Rams Look to Finish Strong

Posted Dec 17, 2012

Two games remain on the Rams’ schedule after Sunday’s loss to Minnesota at the Edward Jones Dome.

That 36-22 defeat dropped the Rams to 6-7-1 on the season and, though not mathematically, for all intents and purposes moved their playoff hopes from slim to nearly non-existent.

But with road trips remaining to take on Tampa Bay and division rival Seattle, there wasn’t a player in the Rams locker room following Sunday’s game willing to concede anything in terms of what the final two games mean in the grand scheme of things.

To be sure, they acknowledged their disappointment that the chances for a playoff berth essentially left town on Adrian Peterson’s bionic legs but in the eyes of the Rams, there is still quite a bit to play for in the final two weeks.

“It is deflating but you deal with it and you move on,” Fisher said. “That’s the approach we took this morning. You mull it all over, you get it corrected and you move on. Our challenge is do you want to mope around as a result of a loss to the Vikings and be that team or do you want to be the team that’s won three of the last four games and go out and try to win another one?”

For those wondering what the Rams’ pie-in-the-sky playoff scenario is, it basically boils down to a group of four teams (New York Giants, Chicago, Minnesota and Dallas) losing their final two games and the Rams winning their final two and sneaking in on the power of a tie.

Putting all of that aside, the Rams look at the next two weeks as a land of opportunity, an opportunity to finish the season on a strong note, an opportunity to get their young team even more valuable game repetitions, an opportunity to finish undefeated in the NFC West Division and even a chance to finish over the .500 mark for the first time since 2003.

Fisher laid all of that out for his team soon after Sunday’s game.

“We discussed it in detail in the locker room yesterday and discussed exactly what happened and why it happened and what our options are, where we go from here,” Fisher said. “They were upbeat (Monday). They like coming to work and that’s kind of the environment you want to create for them is that even though what took place yesterday was not easy, you come back in here the next day you are going to get it behind you and move on. That’s kind of the approach we take.”

Although the Rams have not spent much time thinking about the playoffs in the past few weeks knowing full well that they would need to win out in the season’s final six weeks or so, they were aware of the position they were in.

“We knew that going in and we would have had to win two more after today,” end Chris Long said. “So hey listen, if you can’t win the first, you can’t worry about playoffs. So I think we just need to focus on getting better as a football team. I think we have got the right guys in here to do it and hopefully next year we will be in meaningful games in December again. But we’ve got two more weeks to get better and two more weeks to show what we can do on the field.”

As coach of the youngest team in the NFL, Fisher has maintained all season that the top priority for his team is consistent development from day to day, week to week and game to game.

Theoretically, with a young team starting so many rookies and second or third-year players, there would be enough improvement all over the depth chart to have a team much better at the end of the season than the beginning.

The Rams surprised people with a 3-2 start then went into a 0-4-1 tailspin that put them in de facto elimination games essentially every week for the final six weeks. They responded with a three-game winning streak, including a pair of resilient, come-from-behind victories that helped them surge into the season’s final trio of games.

Culminating in Sunday’s 36-22 loss, the Rams appeared to be poised to extend the streak to four games but fell victim to a Vikings team also fighting for its playoff life. When the clock hit all zeroes Sunday, the sobering reality that postseason play would likely have to be put off until next season became apparent.

“Yeah, it’s pretty disheartening,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “Obviously we knew that we had a shot. If we wanted to get there, we’d probably have to win the remainder of our games and this being our last home game; it was probably one of our best opportunities for a victory so to not be able to win this game at home is extremely frustrating.”

With two games to go, the Rams no longer have time to dwell on the missed opportunity that was the Minnesota game. Like every week, they’ve already implemented the 24-hour rule, which has runs its course.

The focus has already shifted to Tampa Bay and the chance to make some amends for Sunday’s loss, get a third consecutive road win and get the record back to .500.

On an individual level, running back Steven Jackson is now within 91 yards of becoming the sixth player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in eight consecutive seasons. He also needs just two receptions to pass Tom Fears for fifth on the Rams’ all time receptions list and one to hit the 400 mark for his career.

Despite another season that figures to be full of individual accomplishments, Jackson can’t deny that he’d hoped this would be the season the Rams would break through to the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season in 2004.

“I definitely was hoping that we could,” Jackson said. “We knew that we had to take each game one at a time and we had to win. Now I have to show these guys how to finish strong. These two games we want to go and go out and win. They’re going to be tough because they’re on the road, but you want to build something to go into the offseason.”

One major thing to build on would be finishing 5-0-1 in the NFC West Division, a league that’s proved as tough or tougher than any in the NFL this season based on its total combined record.

In addition, because of the tie against San Francisco earlier in the year, the Rams have a chance to finish 8-7-1, which would be the first time they’ve had a winning record since going 12-4 in 2003.

For Jackson, who has spent nine years with the Rams, it would be the first time above .500 when the season ended of his career.

“I am happy because I have a chance to actually be on a team that posts a winning record,” Jackson said last week.

If indeed the Rams can find their way to a two-game winning streak to close the season, the prospect of a winning record overall, an undefeated performance in the NFC West and a record of 5-1 over the season’s final six games would certainly qualify as unmitigated progress in a season in which the outside expectations started much lower.

But to do that, they’ll have to find a way to not only bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Vikings but to find the motivation to play their best even with nothing in terms of the postseason on the line.

“We have got two games left,” Fisher said. “With success this week, if that happens we have a chance to finish with a winning record. We have a chance if we are successful this week we have a chance to finish undefeated in the division, which is a very, very difficult task especially up there (in Seattle). There’s challenges.

“From day one, we talked about improving and you just don’t stop improving when you get to 17 games. You push right through the season and you push in the offseason and you move forward improving the big picture of this football team.”