By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
01/01/2007


The Rams had nothing to gain Sunday, but something more to prove.

The New York Giants eliminated their primary motivation Saturday evening. They beat the Redskins and eliminated the Rams from the playoff race.

But the Rams won the next afternoon anyway, hammering the Vikings 41-21. This was their third consecutive victory – all against teams with losing records -- and it allowed them to finish 8-8.

Is the cup half full for Rams coach , or half empty? In this corner of cyberspace, we sit firmly on the fence. We’ll have to flip a coin.



On one hand, missing the playoffs this season was most regrettable. The NFC was atrocious in 2006.

The Rams skilled players stayed healthy and had big seasons, with quarterback , running back and receiver earning trips to the Pro Bowl. Veteran receiver enjoyed a bounce-back season, too.

How could the Rams avoid the playoffs under these circumstances? How could they start the season 4-1, then find ways to lose to seven of eight games through the middle of the season?

Sure, the Rams suffered some catastrophic injuries, especially along the offensive line, but serious injuries abounded in the NFC this season. The Seahawks lost running back Shaun Alexander and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck for big chunks of the season and still won the NFC West.

“You can’t look at the disappointment of not getting in,” Linehan told Rams Radio listeners after Sunday’s victory. “You have to look at the positives in how we finished.”

Yes, the finish was good. The Rams DID embrace Linehan’s offensive scheme as the season progressed. Bulger finally got comfortable, as he demonstrated Sunday by completing 19 of 30 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings.



Jackson broke out as one of the NFL’s elite running-receiving threats. He finished the season with another brilliant performance: Rushing for 142 yards and three touchdowns and catching two passes for 24 yards and another TD.

He gained more than 2,300 yards from scrimmage this season. We’re not ready to compare him to , but this kid is a load.

“It’s hard to put into words the kind of year that he had,” Linehan said.

After losing veterans , and from the offensive line, the Rams brought along youngsters , , and .

Consider the offensive line rebuilt. Not only did the Rams open up running room for Jackson Sunday, against a tough defensive unit, but they also prevented Bulger from getting sacked.

“The offensive line we finished they year with was young, green. They played their best football the last three games,” Linehan said. “That’s impressive.”

Despite their overall problems on defense – especially their inability to stop the run – the Rams saw young defensive backs , (two interceptions, one for a touchdown Sunday) and grow quite a bit.

unit managed to finish on a high note, by regaining their ability to force turnovers. But this defense must become much, much tougher along the defensive line and at linebacker.

Defensive end , defensive tackle/end and linebackers and need some help.

The Rams know what they need to add through the draft and free agency. Given their strong finish, they could take a huge step forward with a handful of key additions.

“Hopefully it’s a great sign of things to come,” Linehan said his the team’s three-game winning streak. “I’m already thinking about next year.”

Let the offseason begin!