By Howard Balzer
Monday, October 13, 2008

The NFL Network reported Sunday that coach Jim Haslett's contract contains language that says he will be named head coach after the season should the Rams win six of their final 12 games. I was working on a story that said five wins was the number, but was waiting to report it until I was able to confirm it.

Such a clause in the contract could also bring scrutiny to the Rams by the league because of the Rooney Rule requirement that a minority candidate be interviewed after the season.

Haslett could still be rehired even if the team doesn't reach the required number of victories.

Ever since being named head coach of the Rams after the firing of Scott Linehan, there has been one consistent message from Jim Haslett: Don't hang your heads after bad plays. Keep playing. Respond to adversity because there will be adversity.

But here's the irony of what we witnessed from this Rams team during Sunday's improbable 19-17 victory over the Washington Redskins: Haslett's message is no different than former coach Scott Linehan. It's no different than what every coach says to his players. However, what seemed clear as the Rams celebrated their first victory since last Dec. 2 is the players are buying what Haslett is selling. And they never really bought into Linehan.

Former Rams coach coach Dick Vermeil had some phrases he would often repeat like a mantra. And one was this: "You have to be believed to be heard." The Rams believe Haslett. They apparently never really believed Linehan.

After all, the Rams totaled 200 yards Sunday, less than their four-game average of 246.8. They allowed 368 yards, somewhat less than the 411.8 average over the first four games. They allowed 181 yards rushing, 15 more than the four-game average of 166.

But, they forced three turnovers after having just two in the first four games. And, all three came with the Redskins in Rams territory. Those turnovers were the first for the Redskins on offense this season. Most important, after entering the second half with a 10-7 lead, the Rams went toe-to-tie with the Redskins in the second half, being outscored only 10-9.

Despite a Steven Jackson fumble inside their own 5-yard line that led to a touchdown, and being penalized for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on guard Richie Incognito that pushed them back 15 yards for the eventual game-winning field goal, the Rams kept the game close by competing for four quarters. The defense entered the game with just four healthy cornerbacks and seven defensive backs, then lost corner Ricky Manning to a broken ankle. But, again, they just competed and didn't adopt a "woe is me" attitude because of being shorthanded.

Said Haslett, "I think they handled it pretty well today. I'd say there were some adverse situations today. But that's the National Football League and that's how it is. You have to give my guys credit; they worked their butts off today. It's not easy coming in here and winning."

Bernie Miklasz of the Post-Dispatch wrote Sunday that cornerback Ron Bartell approached Haslett during a break in practice recently and said, "You look comfortable doing this. You look confident. You look like a head coach."

If truth be told, Linehan never really looked the part of a head coach. He tried, but it didn't fly, especially this year when he attempted a personality transplant that was more transparent than real. Players could see right through it. Haslett is just himself, and players know it.

In just two weeks, he has made it fun to come to work again, not only for his team, but for the whole franchise. Haslett met with the entire organization last Monday and told them they are all a part of what is trying to be accomplished. He invited everyone to practice. Told them to bring their families. This past Friday, about 10 staffers were at practice.

It is noticed. After the game, Haslett said game balls will go to the organization "to the people in the building. They supported us. They came to practice, hung signs. You don't win in this league with just players and coaches. You win with an entire organization. The marketing side, the business side, everyone has to be as one. When the players do well, it makes their job a little easier. We need to unite this building and make them feel good about themselves."

As free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe said, "The first quarter of the season is over and done with. We had to just get on with the rest of the season's ballgames and see what we can do with it. I think that everyone took that approach. We came in with new energy and a new resolve about how we wanted to handle the season."

Of course, the trip to Washington would have been a disappointing one had rookie receiver Donnie Avery not made the catch he did on 3rd-and-13 and if Josh Brown hadn't calmly drilled the 49-yard field goal that won the game.

The Rams had squandered a 16-7 fourth-quarter lead and were trailing 17-16 with 1:13 remaining and the ball on their own 41-yard line. Three plays earlier, quarterback Marc Bulger had connected with Avery on a 12-yard pass on 3rd-and-2.

On third down, Avery streaked down the right sideline and made an outstanding adjustment to the inside to make a diving catch for a 43-yard gain. Now, it was just a matter of time to let the clock run down and let Brown kick a 34-yard field goal.

