Monday, October 29, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Never in his wildest and most absurd nightmares did Rams running back Steven Jackson nor any of his teammates think it would come to this.

At the halfway point of the 2007 season, the Rams are 0-8 under an avalanche of injuries, turnovers and just about everything else that could lead to a loss in the NFL. So there is nothing left to do, but look to the future and what could happen in the second half of the season.

“That’s got to be our message,” coach Scott Linehan said. “There is no other way to be. We can’t live in the past certainly. We’d feel much better if we were sitting here with a record the opposite of the one we have, but how we got here is not anywhere near as significant as what we do in the second half. We have to look at it as an eight game season and do our best to win them all.”

On Sunday against Cleveland when it appeared the Rams were on the threshold of their first victory of the year, things went awry when Jackson went away with back spasms.

For the first time in 2007, the offense was rolling, the defense was stonewalling and the Rams were firing on all cylinders in the first quarter against the Browns. At the end of the quarter, the Rams held a 14-3 lead and were driving for a potential third touchdown that would give them a commanding 21-3 victory.

Then, as has happened on so many occasions this season, Jackson left the game with a back injury and guard Richie Incognito left with a knee sprain. The team that was once imposing its will was suddenly being imposed upon.

The result was a 27-20 loss to Cleveland that dropped the Rams to 0-8 for the first time in franchise history. Like all games in the NFL, the events that led to the outcome were different, but the result for the Rams was the same.

“It’s very disappointing,” Jackson said. “Guys are coming out playing hard like this game and so many others this year. We have been right in there and for some odd reason we can’t finish it in the fourth quarter or second half. We have to, as a team, learn how to finish a game. We can’t just start fast and then lose it.”

On many occasions in this season of disappointments, the Rams have been squarely in position to win games only to come up short. A big part of the reason is a group that ranks last in the NFL in turnover differential at -13, No. 20 in total defense and No. 29 in total offense.

In the opener against Carolina, a pair of fumbles from Jackson, who almost never fumbles, led to a loss. The next week against San Francisco, it was almost impossible to figure out just how the Rams lost a game they dominated in almost every facet.

Sure, there have been losses to teams that were simply better on a given day (Dallas, Seattle), but it’s hard for any professional athlete to come to the conclusion that he can play in eight games and in all eight of those games, the other team was simply better.

“I will never come to that conclusion,” receiver Torry Holt said. “That is almost like giving up, that is almost like throwing in the towel and that’s not a situation that I am going to allow myself to get into and it’s not a situation I am going to allow my teammates to get into or even have talks of being involved with at any level.”

At the halfway point of the 2006 season, the team’s first under Linehan, the Rams were 4-4. Going into their bye week after six games, the Rams were 4-2.

But that Rams team had few of the issues this one does at this point in the season. Yes, the Rams are starting to get healthy as many of the skill position players are starting to return to health.

Although Jackson left Sunday’s game, he should be fine after the bye week and ready for a big second half. Receivers Isaac Bruce, Dane Looker and Drew Bennett have returned in the past couple of weeks and quarterback Marc Bulger will have some extra time to heal.

In the NFL, though, the age old adage says it all starts up front. That’s where it will be almost impossible for the Rams to return to health.

Left tackle Orlando Pace, left guard Mark Setterstrom and utility lineman Adam Goldberg are lost for the season. Incognito is also probably out for the season because of a subluxation in his right kneecap. Center Brett Romberg should be fine to return after the bye, but with so many key pieces on that line missing time it has been hard for the Rams to get continuity upfront.

Tackle Todd Steussie will likely return in week 11 because of rules that go along with the terms of his injury settlement.

As for the schedule, there are some opportunities to get the ship righted in the second half of the season. The final eight opponents of the season have a combined record of 25-30. Of that group, only Seattle, Green Bay and Pittsburgh have winning records.

“I think you have to look at the silver lining of everything,” Bennett 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.”

If nothing else, there’s no doubting that this team isn’t about to quit on the season or its coach. Veteran leaders such as Bulger, Holt, Bruce, Corey Chavous and La’Roi Glover won’t stand for it.

“I won’t allow it to happen, Isaac won’t allow it to happen, Torry won’t allow it to happen,” Bulger said. “So I don’t think that will be an issue. We are working as hard as we can. We are just not playing good right now.”

Given a week to think about where to go from here, the Rams will practice Tuesday and Wednesday before parting ways for the rest of the bye. The team will return to practice Monday morning for an extra workout before it opens the second half slate on the road against New Orleans.

“We are 0-8 and we still have an opportunity to finish 8-8, the same way we finished last year,” Holt said. “That is the approach we have to take from this point on and really try to get through this loss today and get healthy and get some lengthy time off to re-energize ourselves and re-focus on what we need to do to finish this thing on a good note.”