ST. LOUIS (AP) — Early in Sunday’s game, the St. Louis Rams were whistled for a special teams penalty when rookie Ray Ray Armstrong pushed a defender out of the way and nullified a nice punt return by Tavon Austin.
The Rams (2-3) beat the winless Jaguars and ended a three-game losing streak, but can’t afford such miscues going forward.
Not to mention mounting frustration from Austin, who left without talking to reporters.
Austin had four returns for just 15 yards Sunday and is averaging 3.4 yards overall on 17 returns.
Coach Jeff Fisher gave the rookie a special teams game ball for the 91 punt return yards he would have had against the Jaguars and for the yards subtracted the rest of the year.
“So he’s happy,” Fisher said Monday. “And I showed him his stats if you take away the penalties.”
Of the 33 penalties that have been accepted against the Rams, 17 have been on special teams for 145 yards — with the rest of the calls on offense and defense totaling 143 yards.
The yardage total would be higher except seven calls were for half the distance to the goal line.
Armstrong has four penalties and fellow rookie Brandon McGee has three on special teams.
Though Fisher has disagreed with several of the calls, he said every player got a reminder Monday to avoid these types of mistakes. They also had a punt partially blocked.
The Rams are seven-point underdogs this week at Houston, which is smarting from a 34-3 rout by the 49ers for their third straight loss.
“I’ve got tremendous confidence in the whole group,” Fisher said. “They work very hard. It’s going to turn around.”
It appeared Armstrong’s penalty for an illegal block above the waist after the Jaguars went three-and-out on their opening possession helped spring Austin for a 23-yard return to the Jacksonville 46. In any case, they had the ball at their own 23 and went three-and-out.
Armstrong, who made the team as an undrafted free agent, plays on both punt return and punt coverage teams. Fisher said on the early penalty, the rookie got confused.
“Ray was running with a block with a guy in front of him, and he thought for a moment there he was covering the punt, not blocking the punt,” Fisher said. “So, he shoved him. I get it.
“That’s just the special teams world.”
McGee slammed into Ace Sanders after a fair catch later in the first quarter to give Jacksonville improved field position at its own 42, although the St. Louis defense again responded by forcing a three-and-out.
The Rams were pushed back to their own 10 after a holding call on Chase Reynolds on a punt return near the end of the first half.
They escaped damage early in the third quarter when Janoris Jenkins was offside on Josh Scobee’s 23-yard field goal. Jacksonville had a short field following a minus-5 yard net on the partially blocked punt by Chris Prosinski.
Down by two touchdowns but with plenty of time remaining, the Jaguars took the half-the-distance penalty to the 2, and after one incompletion was wiped out when both teams were called for pass interference, James Laurinaitis intercepted Blaine Gabbert in the end zone.
Fisher said the NFL has done a good job working with officiating crews to standardize calls.
Note: Fisher said offensive tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) would not be ready this week.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org