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Rams still have plenty to play for
But they have to beat Vikings and get some help
BY STEVE KORTE
ST. LOUIS - After the calculations were done, there's really only one path to the playoffs for the St. Louis Rams.
According to the playoff scenarios released by the NFL on Monday, the Rams (7-8) must beat the Minnesota Vikings (6-9) at noon Sunday at the Metrodome, and then have the Carolina Panthers (7-8), the New York Giants (7-8) and the Atlanta Falcons (7-8) all lose or tie their games to secure an NFC wild-card berth.
Because the Giants play at the Washington Redskins (5-10) at 7 p.m. Saturday, the Rams could be eliminated from the playoffs before they even take the field in Minneapolis.
The Panthers (7-8) and the Falcons (7-8) both play noon road games Sunday. The Panthers play the New Orleans Saints (10-5), while the Falcons visit the Philadelphia Eagles (7-8).
The Rams also could get into the playoffs if they tie against the Vikings, and then have the Panthers, the Giants, the Falcons and the Green Bay Packers all lose.
Even if they don't make the playoffs, the Rams kept it interesting right to the last week of the regular season by beating the Washington Redskins 37-31 in overtime Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.
"I'm really proud to be a part of this," Rams coach Scott Linehan said after the win. "This football team has had to keep plugging away and fighting. If that wasn't a test of character after getting behind and having to come back. ...
"It feels great for everybody. We've been working very hard. We haven't cut back much. We've been putting in a lot of time with the guys who are banged up. They've just been staying focused on the games we have been playing each week.
"This was the best feeling as far as how our team hung in there and came out on top."
Linehan said last week that he wasn't going to bother trying to figure out potential playoff scenarios with two games left to play. He amended that statement after beating the Redskins.
"You guys tell me what they are because I'm not smart enough to figure out what they are because there are so many of them," Linehan said. "Now it means something, but only if we win the game."
Beating the Vikings is the only part of the playoff scenario that the Rams can control.
"We're going on the road against a Minnesota team that has had a similar type of year to what we have," said Linehan, who served as the Vikings' offensive coordinator from the 2002-2004 seasons. "We have to take care of business. It's a tough place to play, I know that from experience."
The Rams had their problems against the Redskins, but they managed to overcome them.
The Rams fell behind 28-14 as they struggled to stop Ladell Betts and the Redskins' running attack. Betts had 129 of the Redskins' 176 rushing yards in the game.
The Rams also were burned for seven catches for 77 yards and a touchdown by tight end Chris Cooley.
"We ran into a real hot offensive team," Linehan said. "With coach (Joe) Gibbs and Coach (Al) Saunders, there's two legends on offense in my opinion. We knew it was going to be a tough test of our defense, and they were able to stiffen when they needed to."
The Rams' defense got a key turnover when free safety Oshiomogho (O.J.) Atogwe pulled the ball out of Betts' hands after a run deep in Rams territory in the fourth quarter. Then they forced the Redskins' into a three-and-out on offense in overtime.
"I told O.J. that the play that he made was going to win us the game," Rams defensive end Leonard Little said. "He made a great tackle and stripped the ball out."
The Rams' offense kept pace with the Redskins by rolling up 579 yards.
Rams quarterback Marc Bulger threw for 388 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. His passer rating for the game was 134.5; a perfect mark is 158.3. He also had a career-long 29-yard scramble.
"He quietly had one of those kind of games," Linehan said. "I don't know if he had a perfect rating, but he was up there. He scrambled and ran, he did something I hadn't seen him do.
"He took off and made a big play on that drive. Marc has been playing well all year. That's why he is in the Pro Bowl."
The Rams also had a punt blocked in the second quarter by Washington's Vernon Fox, who had a clear shot at punter Matt Turk after getting past Isaiah Kacyvenski.
"They line up wide in that situation and they run two guys through the same gap," Linehan said. "We call that a double run. It basically puts a lot of pressure on the snapper, and the personal protector has to pick up the free guy.
"I think the guy got a little bit of an edge. That was a tough change of momentum, but we hung in there."
In the past, the Rams would have surrendered after that much adversity, but this time they circled the wagons.
"I think you see a team since we played Carolina that went back to the drawing board," Linehan said. "We worked on the little things, coming together and focusing on what we need to win these games.
"We're improving. Is it too late? I don't know, but we'll figure that out. I think we're still alive and in the hunt."
Re: Rams still have plenty to play for
So Linehan has our Rams playing for 2 things. Possible playoffs and the possibilty of SLOP being closed. I wonder if he realizes the double importance of this last game?