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Burwell: Rams are lucky to be in hunt ..
BY BRYAN BURWELL | Tuesday, November 23, 2010 11:10 am
The NFL calendar is a rather orderly, remarkably reliable guide for everyone who needs to know what time it is in the land of first downs and touchdowns. In pro football, you can consult the calendar and it rarely lets you down. If it's April, get out your handy draft guide. If it's August, it must be time for preseason hopes and dreamers. If it's September, it's time to pull back the curtain and let the real games begin.
Yet by the time pro football lovers flip those dog-eared pages of their calendars to November, a lot of the hunches, wishing and dreaming that make the build-up to the season so much fun all disappear and hard-knock reality sets in.
So it was all around the NFL two days ago, as Separation Sunday began to sort out pro football's elite from the rest of the pack. The Jets (8-2), Patriots (8-2), Falcons (8-2), Eagles (7-3), Ravens (7-3), Saints (7-3), Packers (7-3) and Steelers (7-3) seem to be establishing themselves as slightly above the rest.
Then on another shelf, just below this elite class we find the Bears (7-3), Bucs (7-3), Jags (6-4), Colts (6-4), Chiefs (6-4) and Giants (6-4), who still have a lot of questions to answer before anyone is willing to consider them armed and dangerous for a deep playoff run.
And then we have the boys from the NFC West — the division that by league by-laws has to be won by somebody — who seem to taking the order and reliability of that NFL calendar and turning it on its head. As the 4-6 Rams, 5-5 Seahawks and 3-7 Cardinals and ***** continue to prove, mediocrity does have its privileges. One day after the division went a collective 0-4 (and losing by a combined score of 120-49), all over the NFC West, the coaches were quite aware of their inexplicable good fortune.
While no one seems to be able to win the NFC West, with six games remaining, no one seems to be able to lose it, either. And that means that for the first time in ages, the Rams are still playing meaningful football games this late in the season. Not since 2006 when the Rams finished 8-8, only a game out of first place, have they pushed and shoved their way into November with a division title still at stake.
So at Rams Park on Monday, Steve Spagnuolo pushed aside the memories of Sunday's 34-17 loss to Atlanta, and who could blame him. "So anyway, we're still in the thick of it (the division race) and that's the way we're going to look at it," said Spagnuolo. "We're going to focus on the prize we set out to accomplish at the beginning of the year, (winning) the NFC West. That is still there. Until they tell us we can't get it, that's going to be the main focus, and the first step toward getting that is playing Denver."
If you did a quick buzz around the division Monday, you heard everyone repeating the same mantra. Mike Singletary, embattled leader of the last-place Niners, may have said it better than anyone when someone asked the defiant coach whether the struggling Niners were a playoff team.
Singletary answered simply, "If we win. If we win."
And when someone peppered him with another question whether his team is playoff-worthy, Singletary didn't hesitate.
"If we win."
Well good for him, and good for everyone in the NFC West who refuses to apologize for the good fortune of being able to cling to playoff possibilities even while struggling so late in the season.
So if you want to ask that question of the young Rams, feel free. Are they playoff worthy? Yeah, they are if they can find a way to keep winning. Win on the road in Denver next Sunday and you are still in it, not just mathematically, but legitimately.
Look at first-place Seattle's remaining schedule:
At home against the AFC West-leading Chiefs (6-4) and 1-9 Carolina, then at San Francisco, at home against NFC South-leading Atlanta, on the road at the Bucs and at home against the Rams.
The only sure victory on that schedule is Carolina. They will most likely be underdogs in three games (SF, Atlanta and Tampa). That could put them at 7-8 going into the final game against the Rams, a game that could very well decide this division.
Realistically, the Cards and Niners are one more loss away from falling out of contention. A week after beating the Rams, the ***** got shut out 21-0 against Tampa Bay. Troy Smith, who looked like superman vs. the Rams, looked quite ordinary against the Bucs, He completed only 16 of 31 passes and didn't run a single play inside the red zone, and his 148 passing yards, five passing first downs and six sacks aren't the worst marks for only this season. Those are worsts for any ***** quarterback in the past three seasons.
So when you lay it all out for the Rams, why shouldn't they cling to that playoff dream? But if the dream is to become a reality, this team has some work to do. They have to figure out how to stop losing games they are capable of winning on the road (see: Tampa, Oakland, San Francisco) and games they are capable of stealing at home.
On Sunday, Spagnuolo was as visibly steamed as I've ever seen him after a loss. The Rams were not better than the Falcons, but they could have played better. After looking at the game film on Monday, it only made Spagnuolo's foul mood the day before even more justifiable.
"I think this team has reached the point where we're capable of beating those teams," said the coach. "I feel that way, and I know they do, too. The better you become, the more in the thick of it you get, the higher the aspirations, the more upset I get when we don't win."
Re: Burwell: Rams are lucky to be in hunt ..
We need to get deeper and we need to get smarter. And as we add better pieces it makes our weaknesses more glaring.
Last year was hopelessly agonizing. This year is agonizingly frustrating. Maybe next year will be frustratingly rewarding.
I can't wait until August.St. Louis, "The Gateway to the West".
Re: Burwell: Rams are lucky to be in hunt ..Steve
What you see is what you get, but what you see depends on where you stand.
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