Burwell: Rams energized with sorry Jets up next

1 hour ago • By BRYAN BURWELL

On Thursday afternoon at Rams Park, just as the sun was sneaking behind a grim November cloud and the mercury dropped dramatically 10 degrees from a pleasant, Indian summer-like 55 degrees to a chilly 45, the Rams players were bouncing around the outdoor practice field like energetic high school kids.

The pace of practice was fast, the energy level was off the charts. Receivers were diving for footballs, linebackers and defensive backs were flying everywhere trying to make plays, offensive linemen were growling their way through routine position drills and everyone was hooting and howling with the sort of enthusiasm that doesn’t fit the mood typical of a team with a 3-5-1 record.

Unlike a lot of last-place teams, who have already settled into that uncomfortable loser’s grind, for these young Rams there’s a genuine sense that their adventure has just begun.

That loser’s pall that usually shrouds Rams Park long before Thanksgiving?

It’s nowhere to be seen, which is a fairly remarkable thing for a team that hasn’t won a football game since late September.

“It’s fun to come to work,” said a smiling offensive tackle Rodger Saffold. “It’s not like ‘Oh gawd, it’s the second week in November and everything’s feeling bad.’ There’s none of that ‘Oh man, this hurts, oh man that hurts’ stuff gong on. Guys are excited. Guys feel like something’s about to happen here. It’s not hard to come to work when you have that feeling. Everyone’s excited about (football) and that’s because we can see it, we can feel it.”

What is it they feel? That elusive “it” that makes a team believe it’s going in the right direction. This is a young football team thoroughly convinced that it is finally on the verge of one of those defining-moment breakouts that can shoot a rebuilding team on a point-of-no-return trajectory from unseasoned losers to convinced young winners.

Right now we’re seeing a lot of the right signs. The Rams are full of positive vibes. They think things are starting to click. They think they’re healthy. They love coming to work and love being on that practice field, in meetings and in the locker room goofing around. Even if the won-loss record hasn’t quite caught up to their attitude, the Rams are behaving like winning football teams do.

And as luck would have it, they’re about to receive everybody’s favorite NFL “get well soon” greeting card: the woeful, sorry, no-account New York Jets.

The Jets are a wounded team coming to town riding an avalanche of bad news. Losers of five of their last six; targets of daily ridicule by the New York tabloids; caught in a swirl of controversy over a starting quarterback who can’t get out of a rut, an offense that can’t score and a defense that is floundering.

They have a head coach on the hot seat and a locker room full of teammates who don’t exactly like each other, featuring a backup QB who is being trashed by anonymous teammates in print.

This is the perfect opponent for the Rams to get off their own four-game winless streak. If the Rams can’t beat the slumping Jets in front of a rowdy home crowd at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday, then I will be the first to change my opinion that they’re progressing in the right direction.

If the young Rams are ever going to show that they’ve learned some valuable lessons from this difficult month they just completed, then it better be with a victory over a vulnerable New York team that acts like it can’t wait for this miserable season to end.

Taking the San Francisco ***** (6-2-1) into overtime last week in Candlestick Park, and for all intents and purposes, being the better team in that 24-24 tie, seemed to spark something in this team that ought to be the genesis of a season turnaround. That was a darned good football team that the Rams went toe to toe with for five quarters last Sunday, arguably as good as any they faced all season in a list that includes the 7-2 Chicago Bears, Aaron Rodgers’ Packers (6-3) or Tom Brady’s Patriots (6-3).

If they’re going to turn things around, it has to begin right here with a mid-November run against the 3-6 Jets and 4-5 Arizona Cardinals. They know it, too. They looked like a good team last week – albeit a mistake-prone one – but a good team nonetheless. It was perhaps the first time all season that you could imagine all the possibilities of what this team is capable of now that it’s getting healthier and more experienced.

It’s why they’re bouncing around on the practice field, because they know they’re getting close. “I think it definitely translates,” Saffold said. “It has to. We get excited in practice and that excitement doubles and triples in the games. We’re starting to know what we can to be, but now we just have to execute to get there. We have to cut out the dumb mistakes. We have to eliminate those little things that have separated us from winning several games this year.”

After practice on Thursday, assistant head coach Dave McGinnis, said he noticed that emotional spark on the practice field, too. McGinnis has been in pro football for nearly 30 years, long enough to know what this energy surge might – and might not – mean. “I think that it’s in accordance with the way Jeff Fisher prepares his football team,” said McGinnis. “But it’s also I think attributable to the fact that these players are very excited and confident about what’s going on here.”

What’s going on here sure looks like a team ready to try and create a little meaningful November and December football around here for the first time in years. I’m not talking about playoff football, because that would be more than a little unreasonable expectation for a team coming off a 2-14 season. But morphing into a team capable of winning one or two road games and sweeping its final three games at home is not so unrealistic.

Maybe this energy surge we’re seeing on the practice field will translate into something far more meaningful on Sundays.

“That energy is damned good,” said McGinnis. “Yeah, it really is. It still guarantees you nothing, but it sure helps.”