By Bernie Miklasz

SAN FRANCISCO — On a dull-gray Sunday afternoon of football, the Rams beat the hideously bad ***** in a decrepit stadium in an ugly game that would have made the late Bill Walsh weep and swear off the sport forever.

These days, there's only one sure way for Rams head coach Scott Linehan to improve his popularity rating: announce during Monday's news conference that he's picking Missouri to beat Kansas in Saturday's Armageddon at Arrowhead.

The Rams' bandwagon, which is about the size of a tram now, was taken off the tracks and returned to the docking station several weeks ago after unloading the final few passengers.

But for those still keeping score, the previously winless Rams have won two in a row, and did so without petitioning Congress for a Constitutional amendment.

In a battle of two lost causes Sunday, the defiant visitors held on for a 13-9 victory. A request: Put video of this conflict into the vault of NFL Films, and don't let anyone see it, ever again.

"There are no style points in winning and losing," Linehan said. "There's just a lot of happiness all around when it comes to winning."

Sunday, the Rams were slightly less unsightly than the *****, who have lost eight consecutive games. There have been two eight-game skids in the NFC West this season, first by the Rams, and now the *****.

It figures that in this Rams-***** rivalry, the ***** have thrown the gauntlet down and declared: anything the Rams can do, we can do worse.

Say this for the Rams: they are persistent buggers.

They've earned grudging respect by playing hard through the funk of that 0-8 start. They're making an effort to win, rather than count the days and accept beatings. It means something. Not sure what ... but something. And it's good.

Earlier this season, the Rams lost four close games that were easily winnable, buckling late against Carolina, San Francisco, Arizona and Cleveland. On Sunday, they finally handled hazardous cargo — a second-half lead — with enough dexterity to bring home a winner.

Does a four-point win over the ***** count as progress?

Even with ***** wideout Darrell Jackson dropping what would have been a score-tying touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter? Even with the stubborn if awkward ***** driving for the win, only to be denied by safety O.J. Atogwe's end-zone interception on the final play?

Is this evidence of growth?

"It is to me," Linehan said. "Unfortunately we've had our fair share of lessons but we put ourselves in position to win today, because of how we approached the game, and how we approached the second half of the season to execute a win like this on the road."

Jim Haslett's defense saved Linehan and the offense from what could have been a humiliating collapse. The Rams came out blazing, scooting for a touchdown on their first drive. They had 122 yards after the first quarter.

And then the blocking fell apart. And then quarterback Marc Bulger was rag-dolled. And then Bulger got happy feet. And then the ***** ganged up on running back Steven Jackson. And then Linehan's play calling went into stall-ball mode.

Basically the Rams' offensive strategy deteriorated into this Mindset: Can someone make the danged clock run faster? This was football's version of "Escape from Alcatraz."

That nervous approach to football put the pressure on the Rams defense. Haslett's crew swarmed and wrecked the ***** in the first three quarters, allowing only 96 yards. But after taking a 13-3 lead, the Rams offense showed no inclination to move the ball for most of the fourth quarter.

And so it was up to the Rams defense to hang tough, and they did. Barely so. But the Rams held, and, yeah, the win does count. This is a two-game winning streak. This is progress. This the NFC West.