By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Nov. 27 2005

HOUSTON As all these gleeful Rams went racing off the Reliant
Stadium grass on Sunday afternoon, there wasn't a soul among them who hadn't
already come to grips with the painfully obvious reality of the day. Some of
them mockingly staggered off the field, clutching their wildly palpitating
hearts just like old Fred Sanford. Other less-theatrical folks sheepishly
shrugged their shoulders and awkwardly accepted hugs and high fives from
everybody and anybody in Rams blue and gold.

This is what reality looks like in the aftermath of a coyote-ugly 33-27
overtime victory over the lowly Houston Texans. It looks like a parade of
stone-cold sober players who know better than to start trying to turn a frantic
comeback against the worst team in the NFL into anything more substantial than
mounting evidence of these desperate times.

"It was a win," Anthony Hargrove said. "It wasn't cute. It wasn't pretty. In
fact, it was downright ugly. But you know what? The way things have been going
for us lately, we'll just have to take ugly."

It was an unattractive stay of execution for a 5-6 team that seemed to be on
the verge of staggering to the regular-season finish line. No one dared utter
any preposterous chatter about playoff possibilities after the Rams had to
scratch and claw out of a 21-point hole to the sorry, no-account Texans. These
Rams were just thankful that they found the gumption to momentarily stop the
bleeding in this train wreck of a season.

They know how bad this day could have been. There wouldn't have been a hole big
enough to bury the Rams in had they followed up last week's unsightly Cardinal
catastrophe with a demonstratively more repugnant beat-down to the worst team
in football. That would have left the Rams in a rapid free fall. Losing to the
punchless one-win Texans would have confirmed what many of us suspected after
last week, that the Rams were a team searching for the path of least resistance
to the end of a 4-12 season.

The flashiest story of the day will of course be the thrilling performance of
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 23-year-old rookie quarterback out of Harvard who put
together one breathless show with his 310-yard, three-touchdown NFL debut to
rally the Rams to this OT victory. But the tale of greater consequence was the
less obvious tale of why the Rams stopped behaving like pitiful victims and
decided that they weren't quite ready to roll over and die.

At halftime, trailing by 24-3, a rather unusual thing happened. The Rams
coaches did not bother to draw up any elaborate Xs and Os on the board. The
Rams weren't losing because of execution. They were losing because of a lack of
effort. You can lose to a smarter team, you can lose to stronger opponents, you
can be outraced by quicker men.

But when you are not playing with passion, when you are letting a lesser
opponent win because you just don't care, there can be no greater or
intolerable athletic crime.

And that is what the Rams were doing out there, so several disgusted veteran
players - mainly defensive co-captain Dexter Coakley - spoke their minds and
apparently saved the day.

"Dexter came in here and told us all about ourselves," said Tyoka Jackson, the
other defensive captain. "(Coakley) is normally a good, God-fearing man, but he
used some words today that, um ... well, let's just say you don't hear these
words in church. He didn't mince any words, and he used the words that needed
to be used."

The essence of the speech was that the Rams were acting like they had already
quit on the season.

"I just wanted to know if (losing) was the feeling they liked experiencing on
Sundays or if they preferred the feeling they got when we win games," Coakley
said. "I mean, look around this room now and see all the expressions on
everyone's face. It's the greatest feeling in the world, isn't it? I wanted to
know why they wouldn't want to feel like that after every game."

Whatever Coakley said hit a decisive chord, because the cardiac Rams woke up
and refused to lose, which is what real professional football teams are
supposed to do. "The only question is, why did we have to wait so long to do
it?" wondered Jackson, seemingly speaking for everyone who follows his
exasperating team.

The trouble with following this team is that the Rams have more turbulent ups
and downs than a boat on rough seas. You want to peek at the NFL standings
today and cling to this team's faint, mathematical playoff hopes because you
know the NFC is full of teams that are just as quirky as the Rams. But we've
all been burned too many times to do that. Even after this miraculous comeback,
I'm still leaving Houston filled with more questions than answers about a team
that keeps on swinging wildly from dead team walking to frustrating playoff
tease.

"You're absolutely right," Tyoka Jackson said. "We didn't answer any questions
today. All we did was win one game, and it won't mean anything if we go out and
lose to Washington next week."