Published Tuesday, October 30, 2007

ST. LOUIS — Before the season started, many pundits were predicting big things for the St. Louis Rams.

Most believed they had an excellent shot at winning the NFC West, and some went so far as talking about the Super Bowl.

According to the calendar and according to their schedule, the Rams’ season is half over. According to reality, the winless Rams’ season was over a long time ago.

Nobody could have foreseen a team with so much returning talent and projected promise being 0-8. And despite what their record says, most Rams players refuse to believe they are as bad a team as 0-8 would indicate.

“I don’t think an athlete can do that,” said wide receiver Drew Bennett, who caught six passes for 63 yards Sunday in the Rams’ 27-20 loss to Cleveland at the Edward Jones Dome. “I know we’re 0-8. I know everyone on the outside is like, ‘Wow, look at this team.’

“But me, personally, I know the competitive nature of every guy in this locker room is like, ‘We’re not that bad.’ Everyone is going to laugh when you say that, but I don’t believe we’re that level of a team.”

Neither does fellow wide receiver Torry Holt, who caught six passes for 110 yards and a touchdown against the Browns.

“I’ll never come to that conclusion,” insisted the All-Pro wideout. “That’s almost like giving up, almost like throwing in the towel, and that’s not a situation I’m going to allow myself to get into, a situation that I’m not going to allow my teammates to get into . . .

“We are 0-8, and we still have an opportunity to finish 8-8, the same way we finished last year. So that is the approach we have to take from this point on.”

Bennett says the Rams are a lot closer to being a good team than most people would care to believe.

“I think that we’re just not converting the important plays of a game, and in the NFL that’s what makes you a good team,” Bennett said. “I think we’re closer than people think, and that’s why it’s so frustrating.”

Bennett believes the Rams still retain a nucleus of hard-working players who are capable of winning games in the second half of this season.

“I think you have to look at the silver lining of everything,” he said. “This is a good, quality locker room of guys. There’s nobody in here yelling at somebody. There’s nobody pointing fingers. There’s nobody having outbursts.

“Guys are extremely frustrated and disappointed and upset, but there’s nobody in here that’s going to be a disruption even further to other guys in the locker room.”

Bennett said Sunday’s game, in which the Rams bolted to an impressive 14-0 first-quarter lead only to fall behind in the second half, was an excellent example of how close the Rams are to winning football.

“There’s certain plays in every game that kind of decide whether a drive continues and whether you’re in the zone, I guess,” Bennett said. “And we were in the zone the first few drives.”

Bennett added, “I don’t know what (in the zone) means,” but upon further review he said, “It means everyone’s on the same page; it means that the holes are there, the protection’s there, and we’re catching the ball in the right routes.

“You know, we didn’t convert some third downs; we didn’t convert some important fourth downs — two fourth-and-1s — and you can’t win a ballgame when that kind of stuff happens.”

Changing things just enough to keep “that kind of stuff” from happening is precisely what has escaped these Rams so far this season. Having a bye week to figure it out just might make enough difference.

Having an extra week to not even worry about figuring it out just might help even more.

“It gives you a chance to get a little peace of mind back,” defensive tackle Adam Carriker said.

Bennett added, “The team is definitely going to get some needed rest. Guys will heal up and get away from it. Get your mind cleared a little bit.”

Maybe that’s the key. Maybe the Rams are thinking too much about trying to change what’s gone wrong rather than just doing what they know they can do right.

“I don’t have any answers,” Bennett conceded. “If I had answers, I would have tried to fix it.”

For at least the next week, the Rams should just try to forget it.

At this point, what do they have to lose?