ST. LOUIS — With a late lead to protect, the Redskins' defenders were grinning.
They knew they could step up when the punchless Rams suddenly made it a game.
Ryan Torain ran for 135 yards and a 20-yard score, and Washington overcame a potentially devastating late turnover with two of its seven sacks, as Stephen Bowen and Brian Orakpo made plays that backed St. Louis out of scoring position in a 17-10 victory Sunday.
"It's go time. Hey, somebody make a play," Orakpo said. "Everybody's looking in each other's eyes, and we're smiling and we're ready to go. We were able to do it and get off the field."
The Redskins (3-1) roll into their bye week looking like NFC East contenders, the only loss by two points Monday night to the Cowboys.
"I'm disappointed we're not 4-0, but you've got to get over those things," coach Mike Shanahan said. "The key is to win and the key is to get better every week."
James Laurinaitis' interception and 15-yard return of an underthrown pass from Rex Grossman had given St. Louis (0-4) the ball at the Washington 19 with about five minutes remaining. The Rams went in reverse with an illegal shift on first down, Bowen's sack for a 10-yard loss on second and Orakpo's sack for a 5-yard loss on third down. That left them with fourth-and-30 and a punt from the Redskins 39.
"I thought we were going to score," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I thought we were going to tie the game. I thought our defense was going to get another stop, and I thought we were going to win the game in a two-minute drive.
"We've got to find a way."
Washington is 3-1 for the first time since 2008.
Orakpo had 2 1/2 sacks and Bowen added 1 1/2 for the Redskins, who totaled eight sacks the first three games. Washington shut out its opponent in the first half for the first time since the opener last year against the Cowboys.
Torain, who missed the first two games with a broken left hand and had no touches in Week 3, stepped in for a banged-up Tim Hightower and had a 39-yard carry to set up a field goal in the third quarter. It's his fourth career 100-yard game.
"Every single game they're always telling me to be ready, stay focused and keep working hard," Torain said. "I finally got that opportunity to get out there and make some plays."
Steven Jackson scored on a 15-yard reception in the fourth for the Rams, who trailed 17-0 after three quarters. St. Louis also has a bye next week.
"I'm not going to lie," Bradford said. "It's getting frustrating."
The Rams have allowed 18 sacks on the year. Players were booed off the field at halftime for the second straight week. By the time they showed some signs of life, many fans had already hit the road.
St. Louis was supposed to contend in the NFC West after a six-win improvement last season to 7-9 but has regressed in Year 3 under coach Steve Spagnuolo, who is 8-28 overall. The Rams have been outscored 41-0 in the first half the last two games and 79-16 in the half overall. They didn't top 100 yards total offense against the Redskins until the fourth quarter.
"I definitely understand our fans' frustrations. There were a lot of high expectations with this team," Jackson said. "I don't think the season is written off quite yet, but I'm disappointed, too."
Santana Moss scored on a 6-yard catch from Grossman, and Torain was untouched until a step from the goal line on his scoring run, only his second carry of the year.
Justin King's 50-yard interception return on a ball that went through Moss' hands put the Rams at the Washington 31 and set up their first score. They settled for a field goal after rookie Lance Kendricks dropped a pass in the end zone.
NOTES: Chris Cooley's 427th reception, a 4-yarder in the first half, tied Mike Ditka for 18th on the tight end career list. ... Rams OG Jacob Bell (hamstring) was sidelined in the first half. DT Gary Gibson injured his right hip in the first half, but returned. TE Michael Hoomanawanui took a blow to the head, but the Rams did not have a diagnosis. ... Shanahan is 3-4 against the Rams and beat them on the road for the first time. ... Jackson has scored 56 touchdowns, breaking a tie with Elroy Hirsch for fifth on the franchise list.