By Bernie Miklasz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Monday, Oct. 13 2008
LANDOVER, MD. — When the Rams' buses rolled into FedEx Field on Sunday morning,
the Washington Redskins and their fans had to expect that this was going to be
one of the easiest days of the season.

The same old sorry Rams were here, wobbling in with an 0-4 record and seemingly
poised to donate more blood as the NFL's worst team. And the Redskins were 4-1
after raiding Dallas and Philadelphia for consecutive road wins.

But little did we know that a different team would get off the bus. This wasn't
Scott Linehan's team. The Rams were Jim Haslett's team now.

And the Rams shocked the NFL and 90,376 fans by upsetting the Redskins 19-17.

The Rams shocked everyone except themselves. But it was an adventure. The Rams
had to survive injuries that left them with only three cornerbacks for much of
the game. And seven-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Orlando Pace limped off in
the fourth quarter. The Rams had to overcome an early fumble by Steven Jackson
that set up a quick 7-0 lead for Washington. After pushing back to take a 16-7
lead, the Rams promptly blew it, and trailed 17-16 with 3 minutes, 47 seconds
remaining.

Same old Rams, right?

No. Brand new head coach, brand new attitude.

"Coach Haslett told us all week that we just had to believe in ourselves," said
Dante Hall, the return man and wideout. "All week Haslett reminded us that
often the difference between teams in this league is confidence and swagger.
Even when we were down 17-16, we still felt that we would win. In the past you
could sense that something would go wrong and there would be a bad ending. But
this week, it didn't matter. We were going to get the score and we were going
to win."

After overcoming one final episode of that old Rams karma — an incredibly dumb
15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on hothead guard Richie Incognito — the
Rams were saved by kicker Josh Brown, who drilled the winning 49-yard field
goal.

But in reality the Rams were rescued by Haslett, who managed to install a new
team personality in less than two weeks of practice.

I don't know if it can hold, but this was a remarkable victory.

Under the same set of circumstances, Linehan's Rams would have curled into the
fetal position. But Haslett's team won't go so quietly. On his first game day
on the job, Haslett earned instant credibility with his players for a simple
reason: The message he pounded into their heads all week — keep fighting
through adversity — became the attitude that carried the Rams through the
difficult times. The Rams, for once, were able to absorb the blows to their
psyche.

Sure, Haslett needed lots of help. Brown kicked four field goals, including
that titanic shot as time ran out. The winning drive was salvaged by a
spectacular 43-yard catch by rookie wideout Donnie Avery on third and 13. Hall
had two nifty returns. And the Rams defense had four sacks and forced three
turnovers, one a 75-yard fumble return for a TD by safety O.J. Atogwe.

Of course, it comes down to players making plays. But a coach can make a
difference by the way he prepares his team and by the way he can make the team
an extension of his personality. And Haslett has always been a pugnacious
fighter.

"He's been there before and knows how to manage a team," Pace said. "Guys are
comfortable with him as a leader. And guys are really buying in to what he's
saying. You didn't see guys put their heads down today and that was a big
difference."

If Haslett goes 6-6 in the final 12 games, he'll be retained for 2009, unless
the team is sold. That's in his contract. Haslett is prepared to make a tough
stand and do everything in his power to give the Rams a reason to keep him as
head coach beyond the end of the season.

"My family loves it in St. Louis and I want to stay," Haslett said. "Given
enough time I know I can change things and help the organization. I'm going to
work as hard as I can, and I need everyone's help."

In the locker room Sunday, Haslett gave the game ball to the entire
organization as a gesture of unity.

"Hopefully we can unite Rams Park and make them feel good about the jobs
they're doing," Haslett said. "If we can do that within that building and this
team, it will get to St. Louis, and get to these fans, and maybe we can rally
the people. I'm glad for everybody. I'm glad for our fans. I'm glad for the
people in our building. I'm glad for the Rams organization that we could win a
game today."

This was Haslett's first win as a head coach since Nov. 27, 2005, in his final
season in New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina changed everything. On a day of
comebacks for a determined new head coach and his inspired team, the Rams
didn't get thrown under the bus this time. They got off that bus and won a
game. Stunning.