Rams in Must Win Situation

Posted Dec 20, 2010

Many times as the NFL season winds down, the playoff picture is about as clear as mud as teams jockey for position and wild scenarios are hashed out.

But after Sunday’s disappointing 27-13 loss to Kansas City at the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams’ mission in the final two weeks couldn’t be clearer.

If the Rams want to make the postseason, they have to win their final two games. It’s just that simple.

“You’ve got to win these games,” end Chris Long said. “There’s no margin for error. Officially no margin for error, I’m sure. Every other week, you try to play like it’s the playoffs, but now there’s no margin for error for real for us. So we’ve just got to come out here and prepare for a team coming in here, San Francisco, who beat us earlier.”

Indeed, the task is easy to understand but will undoubtedly be hard to execute. Soon after his team’s loss to the Chiefs, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo had little interest in re-hashing the day’s events.

Aside from finding corrections and how the Rams can be better in the next two weeks, Spagnuolo sent the message to his team that there is no tomorrow unless it begins with a win this week against the 49ers.

For those unaware, this is how it all breaks down in the NFC West Division right now.

- The Rams sit at 6-8, tied with Seattle for the division lead with San Francisco only a game back at 5-9.

- As it stands, the Rams hold the divisional tiebreaker against the Seahawks because of their win against them back on Oct. 3.

- There are two ways for the Rams to win the division though one is much simpler than the other.

- The first is to win their final two games. At 8-8, they’d hold the tiebreaker even if Seattle wins out by virtue of head to head performance.

- Seattle also controls its destiny, meaning it could win its final two games and take the division or it could win it by losing this week and beating the Rams in the finale.

- San Francisco also must win out against the Rams this week and Arizona in the final week plus get another loss from Seattle somewhere in the next two games.

Clearly, life in the wild, wild NFC West will make for an interesting final two weeks but Spagnuolo and the Rams are making no apologies for the fact that the winner of the division can do no better than an 8-8 finish.

“They haven’t said we’re out of it yet,” Spagnuolo said. “Right now, we have to win this next game. That’s all I’m focused on. To me, that’s where you have to put it for your football team to move forward. You can’t do scenarios. You can’t worry about who they have scheduled. You have got to go out and win a football game.”

To win this football game, the Rams are well aware that they will need to play much better than they have in recent weeks.

The sobering reality of Sunday’s loss was that the Rams simply haven’t been playing good football the past few weeks.

Spagnuolo said as much in his post-game news conference after the game and that was the general consensus in the locker room.

“It’s a combination of everything,” receiver Danny Amendola said. “The bottom line is we just didn’t play good enough football to get the job done and it’s unacceptable.  That’s not what we’re striving for. All we can do is get better and go into next week with all the momentum we can get and try to get a win.”

For the Rams to get back in business the next two weeks, they must do a better job of being consistent offensively and finishing drives with touchdowns and not field goals and the defense must also find some consistency in generating pass rush. And everybody must cut down on the penalties.

“I don’t think you can really change the way you approach the game or the way you play,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “I think playoff mode means every play is just a little bit bigger, though. Every first down counts a little bit more. Every touchdown, every field goal, and everything we can do as an offense just helps us that much more to reach the playoffs. We just have to come out and play well the next two weeks.”

Although it won’t mean much of anything in terms of determining the outcome of the final two weeks, the Rams season has played out in a way that should give everyone hope they can finish strong.

Coaches and players regularly break down the season into quarters. Now in the fourth quarter, the Rams need the outcome of this one to be the same as the first and the third.

In the first four games, the Rams dropped two and bounced back to get two wins to go 2-2 in that stretch. In the most recent quartet of contests, the Rams again lost the first two and once again came back to come up with a pair of victories.

Following the loss to New Orleans and this most recent defeat at the hands of the Chargers, the Rams must again do it against division opponents San Francisco and Seattle.

Spagnuolo doesn’t use that history as a basis of motivation for his team but he does know that it shows what his team is capable of.

“I don’t do it that way,” Spagnuolo said. “This is a resilient team, this particular team. These guys find a way when they are challenged to do some good things so I expect them to do that this week and into Sunday.”

That belief in the resilience of the team isn’t limited to Spagnuolo. Team captain Steven Jackson was, perhaps, the most frustrated of the Rams in the locker room after Sunday’s loss.

But Jackson, too, believes in the team’s ability to bounce back and win big games such as the one coming this week.

“This team positioned themselves to be ready,” Jackson said. “We put ourselves in this spot to fight…we still have an opportunity, but we now have allowed for another team to come into the race.  This team has accomplished a lot, so to answer your question, we’re up to the task.  We have the capabilities of doing so.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be in this position that we’re in.”

One thing is certain, the next two weeks, especially this one, won’t be easy. It will take extra effort, effort like the one put forth by cornerback Ron Bartell to chase down Kansas City back Jamaal Charles and prevent a touchdown, even if it was only momentarily.

“When you’re out scratching and clawing tooth and nail, trying to get into the playoffs, no play is meaningless,” Bartell said. “Every play is a big play this time of year.  We’re just trying to fight.  We have a golden opportunity to win the division, so we’re going to fight as hard as we can.  It didn’t turn out our way today, but we’ve bounced back all year, and I wouldn’t expect anything less from this football team.”