ST. LOUIS — Nothing in the St. Louis Rams' first six games indicated they were capable of even keeping this one close.
Maybe the crosstown Cardinals' pregame appearance with the World Series trophy inspired them to pull off a shocker of their own. A few choice words from their star player helped, too.
Steven Jackson awoke in the middle of the night on game day, deciding he'd tell teammates enough was enough and that no way the Rams were this awful. Then he led by example with two touchdowns in his first 100-yard game in three seasons, helping St. Louis earn its first win with a 31-21 upset of the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
"I think the Cardinals being here was great for the city," Jackson said. "Whoever showed up today, regardless if the place was empty, today was the day.
"We came out with a mindset we were going to fight."
Drew Brees barely kept alive his touchdown pass streak on a meaningless score in the final seconds a week after throwing five in a 62-7 rout of the winless Indianapolis Colts. Brees was intercepted twice, too, with Darian Stewart's pick and 27-yard return putting the game away with 2:51 to go.
"As you look at the cardinal sins of football, we committed quite a few of those today," Brees said, no pun intended. "Obviously, we gave them a lot of momentum."
The NFC South-leading Saints (5-3) average a league-best 35 points, but never got on track against a defense ranked near the bottom of the league. The Rams (1-6) had a season-high six sacks after entering the game with just 11, three by Chris Long.
"We always thought we had that in us," coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "It was a wonderful weekend for St. Louis fans."
Saints pass catchers were bottled up by a secondary minus its top three players, and the rushing game totaled just 56 yards on 20 carries. Saints radio reported that offensive guard Carl Nicks and line coach Aaron Kromer had to be separated after squabbling near the end of the game.
The Rams trailed by double digits in each of their first six games, and before Sunday had the lead for only 6:28 all season. They led at halftime for the first time since they were up 3-0 against the 49ers in the 2009 season finale in a 28-6 loss.
The Saints were held scoreless in the first half for the first time since 2007, mustering just 94 yards total offense and going 1 for 6 on third down. Watching from the booth while recovering from a knee injury, coach Sean Payton detected a lack of effort.
"They certainly played with more energy than we did," Payton said. "I just thought we looked flat."
The Rams wore throwback jerseys in a nod to their 1999 Super Bowl championship team and the Cardinals' appearance helped fire up a crowd growing accustomed to disappointment from the Rams. The game was sold out, but there were hundreds of empty seats.
Manager Tony La Russa donned a Sam Bradford jersey and Game 7 winner Chris Carpenter went out for the coin toss wearing a Jackson jersey.
Rams players attended Game 3 of the World Series in Texas last week — Albert Pujols' three-homer game — the night before their 34-7 loss to the Cowboys in Dallas.
"I very, very much appreciate Tony and his players for coming over today," Spagnuolo said. "I wanted them to know how much that means to us."
All three Saints losses have come on the road. But they were favored by nearly two touchdowns against a franchise that has been staggeringly awful on both sides of the ball. Like the Colts a week earlier, the Rams were starting their backup quarterback.
A.J. Feeley made his second straight start in place of Bradford (high left ankle sprain), and threw his first touchdown pass of the season in a mistake-free outing.
Jackson had 159 yards on 25 carries, including a 32-yard jaunt on fourth-and-2 to set up his second touchdown that made it 24-0 in the third quarter.
Total Net Yards283323
Interceptions Ret. 0-02-27
Time of Possession28:3731:23
New Orleans0 0 7 14—21 St. Louis0 17 7 7—31
StL—FG Jo.Brown 38, 8:32.
StL—S.Jackson 3 run (Jo.Brown kick), 1:10.
StL—Lloyd 8 pass from Feeley (Jo.Brown kick), :17.
StL—S.Jackson 3 run (Jo.Brown kick), 6:00.
NO—Vilma fumble recovery in end zone (Kasay kick), 1:21.
NO—P.Thomas 3 run (Kasay kick), 10:00.
StL—Stewart 27 interception return (Jo.Brown kick), 2:51.
NO—Moore 8 pass from Brees (Kasay kick), :06.
Rushing—New Orleans, P.Thomas 7-23, Ivory 6-18, Sproles 6-16, Brees 1-(minus 1). St. Louis, S.Jackson 25-159, B.Gibson 1-11, Salas 1-8, Feeley 2-5, Williams 2-0.
Passing—New Orleans, Brees 30-44-2-269. St. Louis, Feeley 20-37-0-175.
Receiving—New Orleans, Moore 8-82, Sproles 6-60, Graham 4-39, P.Thomas 4-11, Colston 3-50, Collins 3-15, Meachem 2-12. St. Louis, Lloyd 6-53, Salas 5-47, S.Jackson 4-32, B.Gibson 2-27, Bajema 1-7, Pettis 1-7, Kendricks 1-2.
Missed Field Goals—New Orleans, Kasay 49 (WL).