Rams Fall Short, Remain in Mix

Posted Dec 19, 2010

In a somber and disappointed locker room in the moments after his team suffered a disappointing loss to the Chiefs on Sunday, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo passed along a message that might have seemed hollow in the moment but rings true at the end of the day.

After a quick start evaporated into a 27-13 loss to Kansas City on Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, Spagnuolo wasted little time in turning the page to let his team know that the margin for error for the Rams is officially zero.

“What I just told the football team is if I have this thing figured out correctly, basically for us our regular season is over,” Spagnuolo said. “Now, it’s playoff mode for us. We have got to win the next game, that’s the one we are focused on to have anything to do going forward. That’s kind of where we’re at.”

Now sitting at 6-8, the Rams still, somehow are sitting in control of their destiny in the NFC West Division. Regardless of final outcome in Seattle, the Rams win their final two games – at home next week against San Francisco and on the road to wrap it up in Seattle on Jan. 2 – and they are the division champions.

Of course, for that to happen, one consensus in the Rams locker room following Sunday’s disappointing defeat at the hands of the Chiefs is the Rams are simply going to have to play better, more consistent football the rest of the way.

For a while, at least early in the game, all signs pointed to the Rams playing well enough to beat the Chiefs.

The Rams took the opening drive 63 yards to the Chiefs’ 9 where they faced a third-and-1 and appeared poised to jump to a 7-0 lead. Instead, they were flagged twice for false starts and had to settle for a field goal.

Meanwhile, the defense had the Chiefs shut down and the Rams opened their next two possessions at Kansas City’s 36 and 48, respectively. Instead of jumping to a multiple score lead, the Rams had just a 6-0 edge in the second quarter.

Penalties and the failure to finish drives left the door open for the Chiefs.

“We had the opportunity to go up with a substantial lead and we didn’t do so,” running back Steven Jackson said. “We allowed a team like that that does have an explosive offense with a great running game to stick around. It bit us.”

Indeed, the Chiefs took full advantage of the door left open by the Rams as they responded to their own slow start by putting together a pair of impressive touchdown drives.
Buoyed by the toughness of quarterback Matt Cassel – who started and played just 11 days after an appendectomy – the Chiefs marched 61 and 59 yards for a pair of 2 yard touchdowns that gave the Chiefs a 14-6 lead they would never relinquish.

“I think for the most part we’ve got to find ways to get off the field,” middle linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “I think we hurt ourselves with a couple of penalties that kept their drives alive. When you’re playing a good offense, you can’t really afford to give them extra chances. I think that’s what happened on those back to back drives is we gave them extra chances and we just can’t do that.”

While the defense hit that slight lull, the Rams offense was embarking on a frustrating second and third quarters where yards and especially first downs were hard to come by.

Beginning with the second drive of the game, the Rams went on to post just two first downs, and net 31 total yards on the next nine possessions.

“It really seems like after that drive, until the fourth quarter it seems like we struggled to find any sort of rhythm as an offense,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “Way too many three and outs. We have got to be better as an offense.”

According to Bradford and Spagnuolo, the Chiefs didn’t change much of what they did on defense, they simply did a better job at the things they started out doing.

Bradford was pressured for most of the rest of the afternoon, getting sacked three times and hit six more according to the unofficial pressbox statistics.

“They didn’t do anything different I can tell you that because I kept looking,” Spagnuolo said. “I was fully in tune with what they were doing defensively. Romeo did a good job. There were no changes there…we just didn’t execute.”

Despite that quiet period of production from the offense, the Rams defense held Kansas City in check enough to give the Rams a chance to get back into it late.

Trailing 20-6 after a pair of Chiefs field goals, the Rams took over at their 28 with 8:27 to go.

Operating without a huddle, Bradford and the offense finally began to click again, marching the 72 yards on 12 plays to set up a 5-yard touchdown run from Jackson to cut it to 20-13 with more than four minutes to play.

With momentum back in their corner, three timeouts, the two minute warning and plenty of time on the clock, the Rams seemed poised to have a shot to get the ball back and tie it up.

After slowing down Kansas City’s vaunted rushing attack for most of the day, the defense finally sprung a leak as Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles took a handoff toward the right, made one cut back into an open running lane and darted 80 yards before he was caught from behind by a hustling Ron Bartell.

That run set up a 2-yard score from Thomas Jones for the final margin. Aside from that run, Kansas City averaged just 3.1 yards per attempt on 41 other rushes. But it was Charles’ run that ultimately broke the Rams back.

“You just can’t let it happen,” Laurinaitis said. “Obviously, it’s extremely frustrating, especially when you’ve got a guy that I thought we did a pretty solid job of keeping bottle up. I don’t know exactly what happened but regardless they had the lead so you have to know that they’re going to try to run the ball and as a defense we’ve got to be able to stop that.”

Despite the disappointment of the loss, all things remain possible for the Rams, a message Spagnuolo wanted to hammer home with his playoff mode point in the locker room after the game.

With the 49ers coming to town still very much in the mix, the Rams will face another difficult challenge next week.

And once again, as has been custom, the Rams find their backs against the walls. They’ve answered the bell time and again this season. The question now becomes can they do it again when it matters most?

“I do fully believe in this football team,” Spagnuolo said. “I know one thing typically throughout this season when we have had our backs to the wall that we have bounced back. I fully expect these guys to do that. Now this team we have coming in here is pretty good. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge but hey, that’s what the NFL is all about. It’s the end of the season, having great challenges. We have a great one and we will attack it appropriately.”