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Silver linings can't disperse the cloud over St. Louis Rams

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  • Silver linings can't disperse the cloud over St. Louis Rams

    Silver linings can't disperse the cloud over St. Louis Rams

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell
    [More columns]By Bryan Burwell

    As the worst week in St. Louis sports recent memory was mercifully coming to an end, inside the morgue-like locker room in the depths of the Edward Jones Dome, dutiful locker room attendants quietly scurried about gathering up the remnants of another lost sports day. They stuffed soiled uniforms into laundry bags, scooped up the tattered shreds of discarded athletic tape, then carefully attempted to restore some order to a place that appeared to have been swept up by a chaotic storm.

    This was the Rams locker room on Sunday, but it didn't look all that much different than the Cardinals clubhouse one night earlier. After a wretched, seven-day "ohhhhh-fer" disaster that made its way from San Francisco to LA, hop-scotched over to Columbia, then raced through the streets of St. Louis, one losing locker room looked just like another one.

    But there was a noticeable difference.

    On Saturday evening, the Cardinals were lamenting the end of an unfulfilled title chase, explaining the consequences of being rudely swept out of the postseason. On Sunday afternoon, the Rams — stuck in a 15-game losing streak— were talking about the rather odd subject of progress.

    They had just lost their fifth game of the season to the Minnesota Vikings, 38-10, and yet ... yeah, believe it or not, they were talking about making progress.

    After spending the season's first month in a sleepy state, the winless Rams actually came alive offensively, racking up 400 yards of offense on one of the NFL's top teams, the unbeaten Vikings. They piled up 27 first downs. Steven Jackson outrushed the NFL's premier running back, Adrian Peterson (84 yards to 69). The QB tag team of Kyle Boller (209 yards) and Marc Bulger (88) had outgunned the indestructible living legend Brett Favre (232 yards).

    And they did this against a team most NFL wise guys believe could end up in the Super Bowl. But they still lost. And lost badly, actually; done in once again by the weekly dose of self-destructive turnovers, including three incredible gaffs inside the 10-yard line and four overall, short-circuiting a legitimate shot at pulling off an enormous upset.

    "Kind of the same story as the last four games," Jackson said. "Turnovers. Unfortunate turnovers at crucial times. That's what's holding this team back."

    Still carrying the NFL's longest current losing streak, unable to crack the end zone except once, despite four trips inside the red zone.

    But can you still call this progress nonetheless?

    "Of course it's progress," center Jason Brown said. "I know the scoreboard doesn't show it, but you had to watch the whole game."

    A few feet away, Richie Incognito was asked if he thought he and his teammates had shown some progress this week. The barrel-chested guard tilted his head slightly, then slowly pondered the question as if it were a complicated conundrum.

    "Ahhh," said Incognito, "that's a double-edged sword right there."

    Incognito didn't want to go all "Up With People" giddy on us when he knew the scoreboard still registered this as a 38-10 defeat. He didn't want to be too bubbly, but he certainly wasn't willing to ignore what his offense had accomplished against such a tough Vikings defense.

    "Did we make progress? Yes and no," Incognito said. "You got to look at them as a very talented defense. They do everything they need to do to win ballgames. They stop the run, they get after the passer, and yet today we were able to run the ball (122 yards, 4.1-yard average) with some success and keep them off of our quarterbacks (only two sacks, none by Pro Bowl madman Jared Allen). So do you chalk that up to a win? No, you can't do that because we lost the game. But the scoreboard just didn't reflect how well we played and that's heartbreaking."

    In sports, we all know that all defeats are not created equal.

    Some losses sting worse than others. Some defeats carry indelible emotional bruises that can't be explained away by glass-is-half-full optimism. The Cardinals surely know that as they struggle to cope with their inglorious first-round sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

    The Rams are in a different world from the Cards, one full of greatly reduced expectations. They are still taking baby steps toward respectability. When you haven't won in a full calendar year, the bar is set rather low. After so many losses in a row, after so many lopsided defeats that didn't hold even a faint wisp of a minuscule sliver of victory, on Sunday afternoon against easily the best opponent they've faced this season, the Rams deserve to pull something positive from the pile of bad news that normally is associated with a 28-point loss.


    Absolutely, but with an enormous "YEAH, BUT ... " attached to it.

    Bad teams need to cling to "Yeah, but ..."

