ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
09/21/2009

LANDOVER, MD. — Progress? Yes. Results? Not quite. And that's what made Sunday's 9-7 loss to Washington all the more excruciating for coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams.

"I'm very disappointed," Spagnuolo said. "There's no moral victories in this league. But I'm mostly disappointed in the fact that we've got a football team that works their butts off, and they haven't had a chance to feel victory yet. We've got a long ways to go here."

Spagnuolo apparently was so disappointed that it took him nearly 25 minutes from the end of the game to address reporters. The NFL's so-called 10-minute cooling off period wasn't nearly enough for Spagnuolo to collect his thoughts after this setback.

The Rams got 100 yards-plus rushing from Steven Jackson, achieving some degree of balance offensively. The defense was stellar in the red zone, limiting the Redskins to just three field goals in four trips inside the 20. Actually, all four of those red zone trips advanced inside the 10.

And the Rams cut down significantly on their mistakes from the season-opening fiasco in Seattle. Trouble was, they still made enough Sunday to start 0-2 for the third consecutive season.

"It is a cliché that you take one or two plays out of a game and the outcome changes," Spagnuolo said. "But in this particular (game), that would be true. Because there were certain plays in there that if they went differently, we might be on the other end of the win-loss column."

The most obvious — and most costly — mistake happened early in the fourth quarter. Trailing 9-7, the Rams marched methodically from their 25 to the Washington 9, overcoming a false start penalty on tight end Daniel Fells and left tackle Alex Barron's second holding penalty of the day.

On third-and-4 from the 9, quarterback Marc Bulger completed a pass to Donnie Avery for first-down yardage at the 5. But Avery was rocked by Redskins safety Chris Horton, the ball popped out, and Washington cornerback Carlos Rogers fell on the fumble.

"I was just trying to get more yards," a disconsolate Avery said. "I was trying to get YAC (yards after contact) on the play, and ended up fumbling. I let the team down."

Avery has been responsible for the only two Rams turnovers this season, losing a fumble on the opening kickoff return last week in Seattle.

Even after Avery's miscue Sunday, the Rams' offense had two more possessions to take the lead. But the first series stalled at the Washington 41. On fourth-and-2, Spagnuolo sent out the punting unit, but then flanked punter Donnie Jones out to the left and lined Kenneth Darby behind center in a variation of the wildcat formation.

However, this was no trick play. The Rams never intended to run the ball; their sole intention was to draw the Washington defense offside.

The Redskins didn't take the bait, and Darby then compounded the situation by calling a timeout, much to the displeasure of Spagnuolo on the sideline. It was the last St. Louis timeout of the half, with 9 minutes 25 seconds remaining in the game. It might have come in handy later.

"We went through it plenty of times in practice," Darby said. "I just got too busy trying to get those guys to jump. I really wasn't thinking straight. The first thing in my mind was to call time out because they really didn't move. I knew it was a mistake after I did it."

The Rams ended up punting, and this time, Washington didn't give up the ball until it marched all the way to the St. Louis 2. On fourth-and-1, Washington coach Jim Zorn decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. The right side of the St. Louis defense stuffed Clinton Portis for a 2-yard loss. But by that time, only 1:55 remained on the clock, and the Rams had no timeouts.

Four incomplete passes followed, including a quasi-Hail Mary to Avery on fourth down. The Rams have now lost 12 straight since beating Dallas on Oct. 19 last season.

"It definitely hurts," center Jason Brown said. "Every loss hurts, no matter whether it's by a couple of points, or whether it's by as many points as we saw last week (against Seattle)."

But Brown added: "We definitely did a lot better this week than we did last week. ... We're going to get better. It's still early in the season. It's still early with our offense, and there's tons of room for improvement."

The Rams finally got on the scoreboard in 2009 with an 84-yard drive in the second quarter. Against Seattle, Bulger and wide receiver Laurent Robinson weren't totally in sync on a couple of fade patterns. On Sunday, they were. Bulger arched a perfectly thrown pass to the 6-foot-2 Robinson, who easily outleaped 5-10 Redskins cornerback D'Angelo Hall for the ball and a 2-yard TD with 3:56 left in the first half.

Robinson is "getting better every week," Bulger said. "When you're down at the goal line, it's great having a weapon like that."

While agreeing that the offense showed signs of improvement, Bulger also is a realist.

"One touchdown in two games, that's not going to scare anyone away," he said. "Seven points isn't going to win many games in the NFL. We've got to find a way to help our defense out and let them play with the lead a little bit. That'll help our whole team."


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A loss is a loss, but ...
While the results were the same, a look at the numbers shows some areas of improvement for the Rams from Week 1 to Week 2: