By Jim Thomas
Of the Post-Dispatch
These are dark days for St. Louis area sports fans.

In case you missed it, the Cardinals got bounced in four games in the World Series by the Boston Red Sox.

The Rams lost their most recent outing to Miami, one of the NFL's worst teams.

On the college football scene, Missouri is on the skids, and Illinois can't beat anybody. In hockey, the NHL lockout continues with no end in sight.

"The River Otters are doing good though," offered Rams offensive guard Tom Nutten, a hockey fan.

Yeah. But short of getting a World Series do-over for the Cardinals, the surest way to lift the spirits of Gateway City sports fans would be a victory Sunday over the New England Patriots.

"We've got to pick them back up," linebacker Trev Faulk said.

"We can't make up for a couple years ago in New Orleans," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said, referring to the Rams' 20-17 Super Bowl loss to New England after the 2001 season. "And we can't make up for losing the World Series. But we can get a little bit of that respect back ... by taking care of business. We don't like the way we left that thing before the bye week. We didn't play Rams football."

Not even close. Shoddy special teams play, a porous secondary and inconsistent offense added up to a 31-14 loss to the previously winless Dolphins. And if the Rams didn't feel bad enough about that setback, the New York Jets' 41-14 trampling of the Dolphins on Monday night only reinforced the fact that Miami isn't very good.

"It was probably a good thing to have the bye after that (Miami game)," offensive tackle Grant Williams said. "Just to kind of catch your breath, put that in the past, and come back."

Many Rams spent at least part of Sunday watching New England's record 21-game winning streak end in a lopsided 34- 20 loss at Pittsburgh.

"They lost that game the way they've been winning games," coach Mike Martz said. "They gave the ball up early, and Pittsburgh was able to get some points on them, and held on. That's kind of been (New England's) formula."

Despite scoring first for the 15th consecutive game, the Patriots fell behind 21-3 in the first quarter with the Steelers converting two New England turnovers into 14 quick points. By game's end, the Patriots were minus-4 in takeaway- giveaway differential. The last time the Patriots were minus-4 was also the last time they lost - 20-17 to Washington on Sept. 28, 2003.

During the 21-game winning streak, the Patriots were remarkably consistent in the turnover game. They had been on the minus end only four times - and just minus-1 on all four occasions. Overall, New England was plus-22 in takeaway- giveaways during the streak.

Because of those miscues in Pittsburgh, the Rams won't have the opportunity to end the Patriots' winning streak - an opportunity that seemed enticing to some at Rams Park.

"It's a huge game regardless," Faulk said. "But I guess it would've been a little bit more exciting if we would've gotten an opportunity to break their streak. But that doesn't take anything away from the game."

Not in the big picture, anyway. Despite the stumble in Miami, the Rams remain atop the NFC West. Seattle has an identical 4-3 record, but the Rams hold the tie- breaker by virtue of their 33-27 overtime victory over the Seahawks on Oct. 10

Taking on an unbeaten New England team, "would have been cool for the headlines and everything," Jackson said. "But it really doesn't matter. ... What matters is what our record is. We're 4-3, and that's not good enough. We want to be 5-3 next week - it's just as simple as that."

Martz agrees.

"For us right now, where we are, we're struggling to stay on top of the division any way we can," Martz said. "So that's the most important thing.

"Obviously, the Patriots and the history we have with them is kind of special. But we're just so concerned right now about getting better. And guys like (rookie) Tony Hargrove and some of those guys, they have no idea."

True, but they figure to get a history lesson before the week is out.