By Bill Coats

Five weeks after a pre-bye-week surge lifted their hopes, the Rams said bye-bye to the playoff race Sunday in Minnesota.

Back-to-back wins over New Orleans and Jacksonville under interim head coach Joe Vitt sent the Rams on vacation with an encouraging 4-4 record. Since then, they've dropped four of five games, tumbling to 5-8 and, after a 27-13 loss to the Vikings, officially out of the running for one of the NFL's 12 postseason berths.

"It was a tough day for all of us," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "I think the most important thing right now for this football teams is to win a game."

Three chances remain - home contests vs. Philadelphia (5-8) and San Francisco (2-11) the next two weeks, followed by a road game at Dallas (8-5) on New Year's Day. The Rams haven't had a double-digit-defeat season since 1998.

On Monday, Vitt promised that the approach would remain the same, even with the Rams eliminated. There will be no late-season auditions for young players or relief for weary veterans.

"We have one goal, and that's to win football games," he said. "We're going to work to get better every single day. The practice structure is not going to change, the weightlifting structure is not going to change, the fine system is still in place, the accountability factor is still there.

"This is not what we wanted it to be. But there aren't a lot of people that get what they want in life all the time anyway. How are we going to handle this now?"

Vitt was pleased with the team's resolve Sunday. "We went up there to win ... (and) our football team was heartbroken that it didn't get it done," he said. "But the effort doesn't surprise me. The effort's going to be there. That's just who they are."

He cautioned, though, about the dangers of letdowns.

"There are two types of players in the National Football League: Those that are getting better and those that are getting worse," he said. "The ones that are getting better, they're ascending players and they maximize their earning power. Those that are getting worse are descending players, and a descending player, if he doesn't try to get better, it could be catastrophic for his career and his earning power."

Jackson gets more carries

Running back Steven Jackson, who last week pleaded publicly for the coaches to "give me the ball," got it on a fourth-and-2 play early in the second quarter. He was stopped for no gain up the middle, and the possession ended at the Minnesota 8-yard line.

Vitt pointed out that Jackson failed because he missed an open hole. "There was a lane there," Vitt said. "Steven's got to hit it, and he knows that."

Jackson, who carried 19 times for 67 yards, needs still more work, according to Vitt. "I think that Steven's the kind of guy, the more you give him the ball, the more he gets into the rhythm," he said. "We've just got to get him the ball more."