EARTH CITY, Mo. - St. Louis Rams wide receiver Stedman Bailey has been constantly on the minds of his teammates after being shot twice in the head Nov. 24 in Miami. Fellow receivers Tavon Austin, his teammate in college at West Virginia, and Kenny Britt have worn Bailey's jersey No. 12 in practice.
Austin has communicated with Bailey's girlfriend, and recently as Bailey has continued his recovery in a physical therapy facility, there has been more contact.
That contact was brought to an emotional high at the team hotel prior to Thursday night's game against the Buccaneers. There, thanks to FaceTime, on a screen, Bailey came into view with fist raised.
"He just wanted to let us know he was appreciative," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "He wanted us to come out here and kick some tail. He let us know he was rehabbing, jogging up and down the halls and stuff. It was really uplifting to the guys to be able to see him. You hear so much. But to be able to actually see his face, and see him smile, I'm not sure words can really put into, you know, the emotion in that room."
Said Austin, who scored two touchdowns in the game, "I represent for 12 every day. It ain't never going nowhere, until the day I step off this field. He's going to be with me. And that's how I'm always going to feel about it."
Tight end Jared Cook played like a man possessed Thursday, something fans have rarely seen previously. Said Cook, "If he's here, or not, he's part of this family. We love him. And we are praying for him. It's an unfortunate situation that he went through that had nothing to do with him. But he's going to be part of this team. And he's always going to ride for us. He gave us a little pregame message, so I think we kind of took the incentive initially to go out and play for him.
"He can't be here, so we carry him with us. I think that's the most special part about this game. You become more than friends. You grow together, essentially, as brothers."
Added head coach Jeff Fisher, "It was special. Guys didn't anticipate it and he wished them well. As a matter of fact, gave him a chance to talk and said, 'Do you have anything to say to your teammates?', and he said, 'Yeah, go kick their ass.' So, must mean he's getting better."
--A large factor Thursday were two kickoff returns by Benny Cunningham. He opened the game with a 44-yard return that enabled the touchdown drive to start at the 43.
Then, after Tampa Bay cut the Rams' lead to 28-13 early in the fourth quarter, Cunningham rambled 102 yards before being tackled at the 3-yard line. The Rams were kept out of the end zone, but a 19-yard Greg Zuerlein field goal gave them a three-score lead at 31-13.
Said Cunningham, "I was definitely thinking touchdown, but I guess I kind of ran out of gas a little bit there at the end. I'm starting to realize that maybe I'm just a little too big for this kickoff return thing."
He added, "The kick return guys did a really good job of opening up lanes and Bones (special teams coordinator John Fassel) made some great adjustments. We had a good plan going in and their kickoffs just seemed to match up with our returns. It felt great, helping the team get off to a fast start like that. I just feel like the special teams did a great job overall. Coach Fisher puts a great emphasis on teams and Bones, he does a great of preparing us all through the week."
Wide receiver Tavon Austin hit some milestones Thursday night with a rushing and receiving touchdown. Austin is the first player since Gale Sayers in 1965 to have four-plus rushing touchdowns, five-plus receiving touchdowns and a punt return for a touchdown in one season. He also is the first player ever to have at least seven rushing touchdowns, nine receiving touchdowns and three punt-return scores in his first three NFL seasons.
--Defensive tackle Aaron Donald had another robust game with six tackles, three for loss, to go with two quarterback pressures and three quarterback hits. His biggest tackle for loss came on a fourth-and-1 attempt by the Bucs at the Rams' 23-yard line with the score 14-3 in the second quarter. At that point, Martin had 70 yards on 12 carries. He never had a chance as Donald dropped him for a two-yard loss. Keenum then led the Rams on a 75-yard drive that ended with a Todd Gurley touchdown on third-and-1 from the 3-yard line for a 21-3 lead with 2:09 left in the half.