    They need to reach into the muck of defeat, wipe off all the mess, and yes, somehow try to polish up a clunker. But at some point, the bad teams need to learn a lesson or two about what it takes to win while enduring these gut-twisting defeats.

    The thing that separates bad teams from the good ones is that the good ones don't repeatedly kill themselves with bad handoffs or ill-advised passes, or running the wrong routes, or missing crucial blocks, or taking your eyes off the ball because you see a defender slashing through the line. Good ones also simply wrap up the ball and aggressively slam into the end zone instead of timidly backpedaling toward it.

    Good teams squash bad teams because they don't make those mistakes and punish those who do.

    As he stood in front of his locker stall, a disappointed look on his face, Jackson almost sighed as he tried to look into the Rams' not-so-distant future. "We know it's fundamental football that you have to hold on to the football," Jackson said. "I'm not making light of that. But once we turn that around, I think we can play with any football team. That was a very competitive, talented football team we just played, and if we don't (give away) those 21 points it would be interesting to see how that ballgame would have turned out."

    "Interesting" doesn't even begin to describe it.

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  • Nick
    Burwell: Rams didn't look half bad this time
    by Nick
    Burwell: Rams didn't look half bad this time
    BY BRYAN BURWELL | Posted: Monday, September 13, 2010 2:00 am

    At the end of the game, the paying customers were still on their feet, still lingering at their seats as the Rams raced off the field. And for a change, this was no bile-spitting, expletive-blurting, crazed, depressed or hostile mob of unsatisfied customers who bothered to hang around until the bitter end only to empty their spleens with a barrage of vulgarity that would make a sailor blush.

    Yes, the green but growing young Rams had lost the season opener to the visiting Arizona Cardinals, but since they had actually given these folks — more than 52,000 of them — something entertaining to talk about, the spectators lingered to cheer, not to curse. No one should have left the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday giddy about the ultimate result of the day — Cardinals 17, Rams 13 — but the paying customers could leave the premises satisfied that they had seen a good and entertaining show.

    We're not passing out "atta boys" or gold stars for effort like this was some Little League frivolity. This is still the NFL, where they are paid to play, and winning is the ultimate measure of satisfaction. But when you have been as bad as the Rams have been for such a long time, satisfaction is a relative thing. Satisfaction comes in small steps, not giant leaps. So on this Sunday in the Dome, that satisfaction was measured by an honest to goodness sense that even in defeat, people could walk away without that same old sick and depressing feeling in their guts that their favorite team was an incompetent and hopeless mess.

    Come on, admit it. The Rams didn't look half bad, did they?

    Having been up close and personal for far too many of these hideous, gawdawful nightmares of the past when the Rams always looked outgunned and outmanned, it was a treat to see that this 2010 team doesn't look like a welcome mat anymore.

    I don't know how many football games the Rams will win this season, but they do look capable of winning football games in the National Football League again, and when was the last time you could say that?

    They played the Arizona Cardinals, defending NFC West champs, on even terms right down to the last seconds. And it won't be the last game they play this close. That is the way you mark the improvement of the Rams at this stage. You mark it by noticing signs that they have upgraded, lifted themselves up from the status of NFL laughingstock to a team that has a decent chance on any particular Sunday to find a way to football games again.

    This looks like something positive is happening.

    "We believe now," defensive end Chris Long said, echoing a comment I heard throughout every corner of the locker room on Sunday. "We believe we can win now. Now, as a ballplayer, you gotta believe anyway. But there's...
    -09-13-2010, 06:33 AM
  • eldfan
    Burwell: Rams have knack for failing
    by eldfan
    Burwell: Rams have knack for failing
    Share | .StoryDiscussionBurwell: Rams have knack for failing
    BY BRYAN BURWELL, Post-Dispatch Sports Columnist

    Whatever faint residue of giddy athletic good fortune was still floating around in the air for St. Louis sports fans was officially incinerated, obliterated and charred beyond any recognition on this dismal Sunday afternoon in the Arizona desert.

    Is this the harsh comeuppance St. Louis sports fans must exchange for the uncanny joy ride of the baseball Cardinals' championship: a raw-faced, double slap-in-the-mug Sunday special that began with perhaps the most exasperating loss of the already intolerably exasperating season for the Rams and concluded with the firing of a hockey coach (Davis Payne, see you later)?