But things are never that easy. Incognito was flagged for his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game, and now Brown would have a much longer kick.

While Incognito insists he did nothing wrong that should have drawn a penalty, it's clear his reputation is hurting the Rams. Haslett wants him to be nasty in his play, but that can backfire at times.

Said Bulger, "He didn't do anything specific that time. But what he doesn't understand is that if it was the first time he did it in the game you're certainly not going to throw the flag to turn the game. Give them (Redskins) credit. They were looking for something to draw us back and knew if they could get him going a little bit maybe they could get one. And they did. Richie will learn from that.

"It's tough to calm him down when he's going. Richie's always talking. Going at it. I knew from the get-go … the refs have a book going into a game. They know who to look for. They came at him during the first series. I tried to warn him they were going to go after him. You don't want him to go that far but he can get the d-line off their game a little bit. It's nice to have a guy with a little bit of nasty in him."

"I’d probably back our guard up on that one," Haslett said. "If you are going to call a penalty on someone for swearing, if he did swear, then there’s going to be a lot of flags thrown out there. All the other players said that wasn’t true, that he didn’t say anything."

In the end, it was left to Brown to bang through his fourth field goal of the game. He had already nailed a 51-yarder, and now faced the ultimate test.

Haslett was so confident in Brown, he still let the clock run down without really trying to get any of the yards back and get him closer.

“I told him that (he is) by far the best kicker I have been around," Haslett said. "And not from the standpoint of being a kicker; he’s a great kicker, but the guy lets nothing bother him. He got a new holder this week (punter Donnie Jones), he’s kicking off grass, and then he was supposed to kick from (34) yards and it got pushed back to (49). Nothing bothers him. He’s awesome to be around, he’s a team guy. He’ll do anything for you. The guy’s just the best, he really is.”

Asked about the longer kick, Brown said, "It's still a chip shot; anything under 55 is still a chip shot. That’s how you have to view it. It's not an arrogant thing, it's not a cocky thing. I've made this a thousand times. I did. I made it all week this week. You can't overstress. You hit the ball as you normally would and you watch it go through the yellow sticks. A lot of people want to make this a lot harder than it is. It really needs to be this way. You can talk yourself out of a lot of great opportunities."

When the crowd at FedExField was mentioned, Brown got off the line of the year. Referring back to his days with the Seahawks, he said, "In Seattle, they're crazy, they're loud, they love that excitement. I had to learn how to feed off all those things. I did. (Here, it's) 92,000 people screaming at you.

"You ever see one man control 92,000 people? You just did."

It was left to Bulger to break things down to their bare essentials, noting the fine line that exists between winning and losing in the roller-coaster NFL.

"Coach Haslett did a good job," Bulger said. "He got us on point and we knew exactly what is expected of us. There are no question marks. He is a fiery guy. (But) If Donnie doesn’t make that play, then there are a lot of question marks. We made plays when we had to.”

And that's why, for at least the next six days, the Rams feel good about themselves again.

*The Rams are expected to step up their efforts to re-sign cornerback Fakhir Brown this week. Brown now has some leverage with the team down to three healthy cornerbacks. It's also possible that defensive back Eric Bassey could be elevated from the practice squad.

*Running back Travis Minor ended up backing up Steven Jackson when Brian Leonard injured his shoulder again on a kickoff return in the first half. The Rams need Antonio Pittman to get healthy.

*Left tackle Orlando Pace suffered an injury to his quadriceps muscle in the third quarter and was replaced by Adam Goldberg.

*On a play in the possession before the Rams' final one of the game, Bulger injured his finger on a scramble for a first down that was negated by an illegal formation penalty. He said it affected him on the big play to Avery.

"My finger, I jammed it the drive before so it was going to be hard for me to drive the ball," he said. "Primarily, you are supposed to stay inside on that coverage but I was a little hesitant with my finger. They gave me a one-on-one match-up, so why not? I think that is the best thing you can look for. Rather than Cover 2 or something else where it is going to be two-on-one. With one-on-one (coverage), to throw it up when it's third and a million, at the end of the game, that is all you can ask for.”