By Bryan Burwell
Of the Post-Dispatch
11/30/2004

With an entire football nation serving as witnesses, the Rams showed us on "Monday Night Football" that they are playing like a team that doesn't want to be in the playoffs, and now clearly doesn't deserve the privilege, either.

What else can you conclude after watching the Rams turn their primetime showdown against the Green Bay Packers into a painful and embarrassing comedy of errors that led to a 45-17 loss in storied Lambeau Field? The Rams came into this game with a chance to not only reclaim the division lead in the sorry NFC West but also to re-establish themselves as a good football team.

By the end of the night, they had failed miserably at both tasks.

The 5-6 Rams are a bad football team. Getting bludgeoned on national television by 28 points is proof enough on its own. But over six weeks, the Rams have lost four of their past five games by scores of 31-14, 40-22, 37-17 and 45-17. That's proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That is evidence so damning that the Rams brass ought to be busy making plans for the NFL draft and stop wasting their time trying to figure out what sort of miracles must be conjured up to reach the NFL playoffs.

The Rams are so bad at this point that in a division where the sorry, fraudulent and incredibly inconsistent Seattle Seahawks treat the division lead with all the respect of dirt under their fingernails, the Rams still can't lead this weak NFC West.

All the old familiar patterns of self-inflicted abuse were in full effect Monday night. Don't blame it on any mystical Lambeau magic or the remarkable will of Packers living legend Brett Favre, who certainly lit up the Rams defense. Don't blame it on the cold weather or playing on the road, or any other convenient excuse.

This was not about any of that. This was about the Rams and their absolute inability to win games that matter. This was the sort of game they used to win with startling regularity. These were the sort of games the old championship-tested Rams used to win in their sleep. They were 8-0 in prime time since the 2002 season, but things have changed a lot since then, haven't they? This 2004 Rams team is filled with players who don't understand how to win anymore. The championship roster has dwindled down to a precious too few seasoned veterans who know what it takes to seize championship opportunity.

It's been a while since we've seen stuff like this in Rams Nation, so let us refresh your memories in these dying days of a dynasty on the decline. This was a game that perfectly illustrates how bad teams play against good ones. Bad teams allow good teams to beat them.

Another pedestrian running back had a career game against this porous and clueless defense. Add the not-so-legendary Najeh Davenport to the list of opposing tailbacks who have romped through the Rams as if they were Jim Brown. Davenport, a career backup who never rushed for more than 100 yards in a game in his undistinguished three-year NFL career, gained 178 of the Packers' 231 rushing yards.

Is there something in Larry Marmie's defensive schemes that prohibits safeties and linebackers from going anywhere near tight ends whenever they get near the end zone? For some reason, 6-foot-6, 285-pound Bubba Franks, who is roughly the size of a beachfront condominium, was WIDE OPEN on a 7-yard TD in the second quarter that put the Packers ahead 14-3. This, of course, is a disturbing pattern that was seen against Buffalo, Miami, San Francisco and Seattle, when tight ends seemed to always go uncovered.

On a night when the Rams gained more than 400 yards of total offense, and Marc Bulger passed for more than 400 yards, the Rams had too many drive-killing breakdowns. By the end of the night, the Rams had committed three fumbles (two lost), a missed field goal, an interception in the end zone, a botched fake field goal, four sacks and seven penalties.

And when the offense wasn't busy teasing us, the defense was just flat out annoying us. It's tough enough for the Rams offense to overcome its mistakes and those of the ineffective special teams (which, by the way, were relatively harmless Monday night). But Bulger and company cannot be expected to constantly battle back from the holes that Marmie's awful defense keeps putting them in.

This is just a bad defense. There are no qualifications, no explanations, no more rationalizations. This defense stinks. It can no longer stop even the most modest running game. How do you explain how the Packers could end up churning out 446 yards of total offense and 231 yards rushing with starting tailback Ahman Green on the inactive list? How do you explain how a marginal, career backup like Davenport could stomp his way through the Rams for a career day on a bad hammy?

The Rams will still cling to the notion that this season is not a dead issue because of the parity of the weak NFC. But we all know better. This is a team on a rapid slide going in the wrong direction. This is a team that repeatedly has wasted so many chances to prove it's a good team. It was another annoying microcosm of this mediocre season. They do just enough to tease you, just enough to give you false hope. Then the second your hope is restored, they drop a stinker on you like this one to remind you why they are such an obviously flawed team.

The only question that remains now is just how much faster and how much further this team will descend before the season ends.