    We'll let the Blues loyalists contemplate their own miserable circumstances. But the folks who are emotionally invested in the Rams surely must be wondering how much longer this football misfortune will last. The Rams could have been celebrating their second victory in a row but instead were trying to explain how a game they controlled all afternoon ended up as a 19-13 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

    This is what happens to football teams where winning is no longer a habit. Victories slip away. Opportunities are not seized. And there is always some strange thing that happens that shouldn't happen. We can spend the rest of the night and the rest of the week picking this loss apart for all the strategic decisions that were made. But it always comes down to this with teams that no longer know how to win on a consistent basis: You have to make plays.

    When the Rams needed to make some crucial plays at the end of this game, they didn't. It's just that simple.

    One minute the Rams were in control, about to walk off the field with a victory. The next minute, they were standing in the middle of the field doing a coin flip for overtime. A moment after that, they were staring into space, marching off the field with blank expressions while the Cardinals celebrated their OT victory.

    "We had a chance to put that game away," said Chris Long.

    "It's going to be tough watching the film of this one," said Sam Bradford.

    "It's pretty difficult," said Steven Jackson. "I think we led pretty much the entire game, then let it get away, which is pretty unfortunate. ... It's too bad we couldn't pull it off."

    The Rams have fallen to 1-7 midway through a season that was supposed have been the next logical step in a dramatic turnaround back to championship contention. And this loss was a prime example of why a team can have enough talent to make you believe that they should be so much better than their record, but then clearly justify why they are exactly what their record says they should be,...
    -11-07-2011, 09:47 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Burwell: Rams Get Reacquainted With Winning
    by r8rh8rmike
    Burwell: Rams get reacquainted with winning

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    At long last this was a real feel-good story, not another maddening spin in the three-year cycle of loser's laments. There were no frustrating explanations, no grim postmortems, no clinical autopsies of another defeat. Inside the Rams' locker room in the depths of the Edward Jones Dome early Sunday evening, sweat-soaked grown men sat in front of their locker stalls, weary, bloodied and bruised - some with their legs propped up on crutches, others with various body parts swaddled in miles of tape and pounds of ice packs - every last one of them laughing and joking like little kids at recess.

    There were Steven Jackson and Mike Karney, both of them covered in red welts, but neither of them feeling any noticeable pain.

    "You could shoot me right now and I wouldn't care," Jackson cackled. "I honestly don't think I would feel a thing."

    This was coming from a man who had abruptly left the game in the first half after the Washington defense treated him like a brittle wishbone on Thanksgiving, yanking Jackson's arms and legs in about six different directions and forcing the big running back to the sidelines with a damaged groin muscle for the second half.

    But at this delirious moment, it didn't matter because Jackson and the rest of his Rams teammates were swept up in a strange case of total recall.

    Get this, people: The Rams finally remembered how to win.

    At the end of a rather impressive 30-16 dismantling of the Redskins on Sunday, your previously woebegone Rams - losers at home for two miserable, frustrating years - were getting reacquainted with that winning sensation and loving every minute of it.

    So how do you behave when you finally get off a two-year schneid?

    A little goofy. A little joyful. A little introspective. But mostly just happy as all get-out. After two ghastly years of Groundhog Day-like repetition, the Rams finally tossed aside a nightmarish 14-game home losing streak and did what good teams do when it's time to win a football game.

    "We just finished," said cornerback Ron Bartell. "We didn't shoot ourselves in the foot. We didn't make stupid plays. The first two games we had interceptions that slipped through our hands. Today, we make the interceptions and win the game."

    This time, instead of having an itemized list of self-destructive plays to rehash, the Rams could stand in front of a room full of reporters and recount the smart plays, the go-for-the-throat instances where the veteran Washington team pushed up on the previously skittish kids from St. Louis and the kids finally knew how to push back.

    When Jackson went down late in the second quarter with the Rams clinging to a 14-13 lead, you could feel the life...
    -09-27-2010, 11:01 AM
  • eldfan
    Rams have a high mountain to climb in the rebuilding process
    by eldfan
    Rams have a high mountain to climb in the rebuilding process

    Sports Columnist Bryan Burwell
    [More columns]Bryan Burwell

    A week ago down in the sun-splashed isolation of Jacksonville — where apparently NFL franchises go to suffer in wretched exile before half-empty stadiums and a dispirited fan base — the winless Rams stood on their tippy-toes like a baby brother trying to inch his way up a kitchen-door growth chart.

