With Haslett leading, the cause isn't lost
By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Oct. 27 2008
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — It has taken less than a month for Jim Haslett to undo the
mess that the St. Louis Rams had become. Even in defeat, the Rams are no longer
bogged down by the painful defeatist attitude that epitomized the last few
years. I am sitting here now in the aftermath of a 23-16 loss to the New
England Patriots and instead of harping on why the 2-5 Rams lost, I'm actually
far more interested in giving you the "glass is half-full" point of view of a
team on the rise.
Let me say this again, loudly and clearly. Haslett has almost overnight turned
around a franchise that I once figured was incurably dysfunctional and
transformed the same team that once had no life, no hope and no promise under
Scott Linehan into a unified organization that is working for the single and
suddenly attainable purpose of winning.
I'm telling you this because I've just walked through the visitors' locker room
in Gillette Stadium, and for the first time in maybe three years, I can see
that this team has a positive and feisty competitive personality.
And that is a direct reflection of the man in charge.
This is no longer a pathetic, sorry, no-account football team. If you thought
the road victory against the Washington Redskins two weeks ago was a fluke,
Haslett's Rams followed that up with a dominant rout at home against the Dallas
Cowboys. For good measure, they followed up those two victories with a near
upset of the Patriots on the road that was nearly as illuminating as the
previous two victories. Without their best offensive player (Steven Jackson was
on the inactive list) or defensive player (Leonard Little spent most of the
game on the sidelines after tweaking his hamstring), Haslett's Rams battled the
Patriots down to the game's final moments.
Losing to the Patriots was not a devastating setback. In many ways, it was a
valuable instructional tool that showed how thin the line is between victory
and defeat for this flawed but improving team. They might have squandered a
winnable game, but this was not remotely close to those old "sky-is-falling"
losses that characterized the team's 0-4 start.
There's some salvation here, because the Rams are competitive again, and
Haslett has found a way to do it. He's doing it because he has managed to do
what his predecessor could never do: inspire aggressiveness and competitiveness
in a team in desperate need of large quantities of both.
The Rams still have plenty of competitive shortcomings, but they have a
personality now, and it is Haslett's fighting spirit. Shortly after the game,
the new Rams boss told a crowded interview room that had his offense scored a
touchdown in the game's closing moments to cut the Patriots' lead to 23-22, he
would have gone for the two-point conversion and the victory instead of
settling for a one-point PAT and overtime.
I mentioned this to quarterback Marc Bulger, and he chuckled.
"I didn't know that he said that," Bulger said. "But I tell you what, when we
were driving the ball at the end, I was starting to think about that, too. I
don't think I would have thought that before. But hey, with 'Has' I think we
can assume we would (go for two). I think we all believe we would."
If you spend more than five minutes around Haslett, you pick up that aggressive
vibe. It's not about X's and O's as much as it is about conjuring things out of
his players that spark a belief that nothing is impossible. "Remember now, this
is the guy who went for 4th-and-1 in the first half on (the Rams') side of the
field," offensive lineman Adam Goldberg said. "Then he ordered an onside kick
to start the second half. You know what that says to players when a coach does
that sort of stuff? It says he's in it to win. It says he's going all-out, so
that's what we do, too."
This doesn't guarantee that the Rams are going to barrel through the rest of an
entirely winnable remaining schedule. But at least now there's enough tangible
evidence to suggest they have a legitimate chance when they walk onto the field.
Only a blind man or a terminal pessimist can't see the route to redemption.
Tell me Haslett hasn't changed your mind about the possibilities for this team.
A healthy Jackson would have made a huge difference Sunday. But even without
him, you see that rookie receivers Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton are becoming
legit threats. A healthy Little would have done wonders for the pass rush, but
rookie Chris Long (two sacks) continues to grow as a game-changer on defense.
So if this fragile formula for success can stay together for the stretch run,
imagine the possibilities. A win in next Sunday's game vs. the Cardinals at the
Edward Jones Dome would put the Rams one game out of first place in the
mediocre NFC West with half a season to play.
"We have Arizona twice, San Francisco twice, Seattle once again at home,"
Bulger said. "So as far as our division is concerned, if we take care of
business we can get to where we need to get. We're not there yet because we dug
ourselves into a pretty deep hole with that 0-4 start. But we know we can get
Re: With Haslett leading, the cause isn't lost
Going for it on 4th and 1 in the 1st half and the onside kick that worked to open up the 2nd half. Haslett is a gambler and both gambles paid off this time.
What would the response of the sports writers that cover the RAMS and the Clan have been if we failed on both?
Also saying he would have gone for the 2 point conversion for the win? WOW!
I have to admit I love his style.
Obviously our players do to.