Saturday, October 8, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

All week the questions asked of the Rams have been the same and repeated almost ad nauseum.

Do you consider Seattle a rival? Do you have a psychological edge because of the three wins against the Seahawks a year ago? What do you remember most about those games from a season ago?

But come Sunday’s noon meeting at the Edward Jones Dome, there is only one thing that matters to any of the Rams, regardless of which team lines up on the other side.

“Right now we’re in the mindset that we need to win a ballgame,” receiver Torry Holt said. “As far as all that psychological and physical edge and all that stuff, we haven’t really given too much thought about that…This is an opportunity for us to win a ballgame against a division opponent at home. The guys understand how critical this is, how critical this game is.”

Any thoughts of rivalries or bitterness toward the Seahawks notwithstanding, this game is about as important as a game taking place in the fifth week of the regular season can be.

Like last season, it appears that Seattle and St. Louis are going to fight it out until the last week for the NFC West Division crown. Both teams enter Sunday’s game with records of 2-2, sitting atop the division with Arizona and San Francisco at 1-3. The winner will emerge with sole possession of first place in the division, some momentum for the following week and an edge for a possible tiebreaker at the end of the season.

Those simple reasons for winning make this game more important than anything that happened last year.

“From season to season, game to game, nothing you have done the week before has any bearing on what you’re doing right now,” coach Mike Martz said. “That was a nice thing last year. It’s over. It’s long gone. We don’t even think about it or talk about it.”

Unless of course, they are faced with a constant barrage of questions about it, such as this week. Sure, the Rams and Seahawks are fast becoming a big rival in the division, but that is mainly because neither the Cardinals nor the ***** have provided much competition in recent years.

Last season, St. Louis and Seattle dueled into the final weeks before the division was decided, but it wasn’t like the two teams were exactly dominant. By the time the Seahawks had claimed the division, they were 9-7 and the Rams sneaked into the playoffs with an 8-8 record.

Because the Rams and Seahawks have been the two best teams in a division that isn’t too deep, these meetings have added importance. If for no other reason, that’s why this is a rivalry that is beginning to boil over.

“I know how people feel about the West Division, it’s either us or Seattle,” running back Steven Jackson said. “I think that in itself makes it a rivalry. Playing them three times last year and being able to knock them off all three times kind of put a bug with them against us, so I think so.”

Although opinions on whether it is truly a rivalry might have differed in the Rams’ locker room, the Seahawks seem to be taking it pretty seriously.

The Rams’ three victories against Seattle weren’t enough to defend their division crown, but they did knock the Seahawks out of the playoffs, something that still stings Seattle’s head coach.

“We have a lot of respect for that organization, and you kind of know that you have to beat them to win it,” Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "We couldn’t get it done last year.”

For as joyous as the thoughts of those wins from last year might be for the Rams, any reflection on what happened last week might be equally disturbing.

St. Louis was embarrassed by the New York Giants just last week after putting together a modest two-game winning streak. The Rams were pushed around defensively, getting caught out of position time and again against the run and the pass.

By the time the Giants were done, the Rams defense had tumbled to 25th in the league. Things were so bad that Martz didn’t review the tape with the players as he usually does.

“We don’t like it,” strong safety Adam Archuleta said. “It’s embarrassing so we have to go out there and erase that from our memories. The only way to do that is to go out and dominate this game.”

The Rams also continued a disturbing trend of falling behind by a substantial amount early in the game and then having to throw the ball repeatedly for the rest of the game. That has limited the number of touches for Jackson and kept the offensive line from being able to assert itself physically.

While the offense has been able to put up big numbers in the past few weeks, the defense has done that same. The Rams’ inability to put it all together has been the most frustrating part of the first quarter of the season.

“We just haven’t reached our potential yet,” defensive end Anthony Hargrove said. “We haven’t reached Max Q yet. We still have a lot of time left in this season and we are hoping we can get this together and start really getting this boat rolling. We still have a ways to go. We are not at Max Q yet, we are at Max L.”

To reach Max Q, the Rams are going to have to begin to find the balance that has eluded them offensively. Seattle is 25th in the league against the run and with the game in St. Louis and Jackson returning to health, this could be the week to do it.

As for the defense, it is just looking to find a little bit of the improved unit that showed up in the first three games forcing turnovers, limiting touchdowns and pressuring the quarterback.

If that happens, the Rams could find themselves back in a familiar position…first place.

“We are trying to take a hold of the division,” Jackson said. “We need to get this win at home.”

At the end of the day, that’s what matters most.