Rams Fight to the Finish
SEATTLE – To hear even the casual observer tell it, the Rams never stood a chance entering Sunday’s game against the Seahawks.
Seattle entered the game as the league’s hottest team, averaging 50 points per game the past three weeks, riding the wave of a playoff berth and playing in the NFL’s most hostile atmosphere.
Quietly, the Rams had won four of their past five and three consecutive road games but that was overlooked because they weren’t putting up the video game numbers the Seahawks were posting.
But the memo that a Rams team with “nothing” to play for aside from pride and some positive statistics for 2013 never found its way into the Rams locker room.
While the Rams weren’t quite able to overcome the long odds everyone else established on their behalf, the effort that saw them come up just short in a 20-13 loss to NFC West Division rival Seattle served as yet another reminder that the Rams are going to have to be respected in the immediate future.
“I don’t think many people gave us an opportunity, I don’t think many people thought this game would be close except us,” Fisher said. “I am very, very proud of the professional approach not only all year but this (week) in preparation. I understand this is a difficult place to play and we understood what we needed to do to win the game. I am disappointed that we fell short but that was a tremendous effort by our guys. They have nothing to be disappointed about.”
In a game that Fisher referred to as his team’s most difficult challenge last week, the Rams played Sunday’s game like it was their last, not just the last of the 2012 season (which it was) but perhaps their final opportunity to play ever.
It’s a mentality that has been prevalent nearly from the day Fisher took over as head coach almost a year ago. It’s a mentality that has seen the Rams post the best record within a division that entering Sunday possessed the best combined winning percentage among the NFL’s six divisions.
So while the Rams came up eight points short of finishing with a winning record for the first time since 2003 and their first undefeated divisional record since 1999, they went down firing off haymakers as they’d done for most of the season.
“This team is definitely headed in the right direction, a lot of young talent,” running back Steven Jackson said. “The free agents that we signed in the offseason came in right away and made an impact on this team. Anyone that follows the team closely sees that we are a different team, a team to be reckoned with and the NFC West will have to deal with us.”
For the Seahawks to deal with the Rams on Sunday, they had to combine a premium effort with a little bit of luck and close the deal with more brilliance from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.
With the game tied at 13 and 4:23 to go, Wilson handed it off to workhorse running back Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had gashed the Rams for big gains most of the day but he was stuffed at the line and took a big hit from linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who jarred the ball loose at Seattle’s 18-yard line.
For a Rams team that had just four fumble recoveries all season, a golden opportunity lay on the CenturyLink Field turf.
As happened a number of times this year, though, the Rams couldn’t quite get a handle on the ball with a chance to take over deep in Seattle territory as Seahawks receiver Golden Tate recovered for a 4-yard gain and a first down.
“We have had a few bounces like that this year that didn’t kind of go our way,” Fisher said. “We got the ball on the ground in great field position and it didn’t go our way.”
Per custom, the Rams defense kept fighting and soon got Seattle to a third and 5 from its 27. For most of the day, the Rams had found ways to get the slippery Wilson down in key situations, dropping him for six sacks and keep him from extending plays with his legs.
This time, though, Wilson shook loose from attacking middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and spotted open receiver Tate down the right sideline as cornerback Trumaine Johnson moved up to pursue a potential scramble by Wilson.
The 44-yard gain to the Rams’ 29 paved the way for Wilson’s 1-yard touchdown run that gave Seattle the final margin.
“He’s a slippery guy,” Laurinaitis said. “You bend the corner like that, the best chance you’ve got is to get an arm in there and get your head across and if you aren’t able to get your head across, you hope to trip him up with your arm or something. But it’s hard to make arm tackles in there. He did a great job and found the open receiver down the field. You have got to give him credit.”
Even after Seattle claimed the lead, the Rams found themselves in the familiar position of needing a touchdown to tie or take the lead, something they’d done consistently in the fourth quarter this season and did in their trip to Buffalo just a few weeks ago for the win.
“I think everyone thought we were going to go down and score,” quarterback Sam Bradford said. “And when we got down to the 30, I think everyone knew we were going to go down and score. It was unfortunate that we weren’t able to tie the game and force overtime but I don’t think there was any doubt that we would go down and score.”
Bradford and the offense moved swiftly into Seattle territory on the strength of a 25-yard pass interference penalty and a 15-yard connection to tight end Lance Kendricks.
With 53 seconds to go, they had a first down at the Seahawks’ 29 and a timeout in their pocket. But Bradford couldn’t move it any further, setting up a fourth and 10 play in which they had to take a shot.
Bradford fired down the right seam for receiver Austin Pettis, who earlier caught a 2-yard touchdown pass on a deflection for the team’s lone touchdown, but Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman jumped in front of it for an interception to seal the win for the Seahawks.
“It’s fourth and 10, the ball has got to go somewhere,” Bradford said. “I’ll have to look at it, I was probably a little late. He popped and I was going to give him a chance to go make a play.”
As the Rams came up just short of making that one final play to get a win Sunday, they were frustrated to come up short but Fisher was quick to remind them of the progress made in one season’s time.
A team that a year ago at this time was finishing up a 2-14 season and facing sweeping offseason changes now gets to go into an offseason with plenty to build on and even a future that looks unquestionably bright.
“I think the guys will get away, get refreshed and recharged and come back with some optimism,” Fisher said. “I think those guys in that room can stand up, look deep in your eye and say ‘Hey, the Rams are back’ and that’s what we wanted to accomplish this year.”