By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Sunday, Sep. 23 2007

TAMPA, Fla. As they showered and dressed, took inventory of the day's aches
and pains, and then headed out into the evening, there was a certain amount of
shock among Rams players and coaches last Sunday.

The last thing they expected in mid-September was an 0-2 record, but that's
where they were after a 17-16 loss to the San Francisco *****.

"When you look around this locker room, there's so much talent that I don't
think anyone here thought we would be 0-2," running back Steven Jackson said.

Quarterback Marc Bulger said it was important to remind the rookies that this
isn't college where two losses eliminate you from the national championship
picture.

Cornerback Ron Bartell pointed out that the Rams started 4-1 a year ago and
didn't make the playoffs. So maybe the opposite will hold true in 2007.

Most coaches get a good meal and try to unwind at home after a game. (Dick
Vermeil once attended a Celine Dion concert following a Rams game.) Scott
Linehan went back to Rams Park last Sunday and looked at Jeff Wilkins' 56-yard
field goal attempt over and over and over again, as if hoping it would somehow crawl over
the crossbar if he watched the tape enough.

But Wilkins' potential game-winner fell just short. It was that kind of a game,
and so far it's been that kind of a season for the Rams.

Jackson, who averaged only three fumbles a year during his first three NFL
seasons, lost fumbles on back-to-back carries Sept. 9 against Carolina.

Not only did wide receiver Torry Holt lose a fumble in the third quarter
against San Francisco, it rolled into and out of the end zone for a touchback,
giving the ball to the *****.

There has been questionable play-calling and clock management. The offensive
game plan against Carolina was very conservative. Add to the mix the fact that
the Rams were missing five starters and two key reserves because of injury or
suspension entering Game 2. The list includes three of their top six offensive
linemen, including seven-time Pro Bowler Orlando Pace, and their top two
cornerbacks.

So maybe this team is simply snakebit.

"Snakebit?" asked tight end Randy McMichael. "Then we've got to get some
snakebite repellant. Maybe they've got some at Walgreens."

Uh, probably not.

"We're going to eventually get some breaks at some point in the season," Holt
said. "We can't go 16 weeks and the ball keeps flying out, or we get a bad
break. Eventually those things are going to come to our side."

Maybe so, but regardless of how they got here, the Rams are 0-2. And that's not
exactly the express lane to the postseason. Since the last round of NFL
realignment before the 2002 season, only four of the 60 teams that qualified
for the playoffs began the year 0-2. Over that same stretch, no team has
started 0-3 and made it to the postseason.

"I'm not sure that New England didn't start 0-2 back in '01," Bulger said.

The Patriots did just that. They were 5-5 after a loss to Mike Martz's Rams but
didn't lose again en route to a Super Bowl victory over St. Louis.

"You get in the playoffs, you win your division, and anything can happen,"
Bulger said. "But we're starting to dig a hole. We're not too deep yet, and
we've got to get out of it."

The way out is clear, and it can start Sunday at Raymond James Stadium against
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Rams need to get Steven Jackson and the running game going; they need to
finish out drives in the red zone; and they need to build upon the defensive
improvement made against San Francisco.

Jackson has averaged only 3.0 yards a carry and 59 yards a game this season,
and he has yet to score a touchdown. Last season, he averaged 4.4 yards a carry
and 96 yards a game, and he scored 16 TDs.

The Rams started well enough on the ground against Carolina and San Francisco,
but after the first 1 quarters of those games, the running game was
nonexistent. You know your running game is struggling when the quarterback
(Bulger) has the longest gain of the season a 14-yard scramble against
Carolina.

"It's got to be an attitude thing," Linehan said. "We've got to stay with it.
(Teams) definitely know that stopping Steven's going to be a big part of
stopping us, and making us not balanced as much as you want to be."

In theory, running the ball better means better protection for Bulger in the
passing game because opposing defenses will be kept off-balance. A better run
game should help the Rams in the red zone, too, where the team has scored only
two TDs in six trips inside the opponent's 20 this season.

Defensively, the Rams need to build off the intensity, focus and momentum from
a good performance against the *****.

"You've got to keep doing it," defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "You have
to do it until it becomes a habit, until it becomes your standard of playing
defensive football."

And if that's the case, maybe winning will become a habit as well.