By Jeff Gordon
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
12/11/2006
Jeff Gordon


Sunday brought more carnage in the National Football Conference – reminding Ram Nation of the opportunity its team is blowing.

The Panthers, one of the preseason conference favorites, fell to 6-7 this season with their ugly 27-13 loss to the Giants.

The NFC West-leading Seahawks somehow lost to the Gridbirds, who are making an ill-advised late push to ruin their draft position.

The Packers lit up the *****, who earlier rallied toward playoff contention.

In the latest round of action, the Falcons (7-6), Giants (7-6) and Eagles (7-6) gained the upper hand in the wild-card playoff race by winning Sunday. The Vikings (6-7) and Panthers (6-7) are chasing them, one game behind.

And the Rams? At 5-7, they must look back at several of their losses with great regret. By making a play here and a play there, they could be front and center in the postseason "race" on this lesser side of the league.

The Rams have had every chance to reach postseason play during Scott Linehan’s first season as head coach. They haven’t had to play great to stay in the hunt, they just had to be less awful.

Yet STILL they fail.

Many things went wrong during the Mike Martz Era in St. Louis, especially at the end. The man went Captain Queeg on the organization and fired himself with his erratic behavior.

But we’ll say this for Mad Mike: He knew where the back door to the playoffs was located. In 2000 and 2004, his Rams overcame injuries, bad losses and bizarre mishaps to reach the NFC playoff bracket.

Millions of Rams fans overlooked those accomplishments – since they didn’t measure up to the glorious NFC Championship seasons – but there were notable.

Perhaps fans will appreciate the 2000 and 2004 seasons more as the Rams get back to missing the playoffs year after year.

The math tells you the 2006 Rams still have some life, against all odds. By upsetting the Bears, they could move back into the pack at 6-7 with three winnable games left on their schedule.

But psychology tells us they have no chance. After the Rams allowed the Grirdbirds to walk about over them last Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, is there a man, woman or child alive who expects them to beat the mighty Bears?

Time after time after time, the Rams could have regained traction by playing with more urgency this season. Time after time after time, they played listlessly instead.

Where is the fire? The anger? The hunger to win?

Monday night offers huge match-up problems as well.

The Bears aren’t perfect, given their quarterback controversy. Rex Grossman has been strangely charitable lately, giving away footballs like so many holiday turkeys. He has single-handedly given Bears opponents hope in recent weeks.

So far, anyway, Bears head coach Lovie Smith has been eerily supportive of Grossman – although back-up quarterback Brian Griese is preparing to take over if needed.

If the Rams could stop the run, this could exploit this situation by getting Grossman into difficult down-and-distance situations. But the Rams cannot stop the run, so the Bears will run again and again and again to keep their quarterback out of trouble.

And the fabulous Bears defense should make sport of the makeshift Rams offensive line. If you are a Gus Frerotte fan, this could be the night your guy sees extended action.

If the Bears take care of their business as expected, the Rams will fall to 5-8. They will lose for the seventh time in eight games.

And they will wonder how they fell from playoff contention while so many other NFC teams were struggling too.