Rams' first win elusive

BY JIM THOMAS
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
10/11/2009

The resolve belied the scoreboard in the cramped visitors locker room at Candlestick Park last Sunday afternoon.

"I have confidence that things are going to turn around," running back Steven Jackson said, mere minutes after the Rams' 35-0 loss to San Francisco.

"We're going to win games, I'm telling you," defensive end Leonard Little added.

But when? It has been 357 days now since the gods of gridiron fortune last smiled on the Rams. On Oct. 19, 2008, the Rams pummeled Dallas 34-14 for their second consecutive victory under interim head coach Jim Haslett.

Since then? Nothing but gloom, despair and agony ... the agony of defeat. The Rams have lost a franchise record 14 in a row, the longest current losing streak in the National Football League. The losses keep mounting in 2009 despite sweeping offseason changes, changes that permeated every level of the organization.

One month into the season, the Rams are 0-4 and have been outscored 108 to 24. They have led for only 12 minutes 29 seconds all season, taking a 7-6 lead in Washington late in the first half on a touchdown pass from Marc Bulger to Laurent Robinson, capped by Josh Brown's extra point.

That period of prosperity ended with 6:27 to go in the third quarter when Washington took a 9-7 lead on a Shaun Suisham field goal.

As KSDK-TV news anchor Mike Bush used to say back in the days when he did sports: "End highlight reel."

So when does it end? If you believe the sports wagering industry, it won't happen this season. The Rams will be an underdog in all 12 of their remaining games.

"Depending on what transpires in the next few weeks and barring any significant injuries, the closest the St. Louis Rams will be to a favorite all season will be in Detroit on November 1st," said Richard Gardner, sportsbook manager for Bodog. "As it stands right now, the Lions would be a three-, four-point favorite."

Three of the Rams' first four games have been on the road, where it's generally tougher to win. But those opponents were hardly NFL heavyweights. Washington and Seattle (with a healthy Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback) are average at best. Green Bay and San Francisco are good, but don't have the look of NFC title contenders.

But the Rams step up in class Sunday, with the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings visiting the Edward Jones Dome in a noon kickoff.

"That franchise is really put together," Rams defensive tackle Clifton Ryan said. "They've got a couple of all-Pros on the defensive line in Kevin and Pat Williams. They've got a Hall of Fame quarterback (Brett Favre).

"They've got some young guns at receiver in Percy Harvin and Bernard Berrian. That o-line is gelling, with three veterans and a borderline Hall of Famer in Steve Hutchinson. And I haven't even mentioned (running back) Adrian Peterson, the face of our league right now."

Favre and the Vikings represent just the beginning of a tortuous stretch of home games. On Oct. 25, Peyton Manning and the currently unbeaten Indianapolis Colts come to town. After a Rams bye week in early November, Drew Brees and the currently unbeaten New Orleans Saints visit the Gateway to the West on Nov. 15.

"That's at least two Hall of Famers," Little said, referring to Favre and Manning.

And Brees could be headed down that path as well, if he keeps completing passes and winning football games.

Sandwiched between that parade of titans are road games at Jacksonville (Oct. 18) and the aforementioned Lions game (Nov. 1). If those games were at home, you might like the Rams' chances. On the road? Not so much.

So that could make the Rams 0-9 and take us to Nov. 22 when another borderline Hall of Famer and one of St. Louis' most cherished athletes quarterback Kurt Warner comes to town with the Arizona Cardinals. The Big Red, by the way, have won their last five games against St. Louis.

Just six games remain after Warner's visit: road games at Chicago, surprisingly winless Tennessee, and Arizona. And home games against Seattle, Houston, and San Francisco. If the Rams don't leave the Motor City with a victory over the Lions, their best remaining hopes for victory probably come in those home games against the Seahawks, Texans, and *****.

Even with the losing, team morale seems good. Rookie head coach Steve Spagnuolo isn't giving in.

"I don't let four (losses) get the better part of me ... ," he said. "We despise losing. What I said (to the players) was despise it, but just be determined to change it. It's in the determination that's going to turn it around."

But what if 0-4 slips into 0-5, and 0-6, and 0-and-whatever? Will spirits start to sag? Will the losing culture that first-year general manager Billy Devaney has tried to stamp out only deepen?

"It's been tough," cornerback Ron Bartell said. "It's been a tough year. We had a lot of expectations of ourselves and we haven't met those yet. We're just trying to get our first win."