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San Francisco ***** show St. Louis Rams the way
By Bill Coats
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Two teams at a crossroads met up last Nov. 16 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Since then, they've traveled in distinctly opposite directions.
Both the Rams and the ***** took 2-7 records into that contest, which would leave the loser in last place in the NFC West. Both teams were operating under interim head coaches who had NFL careers as linebackers, Jim Haslett having replaced Scott Linehan with the Rams and Mike Singletary the successor to Mike Nolan with the Niners.
Each had taken over beat-up, talent-challenged squads for once-proud franchises that had suffered through a series of front-office blunders, dubious drafts and ineffective coaching.
Singletary and Haslett both were looking for a spark, a signature win that might portend at least the possibility of a legitimate turnaround and earn them the opportunity to remove the "interim" label in 2009.
On Sunday at Candlestick, Singletary will be on the sideline with the ***** when they again take on the Rams. Haslett will be in Orlando, preparing his Florida Tuskers for their Oct. 10 opener vs. the New York Sentinels in the fledgling United Football League.
That's how easily fortunes can shift in today's NFL.
The ***** throttled the Rams 35-16 that day. Frisco piled up a 32-point halftime lead, then cruised home.
San Francisco rolled on, winning five of its remaining seven games — including a come-from-behind 17-16 victory in St. Louis — to finish a hopeful 7-9. The Rams slogged on, losing all seven of their games to wind up a disheartening 2-14.
On Dec. 29, Singletary signed a four-year contract to continue in his job. On Jan. 18, the Rams hired Steve Spagnuolo as their new head coach.
Little has changed since then.
The ***** are 2-1 after a gut-wrenching loss Sunday at Minnesota. A dazzling, acrobatic catch by wideout Greg Lewis on a 32-yard wing-it-and-pray pass from Brett Favre with two seconds remaining kept the Niners from opening 3-0 for the first time since 1998.
The Rams are 0-3 for the third time in as many years, lugging a league-high 13-game losing streak, and showing few signs of deviating from their path of ignominy.
So, why are the ***** flourishing while the Rams are failing?
It all circles back to that November win, Singletary's first. An intense, fiery leader during his 12-year Hall of Fame career with the Chicago Bears, Singletary brought similar passion to his new role. "I want winners!" he bellowed in one of his early team meetings, staring down his troops with the withering stare that was his trademark as a player.
"He'll be honest with you and tell you what you are, but continue to tell you what you can, and what you will, be," said longtime Rams wide receiver Isaac Bruce, in his second year with the *****. "Quite the contrary to someone else who isn't a good motivator. They constantly harp on your faults and pretty much, if you're not down, they're going to get you down.
"And when you're down, they're going to kick you."
When the wins began to come, the players embraced his straightforward, no-nonsense approach.
"The difference is, when you start winning football games, it becomes contagious and your confidence goes up," Bruce said. "The confidence has really spread throughout the team, and no matter what it looks like, what it feels like, any time we play we just believe that ... we can win."
The confidence factor can't be underestimated. Consider that the Rams and ***** each are averaging 276 yards per game on offense, tied for 28th in the 32-team league. But Frisco is putting up 22.8 points per game, 10th-best, to the Rams' league-low eight.
When the self-assured ***** close in on the goal line, they usually find a way across it. In similar circumstances, the self-doubting Rams often find a way to mess up the opportunity.
Defensively, the Niners are fourth in the NFL vs. the run, a telltale sign of sturdiness. The Rams are No. 29 in the same category.
Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said the Frisco defenders "play relentlessly." Running back Steven Jackson has detected "a different swagger. It's the same personnel group that they had last year, but they've really bought into what they have to do."
Still, Singletary stresses that the ***** remain a work in progress.
"We've got to win a few more games, and then I can talk about" a turnaround, he said. "We have some guys that are starting to mature and step into their careers. I just think sometimes, timing is everything."
San Francisco hasn't won an NFC West title since 2002, which also was the last time the Niners posted a winning record. A victory Sunday would push them a bit closer to ending those slides. On the other hand, the Rams would be just one game out of first place if they could pull off the upset.
"In this league, I'm not surprised at anything," Singletary said. "Every week you have to go out and do the best you can to come away with a win. I just know that (the *****) are playing their tails off. And sometimes that's all you can ask for."
Singletary asked, and his team responded. Spagnuolo also is asking, and he's been pleased with the response, insisting that the desire and effort — if not the results — have been evident from the start.
Bruce urged the Rams' faithful to give Spagnuolo time to apply his stamp to his new team.
"He's a hard-nosed guy, the type of coach that can get a lot out of a little, and any time you have a coach like that, you have a pretty good asset," Bruce said. "It won't be long before that team takes on his identity and they'll be playing good, winning football."
Just as the ***** have been doing under Singletary since that mid-November victory by the bay that shoved them onto the right path.
Re: San Francisco ***** show St. Louis Rams the way
Lets not start idolizing the ****** over our Rams. Any Ram fan that idolizes the ****** is an idiot. Just jump ship and cheer for another team already. We're rebuilding and right now id say the cement under the four pillars is still a ways from drying.
Re: San Francisco ***** show St. Louis Rams the way
Isaac Bruce referring to us as....'That team'........URGH!
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