In light of recent events, it has been judged that a distraction is necessary. So why not look forward to future opponents (assuming there IS an NFL next year, gah)?
Following the installment on Tampa Bay, next up is St. Louis. The Rams were a dominant team at the beginning of the decade, coming off a Super Bowl win in 1999 and making another in 2001. The Greatest Show on Turf, however, began to slow down. Marshall Faulk retired, Kurt Warner left for the New York Giants, and while Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson were adequate, they weren't enough to keep the team in 1999-2004 form (when St. Louis made the playoffs 5 out of 6 seasons). Eventually, St. Louis went from playoff contender to middle-NFC opponent (with an 9-9 overall record in 2004, a 6-10 record in 2005, and an 8-8 record in 2006). After that...
The bottom fell out. The Rams would finish with a 3-13 record in 2007, a 2-14 record in 2008, and a 1-15 record in 2009. Given their disastrous record a year ago, there was nowhere to go but up.
THE EARLY GOING
Week 1: Arizona 17, St. Louis 13
Week 2: Oakland 16, St. Louis 14
Week 3: St. Louis 30, Washington 16
Week 4: St. Louis 20, Seattle 3
Unfortunately for the Rams, their season got off to a rough, rough start. The Rams had Sam Bradford attempt 55 passes in his first start, which, considering his 32 completions, wouldn't have been a bad idea...except for the 3 INTs that Bradford tossed in this game. While Bradford threw his first NFL TD pass in the opener, his Hail Mary pass was intercepted in the endzone, giving Arizona the win. Despite Bradford's turnovers, St. Louis was in the game thanks to an astonishing 7 Arizona fumbles, 4 of which the Rams recovered.
Oakland was next, and the Rams were able to score the first points of the game on a touchdown pass from Bradford to Mark Clayton...and then the Raiders rattled off 16 unanswered points from the 2nd quarter into the 4th quarter, a run that the Rams simply didn't match. Mark Clayton scored another touchdown in the 4th quarter, but the Rams were unable to stop the Raiders in the final 3:09 of the game; the Raiders ran out the clock and the Rams fell to 0-2. One of the biggest reasons for the loss was the Ram defense allowing 145 rushing yards to Darren McFadden. St. Louis, as a result of their Week 1 loss to Arizona, now carried a 14-game home losing streak. That's not a misprint. Mike Shanahan and Washington came to town, and St. Louis capitalized, handing Washington a 30-16 defeat. After Washington took a 16-14 lead in the 3rd quarter, the Rams answered with a 16-0 run to close out the game (a Kenneth Darby touchdown run and three Josh Brown field goals).
Next up was Seattle. The Seahawks hadn't lost to St. Louis since 2004 (when the Rams defeated them three times), and they were looking to maintain a 10-game winning streak over their division rival. But the Rams snapped that streak, holding Seattle to a paltry 3 points and 257 yards of total offense. While the Rams gave up 4 sacks, the Ram defense sacked Matt Hasselbeck 4 times, forcing a fumble (which St. Louis recovered) and an interception. Seattle's 10 game win streak over St. Louis came to a brutal end.
Week 5: Detroit 44, St. Louis 6
Week 6: St. Louis 20, San Diego 17
Week 7: Tampa Bay 18, St. Louis 17
Week 8: St. Louis 20, Carolina 10
St. Louis then traveled to Detroit, facing another team that had also struggled mightily of late. To be blunt, the Lions kicked the Rams around the field for 4 quarters, handing the Rams their worst loss of the year. While Steven Jackson eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the first time in the season, Sam Bradford had possibly his worst game of the year, throwing 2 interceptions, including a 42-yard pick six to Alphonso Smith in the 4th quarter that sealed a St. Louis defeat. Adding injury to insult, the Rams lost Mark Clayton for the rest of the season with a torn patellar tendon.
After getting bludgeoned by Detroit, the Rams would face 2-3 San Diego at home. The Rams took a 17-3 lead into the half and never relented; the closest the Chargers would get was 3 points (on their final possession of the game). Steve Spagnuolo's defense sacked Philip Rivers 7 times and forced an interception. The St. Louis offense, by contrast, did not have a turnover of their own. The Rams pulled their record to 3-3 with the win. Up next was Tampa Bay. The Rams were able to rip through Tampa's defense for 161 rushing yards (at an impressive clip of 5.0 YPC). Unfortunately, the Buccaneers were able to more or less match that with 124 yards (at 5.9 YPC), and St. Louis's 17-3 lead on Tampa Bay in the 2nd Quarter wouldn't last. The Buccaneers held St. Louis scoreless in the 2nd half and were able to escape with a win on a touchdown pass from Josh Freeman to Cadillac Williams with 10 seconds remaining.
Fortunately for St. Louis, their next game was against a woefully bad Carolina team, and they swiftly dispatched the Panthers, holding them to 201 yards of total offense (the Panthers had just 25 rushing yards on a pathetic 1.5 YPC) and forcing 4 turnovers. Sam Bradford added perhaps his best game of the year, completing 78% of his pass attempts and throwing two touchdowns. However, the Panthers completely shut down the Rams' ground game, holding them to 62 combined rushing yards on a pitiful 2.1 yards per carry.
The Rams, after starting off 0-2, were able to enter their bye week at 4-4.
THE HALFWAY POINT
At 4-4, the Rams had played just one team that would finish with a winning record (Tampa Bay) and lost. Against teams that finished with losing records, the Rams were 3-3 thus far, but their early loss to Arizona would prove devastating down the stretch.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: San Francisco 23, St. Louis 20 (OT)
Week 11: Atlanta 34, St. Louis 17
Week 12: St. Louis 36, Denver 33
Week 13: St. Louis 19, Arizona 6
On the other side of their bye week, the Rams immediately got in a dogfight with the San Francisco 49ers, who they matched punch for punch. After a touchdown pass from Troy Smith to Michael Crabtree gave the 49ers the lead with 2:10 remaining in the 4th Quarter, the Rams snapped back to life and drove the field for the game-tying field goal. But the valiant effort was sunk in overtime when Joe Nedney nailed a 29 yard attempt, giving San Francisco the win. Atlanta was next, and at 7-2, the Falcons would be easily the toughest opponent the Rams faced all year. And it didn't end well for the Rams, who gave up 18 unanswered points after cutting Atlanta's lead to one point (17-16). At 4-6, with a trio of losses against the best team on their schedule...the Rams would have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Except for the fact that no team in the NFC West was much better off.
After a blowout loss at the hands of the Falcons, the Rams traveled to Denver, and handed the Broncos a black eye by taking a 33-13 lead in the 3rd quarter. But the Broncos responded swiftly, scoring 20 4th quarter points. The Denver rally came just short, as the Rams tacked on a 4th quarter field goal, which would be the winning margin. Both teams lit up the scoreboard (combining for 880 yards of total offense and 48 first downs), but St. Louis didn't turn the ball over and Denver did twice.
St. Louis would travel to Arizona next, and this was the ideal time to avenge their Week 1 loss at the hands of the Cardinals. The Rams wasted no time doing just that, stifling Arizona's offense and holding Derek Anderson to 7 completions on 20 attempts with an interception. The Rams rattled off 19 unanswered points after Arizona took the lead with a pair of field goals, and the punchless Cardinals simply couldn't answer. Trouble lay ahead, though, the Rams would face two opponents that were all but guaranteed to finish with winning seasons and two divisional games they would badly need if they wanted to make the playoffs.
Week 14: New Orleans 31, St. Louis 13
Week 15: Kansas City 27, St. Louis 13
Week 16: St. Louis 25, San Francisco 17
Week 17: Seattle 16, St. Louis 6
The Rams capped off a three game road trip by having a dagger sunk into their chest by the New Orleans Saints. Malcolm Jenkins was easily the MVP, intercepting Sam Bradford twice. What completely killed the Rams was a Jenkins interception which he returned for a 96 yard touchdown, just after St. Louis had cut New Orleans's lead to 14-6 on a pair of field goals. The Saints ran away with the game from there; defensively, the Saints were able to put relentless pressure on Bradford. The Saints sacked him three times for 40 yards lost. But the Rams were able to intercept Drew Brees twice (Craig Dahl and Bradley Fletcher) and recover a New Orleans fumble.
Kansas City was next, and St. Louis simply didn't defend the run the way they had to. Jamaal Charles raced through the St. Louis defense for 126 yards on 11 carries (11.5 YPC). Making matters worse for the Rams was Sam Bradford's poor completion percentage (48.8% of 43 pass attempts) and 2 interceptions, along with 3 sacks. All told, the Rams gave up 383 yards of offense while recording just 224 of their own. Now, with their backs up against the wall in a must win situation against San Francisco, the Rams again matched the 49ers punch for punch. Bradford completed 28 passes on 37 attempts for 292 yards and a touchdown (to Laurent Robinson), with no interceptions. While the 49ers finished with 331 yards of offense, they had just 12 first downs. 14 of San Francisco's 17 points came on plays in excess of 60 yards (a 79-yard punt return TD by Ted Ginn Jr., and a 60 yard touchdown reception by Michael Crabtree). The Rams would force 5 San Francisco fumbles in this game, one of which resulted in a safety and another of which the Rams recovered.
The must-win game against Seattle was next. Trouble was, the Rams wouldn't win this game, falling 16-6 to their division rivals with the playoffs on the line. St. Louis mustered just 10 first downs and 184 yards of total offense, and they also failed to score a touchdown. Seattle had no such qualms, as they recorded 19 first downs and 333 yards of total offense. All told, the Rams punted 9 times.
With the 16-6 loss, the Rams were eliminated from the playoffs. But there was hope. Sam Bradford had played very well in his first season, despite losing his best option (Mark Clayton) and having a constant rotation of receivers (with Danario Alexander, Daniel Fells, Danny Amendola, and Laurent Robinson) shifting in and out. The Rams won more games in 1 season (7) as they had in the previous 3 combined (6).
What lies ahead?