Rams hang tough but still can't figure out how to win
By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
Yes, the Rams’ season is lost. We’ve known that for several weeks now.
But at least Jim Haslett’s team found its long-missing competitiveness Sunday during a 16-12 loss to the Dolphins.
That spirit didn’t carry the Rams to an actual victory at the Edward Jones Dome, of course, but at least it prevented further humiliation.
“Obviously, it’s not the result we wanted,” Haslett said during his postgame news conference. “I thought we played hard. I appreciate guys like Steven Jackson going out there and giving us what they have.”
They got running back Jackson and tackle Orlando Pace back in the lineup, which solidified their offense. But the Rams couldn’t reach the end zone, again, and Marc Bulger made big mistakes instead of big plays.
Bulger’s three second-half interceptions became the difference in this game.
“Obviously, three interceptions are three interceptions,” Haslett said. “Our problem is we have to score touchdowns. We didn't score (a touchdown) last week and we didn’t score this week. We’re just not getting it done.
“We’re not real good in the red zone right now. You’re not going to win in this league by kicking field goals.”
Nit-pickers will wonder why offensive coordinator Al Saunders was so insistent on feeding his mediocre tight ends the ball in this game.
“They were playing a lot of ‘two-man,’ doubling our receivers,” Haslett explained.
Others will wonder why Jackson wasn’t on the field at the end. “He was gassed,” Haslett said. “His leg was starting to bother him. We told him before the game to go as far as he could go.”
And he couldn’t go far enough, since he, like his teammates, never reached paydirt.
The Rams (2-10) have been finished since Nov. 2, when they allowed the Arizona Cardinals to come into The Ed and smack them around.
That 34-13 defeat extinguished the flickering Rams playoff hopes. That cave-in against the Gridbirds was followed by lopsided losses to the Jets (47-3), ***** (35-16) and Bears (27-3).
During this free fall, the Rams demonstrated their collective lack of mental and emotional toughness. When each game turned against them, they immediately collapsed.
On this day, though, the Rams kept fighting right to the end.
The respectable performance slightly helped Haslett’s case, since team owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez don’t seem eager to make a coaching change.
Before the Chicago loss, Haslett told Rosenbloom and Rodriguez what the organization needed to do to turn things around. In turn, they apparently suggested he could lead that ’09 turnaround if he could win some more games this season.
Therein lies the rub. Winning is easier said than done with this group.
At least Haslett got Pace (knee) back at left tackle and Jackson (thigh) back at running back, so the Rams looked more like their usual selves. Jackson ran for 94 yards and caught one pass for 16 yards before bowing out.
Haslett rotated a couple of new faces onto his bench last week, cashiering useless fullback Dan Kreider and adding center Cory Withrow and linebacker Larry Grant to the depth chart.
He opted to start rookie David Vobora at middle linebacker in place of the wounded Will Witherspoon. He plugged rookie John Greco in at right guard when Richie Incognito became lightheaded.
(Write your own Richie Incognito joke here.)
Change appeared to be good for this team. The Rams didn’t get blown out in the first half. Despite allowing Miami to pile up 205 offensive yards, they trailed just 10-9 at the half.
Offensively, the Rams did a solid job with their run blocking and pass blocking. Bulger didn’t get sacked in this game, which is amazing.
The better blocking and tackling may allow the Rams to win a game or two before this season ends. And that might be enough to keep Haslett on the job, for better or worse.