BY JEFF GORDON | Posted: Tuesday, September 28, 2010 12:48 pm

When the Rams opened this season with two exasperating losses, we spent many hours in this corner of cyberspace debating where the team must improve.

The Rams needed more talent. They needed better execution. They needed to become better tactically, adjusting to opponents as the opponents adjusted to them.

But perhaps this was the biggest of all needs: perseverance. When bad things happened, the Rams had to find ways to fight through.

Sunday they finally persevered to beat the Redskins 30-16.

The Rams demonstrated collective mental and emotional toughness for a change. They fought off the deja blues. They flinched, but they didn't sag or sulk when misfortune struck.

They plowed on despite the various disasters (blocked field goal, fumbled kickoff return, uncalled Redskins infractions, Steven Jackson’s injury, some big Washington offensive plays) that could have doomed them.

Rams fans watched the young leaders assert themselves. They saw cornerstone players Sam Bradford and James Laurinaitis rally their units.

These guys aren't accustomed to losing and they certainly did not want to lose this game. So they stepped up and made a difference.

Bradford received much-deserved praise for his poised play at quarterback, but Laurinaitis was just as critical. He played a monstrous game at middle linebacker, excelling in every defensive phase.

Had the Rams not stopped three potential touchdown drives -- forcing the Redskins to settle for three short field goals – this game would have quickly gotten away from them.

“You hate to be a ‘bend but don’t break’ kind of team, but when big plays happen like that all you can do is say to yourself is ‘Let’s go to the next play.’ We say that a lot of in the huddle, that the next play is the most important,” Laurinaitis told reporters after the game.

“That’s all you can do, realize that and don’t let any plays, big or whatever, effect you.”

That is easier said than done in the NFL. A lot of bad stuff happened to the Rams on Sunday.

Any one of the mishaps, blunders or officiating calls and non-calls could have turned the game against them for good.

After the second-quarter momentum shift, the third quarter could have become an unmitigated disaster. We’ve all seen it before.

But the Rams won the quarter, countering Graham Gano’s 21-yard field goal with Kenneth Darby’s touchdown run. They took a 21-16 lead into the fourth quarter and closed out the game with sturdy defense, steady offense and three clinching Josh Brown field goals.

This was a breakthrough for the group. The Redskins have a veteran team coached by a veteran staff. They have been through the wars.

Fans expected Washington to finish well, even on the road. They also expected the Rams to find ways to fail, because that is what this faded champion has been doing for several years.

But Bradford and Co. converted enough key third downs to keep the team moving forward and the Laurinaitis-led defense made the big stops.

“It feels good,” Laurinaitis said afterward. “Finally you know that feeling of what it means to pull a close one out. I think it’s important.

“We can talk about it, encourage it and all that stuff, but to actually feel it, that is something that we know now. We know this is our first time. As the game gets closer, we can overcome that and get the game going. I think that’s the most important thing we’ve learned from this.”

This was just one step, of course, but it was gigantic. There is only so much a team can learn from losing.

Now we’ll see how much they learn from actually winning for a change.