    Last weekend, the Rams thought that at long last they were starting to measure up. They stiffened their backs, stretched their necks, then glanced over their shoulders and convinced themselves that after 16 consecutive losses, they were finally poking their heads even with the rest of the NFL. For one oh-so-brief moment, the Rams actually flirted with victory and dared to believe that prosperity — and the end of one year of uninterrupted losing — was near.

    That overtime loss in the Florida sun had them fooled — and some of us too — into believing that this was real progress.

    Of course, now we know that wasn't progress.

    That was just the Jaguars.

    What we need to remember — and what the undefeated Indianapolis Colts reminded us of quite emphatically on Sunday in the Edward Jones Dome — is what the real standard of measure should be as the Rams continue on their path to reconstruction.

    The goal can't be about just creeping up from the bottom of the NFL barrel. It has to be about leaping out of the gutter, rising above the mediocre masses and returning to prominence. And this 42-6 beatdown by the Colts was just the sort of shock-and-awe reminder of just how far the Rams have to go to accomplish that.

    And let me be the first one to get the buildup started for next Sunday's Debacle in Detroit between your hopeless 0-7 Rams and the pathetic 1-5 Lions. One simple victory won't heal the deep and ugly scab that develops over the course of a losing streak that hit a staggering 17 games on Sunday afternoon.

    Ask the folks in Motown how long their uplifted spirits lasted when the sad-sack Lions ended their 19-game losing streak with a victory over Washington four weeks ago. I believe it lasted all of six days before the Lions started on another losing streak.

    This is not about short-term pleasure. It has to be about climbing all the way back up the pro football summit, where the Rams used to dwell and these powerful Colts seem to be holding permanent residence. Who cares how close the Rams are to bad teams like Jacksonville or Washington, or even ordinary ones like Seattle and San Francisco. Who cares if at the end of this season all they have to show for their efforts is one measly victory against a miserable team like Detroit or Tennessee? MORE BURWELL
    E-mail Bryan Burwell
    More Burwell columns
    Sound off...
    -10-26-2009, 04:01 AM
  • MauiRam
    Rams show no signs of hope in this mess ..
    by MauiRam

    They are playing winning football in old football ghost towns like Detroit and Buffalo and Oakland again. In San Francisco and Seattle and Arizona, too, their teams seem to be showing at least some faint glimmers of a football renaissance. The out-of-town scoreboards offer weekly evidence that even in such traditionally dismal outposts like Cleveland, Carolina, Tennessee and Cincinnati there are revivals in progress.

    But here in St. Louis — where football dreams go to die — this is what we get.

    No renaissance. No revival. Nothing but a miserable recurrence of the same football nightmare that has haunted this NFL franchise for the last decade.

    On Sunday afternoon the half-empty Edward Jones Dome echoed with the disgruntled voices of a frustrated fan base whose only weapons are boos and sarcasm. While they spent most of the day booing the mistake-riddled performance in this 17-10 loss to the visiting Washington Redskins, the defining moment of the game and this 0-4 season was the rousing sarcastic ovation for the proper execution of ... a fair catch.

    The Rams are heading into the bye week a dispirited and dysfunctional lot. They are a bad team that seems to regress with each week that goes by. This was supposed to be a turnaround year for the franchise, a team that was ready to take the next step to contention for the NFC West title and a playoff berth. This was supposed to be the season where the Rams returned to prominence in this city's sports conversation. Instead, they are in shambles. They beat themselves with penalties and missed assignments.

    And if things don't change dramatically, the only danger the Rams will present this season is to the long-term health of their franchise quarterback and the job security of their head coach and general manager.

    "It's very disappointing, very disappointing," said running back Steven Jackson, who measured his words carefully when someone asked him if he understood why the fans were booing, and basically said he was right there with them. "I definitely understand our fans' frustrations. There were a lot of high expectations around here. I don't think the season is written off quite yet, but ..."

    Jackson is a veteran of this mess now. His hide has gotten thick enduring all the losing. But just like the rest of us, he thought this year would be different. Which is why he took a slow, dramatic pause, then bit down on his lip before finishing his thought.

    "Hell, I'm disappointed too," he said before turning his back to the TV cameras and microphones.

    The Rams have to be better than this. There's no way they should be 0-4. There's no way they should be committing the same dumb mental mistakes week in and week out.

    But they keep doing it and it's the reason they lost again, against a Redskins team that was...
    -10-03-2011, 10:42 AM