By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Monday, Oct. 20 2008
Funny, isn’t it, how the perception of a franchise can change in two short
weeks.

Here at STLtoday.com, the tone of the live postgame chats has changed
dramatically. Rather than demanding the immediate firing of everybody in the
organization holding a title, fans were focused Sunday on the NFC West playoff
race.

As your cyber-correspondent left The Ed, a Rams staff member suggested it was
time to start promoting the team’s Pro Bowl candidates.

At 0-4, the Rams were the NFL’s doormat. At 2-0 under Jim Haslett, they are one
of the league’s new feel-good stories.

“Quarterback Marc Bulger overthrew a potential 85-yard touchdown pass to Donnie
Avery in Week 7,” wrote ESPN.com’s Mike Sando. “Oh, well. There was plenty
more where that came from. These are the new St. Louis Rams, after all. The
resilient Rams. The Jim Haslett Rams. You wouldn't recognize them.”

All along, in this corner of cyberspace, we’ve insisted the Rams DO have
talent. Fans fixated on recent drafts and other personnel decisions, wondering
how so many terrible players could be assembled in one place.

Fans wanted management to dump half the players, immediately. All along,
though, we’ve insisted that many of these players would be better in another
atmosphere.

Now they are in another atmosphere. And look at them play:

* Steven Jackson is one of the elite running backs in the sport. He offers a
unique blend of power, speed and receiving skills. Fans have been dogging him
since the summer, when he missed training camp while his agent negotiated a
contract extension.

Actually, fans have been dogging him since last year -– when Jackson’s candor
about fan loyalty and stadium music caused a stir. But Jackson is a rare talent
and a ferocious competitor, as we saw Sunday when he ran all over a good
Cowboys defense.

Rather than complain about Jackson on Sunday, live chat participants were
worried about his quadriceps strain.

“It is just a little bruise,” Jackson claimed after the game. “We are going to
do more tests and have a MRI in the morning just to make sure. It is just a
little tight, but I am able to walk and move it, so that is a good sign.”


* Marc Bulger can still move an offense. He got off his heels Sunday and played
with great confidence. Fans complained about his poor arm strength, but he
managed to overthrow the streaking Avery with a home-run throw.

Bulger didn’t become mobile overnight, but his downfield throwing against
Dallas was reminiscent of the good old days.

“It’s not a secret, if you’re in the league and you are not confident in
yourself and you are not playing with that swagger, then things are going to go
bad,” Bulger said.


* Torry Holt no longer appears disinterested or, worse yet, finished. With
Avery stretching the Cowboys “D” with his speed and Jackson’s running setting
up play-action passes, Holt finally had a chance to make a few downfield plays.

This team will miss tight end Randy McMichael for the rest of this season. He
was playing well before getting hurt and offensive coordinator Al Saunders
knows how to maximize tight ends in his scheme.

But rookie receiver Keenan Burton can make a difference moving forward. Like
Avery, he was actually a very good draft pick.


* On the defensive side, Leonard Little is playing at a Pro Bowl level. James
Hall wrought havoc as a pass rusher Sunday. Clifton Ryan was a force in the
middle of the line. Linebackers Will Witherspoon and Pisa Tinoisamoa played
strong games and O.J. Atogwe had two more interceptions.

The Rams didn’t let the Cowboys get away with starting Brad Johnson in place of
the injured Romo. After allowing one touchdown drive, the “D” made adjustments
and controlled the rest of the game.

Fakhir Brown’s return from exile helped, but otherwise these were the same
players who buckled again and again during the Scott Linehan Era.

The Rams have some players, as many good ones as most teams. Now their talent
has a chance to shine through.