Coach Mike Holmgren called for a quarterback sneak, but Rubley audibled and passed instead. The throw was bad and the Vikings intercepted and drove to the winning score. Holmgren cut Rubley the following week, and while he saw action with the World League of American Football and Canadian Football League, he was done in the NFL.