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Wherever Rams go, frustration goes along
Wherever Rams go, frustration goes along
Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell
[More columns]By Bryan Burwell
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Every Sunday afternoon, each room feels the same. From San Francisco to Seattle, Washington to Glendale, Atlanta to Foxborough or the swamps of the Jersey Meadowlands, it has turned into a solemn football caravan. So many interchangeable, frustrated Rams players moving from town to town, stadium to stadium, searching for victory, but somehow always ending up in another nondescript locker room like this one, fruitlessly trying to rehash the bitter angst of 365 days of winless Rams football.
"It's just so frustrating," said Will Witherspoon.
He was trying to get dressed, but it looked like he was being tortured.
The battered and bruised Rams linebacker, who has been on board through 16 consecutive games without victory, gingerly tried to slip on his slacks.
He tried to put on his dress shirt.
What hurts, he was asked.
"My hip ... my back ... everything," he said with no exaggeration.
Then Witherspoon tried to
explain how bad it felt to be a part of this 16-game losing skid, the longest current streak in pro football, the one that has been strung out for exactly one full calendar year. He was asked what it felt like to be witness to — and a participant in — a string of losing football that has lasted the equivalent of a full NFL season.
Zero and 16.
And that may have been the greatest pain of all.
"I don't really listen to all of that," said Witherspoon, still wincing as he slowly buttoned his shirt. "I don't deal with 0-16. Last season is last season. I don't think about all of that. All I know is where we are right now."
And where exactly is that?
"That's 0-6," he said.
On Sunday on the grass carpet inside this legendary old football barn formerly known as the Gator Bowl, the winless Rams came just about as close as they could to proving that they aren't what their record says they are. They played the struggling Jaguars mostly on even terms, leading for long stretches of this contest, and flirting tantalizingly close to getting off this losing skid. But of course, by the time the game ended the Rams had lost again, this time stretching out the agony of defeat into sudden-death overtime before falling 23-20 to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"We're not 0-16," Witherspoon repeated. "We're 0-6. This is where we are. But if you look at this team, if you look at anyone in this locker room, that's not who we believe we are. We think we're better than that. We definitely know we're better than that. We're guys that work hard week in and week out and we believe that we can get the job done."
He paused for a moment to tuck in his shirt, and he winced again.
"We're on the verge," Witherspoon said.
For most of the game, it really did feel like this was going to be the day that the losing ended. But by the end of the afternoon, it was just another painful step added to this torturous parade of losing that has endured since the Rams last tasted victory Oct. 19, 2008 at home against the Dallas Cowboys.
With a little less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, defensive end Leonard Little leaped into the air, snatched the football out of Jacksonville tailback Greg Jones' hands, then galloped down the sideline with the football tucked in his padded mitts. Five yards from the end zone, Little went airborne, diving at the orange pylon.
Touchdown St. Louis, and just like that, the Rams were ahead 17-13.
And just like that, hope hung over the old Gator Bowl like a billowing cloud.
"When Leonard scores that touchdown, I was thinking, 'Wow, these are the things that usually happen to us," said guard Richie Incognito, who was watching the play develop from the far sidelines. "It's usually the other team that intercepts the ball and goes into the end zone. But this time, it was us. It was Leonard running in for the score, and now I'm thinking, 'Holy crap! We're going to win this ballgame.'"
But there's a very good reason the Rams haven't won a football game in 365 days. One of the reasons they lose is because at the end of regulation, the Rams' defense had NFL neophytes named Leger Douzable, C.J. Ah You, David Roach and Bradley Fletcher rotating on and off the field, and proven veterans like Witherspoon, Ron Bartell and James Hall on the sidelines with various injuries.
And so almost at will, the Jags got the kickoff and marched right back up the field to retake the lead. And even when the Rams came right back to send it into overtime, the moment Bartell called "tails" and the coin came up "heads," you knew exactly how this would ultimately play out.
Other guys always win. Rams always lose.
Yet even though the losing didn't end Sunday, I won't spend much time second-guessing whether when trailing 20-17 near the end of regulation, Steve Spagnuolo should have called for the offense to take one shot into the end zone with the ball on the Jacksonville 9-yard line and only seven seconds on the clock.
To me, the only thing worse than losing in overtime would have been to lose it right there on a needless gamble. When you haven't won a football game in a calendar year, how bad would it have felt if in going for a victory in regulation something went awry?
Do I have to remind you that the injury-depleted receiving corps left Bulger with only three healthy receivers — the spectacularly undecorated trio of Danny Amendola, Tim Carter and Keenan Burton — at the end of the game?
With all the odd things that have happened to the Rams over the course of this 16-game losing streak, did you really want to tempt fate with that gamble? Not me. Unless Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce in their primes were suiting up again, the right move for the talent-depleted Rams was to go for the tie, which Spagnuolo did, and take your chances in overtime.
Ultimately, the results ended up the same as they've been every Sunday since last Oct. 19. But now when you look across the rest of the NFL landscape and see that the winless Tennessee Titans were getting drubbed 59-0, at least there is some fleeting solace that it's a lot better here than over there. While some sorry, no-account teams are tumbling deeper into the abyss, the Rams really do seem to be showing signs that they're getting closer to winning.
"You can taste it," Incognito said as he started to walk out of the locker room. "The wins are going to come. We've gone from just kind of meandering in the streets (last year) to getting to the doorstep in the preseason. And now we've walked up to the doorstep and we're knocking on the door."
Now all we want to know is, when is someone going to open the door and let them in?
Re: Wherever Rams go, frustration goes along
Gives me hope.
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