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St. Louis Left with Plenty to Play For

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  • St. Louis Left with Plenty to Play For

    By Nick Wagoner
    Staff Writer

    By this time of the NFL season, the playoff picture usually begins to crystallize. It doesn’t necessarily become clear, but people generally have an idea of who is a contender and who isn’t.

    After St. Louis’ 45-17 loss to Green Bay at Lambeau Field on Monday night, the Rams seemed as lost as they have all season, falling to 5-6. It was their second consecutive blowout loss and left many wondering where they stand. Stunningly, there is still plenty left to play for.

    So much left, actually, that quarterback Marc Bulger is almost in disbelief.

    “It’s kind of funny, but I think we would still be in the playoffs right now,” Bulger said. “Whether that’s a good thing or not, who knows? If we can somehow fix some things and get on a roll, who knows what could happen in the playoffs.”

    Seattle lost 38-9 to Buffalo at home Sunday, falling to 6-5. That puts the Seahawks one game ahead of the Rams in the NFC West Division, but they must continue to stay ahead, because St. Louis owns all possible tiebreakers against them.

    As strange as it is with Seattle and St. Louis competing for the title of most consistently inconsistent, there is another important title still readily available to either: the NFC West.

    The only thing clear about the NFC is that just about every team still has a mathematical shot at making the playoffs. San Francisco at 1-10 and Washington at 3-8 seem to be the only teams that have little to no chance of making it to the postseason.

    Philadelphia has already clinched the NFC East Division with a 10-1 record. Atlanta is almost certain to clinch its playoff spot as early as next week with a 9-2 record. After those four teams have established where they stand that leaves one huge glut of teams vying for divisions and wild card spots alike.

    There are 12 teams between 7-4 and 4-7 left in the NFC, holding out hope of making it to the playoffs.

    Rams coach Mike Martz said he can’t worry about playoff scenarios with the team struggling as it is right now.

    “I’m not concerned about that at this point, I’m really not,” Martz said. “I’m concerned about how well we’re playing. Right now, that’s insignificant to even think about that. We have just got to get this team playing better. If we do that, then we can take the next step.”

    Getting better has to start soon, though. With five games left and four against opponents from the NFC, every game becomes more crucial. If it were to come down to it, and it is likely that there will be at least two teams with identical records come playoff time, record against NFC opponents is one of the main tiebreakers.

    That means if the Rams can beat (in order) San Francisco, Carolina, Arizona and Philadelphia, it could go a long way toward earning a playoff berth. St. Louis goes on the road for the game against the Panthers and Cardinals, but will host the Eagles and *****, with the regular season finale Jan. 2 against the Jets. All of those games appear winnable, especially with the Eagles having their division wrapped up (of course, they could be battling the Falcons for homefield advantage).

    At the top of the list of what needs fixing is the Rams’ inability to stop the run. Green Bay back Najeh Davenport gashed St. Louis for 178 yards on 19 carries for his first career 100-plus yard performance. He is not the first to do that this season, joining New Orleans’ Aaron Stecker, who had 106 yards rushing on Sept. 26.

    Every week the Rams attempt to cure what ails the run defense, but defensive end Leonard Little said his team has yet to find the right medicine.

    “I wish I had the answer to it,” Little said. “I don’t know what that answer is going to be. We look at film every week and try to adjust things to stop the run and we haven’t done it.”

    In spite of the woes against the run, the Rams special teams did make some strides against Green Bay. They limited the Packers to 18 yards per kickoff return and dropped a pair of punts inside the 20. But, it seems, every time St. Louis solves a problem, another leak springs somewhere else.

    So, how fast can the Rams plug those leaks? That question will determine where this season goes from here. There is plenty of football left and even more at stake.

    “There’s a lot to play for,” Little said. “We are not out of anything. We could still make the playoffs with the way the NFC is going. We just have got to do better.”

    At this point, it is clear there are many teams that have to do better. Whichever teams do it the fastest will get their shot on the NFL’s biggest stage.

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  • RamWraith
    Rams switch focus to race for wild card
    by RamWraith
    By Jim Thomas
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    Monday, Nov. 14 2005

    The Rams lost any reasonable chance to win the NFC West on Sunday in Seattle.
    But with seven games left to play, this is no time to pack it in and start
    planning vacation trips in January and February.

    Interim head coach Joe Vitt did everything in his power to stress that point
    Monday, and he did so in vintage "Jersey Joe" style.

    "When these guys came in the (meeting) room today, we didn't put candles in the
    room, and have organ music playing, and violins, and the Grim Reaper around the
    corner," Vitt said Monday.

    Translation: Even at 4-5, all is not lost for the 2005 Rams.

    On the one hand, the Rams' fourth division title in seven seasons appears out
    of reach. At 7-2, Seattle could stumble down the stretch. But the Rams realize
    that's a very long long shot.

    "The way they're playing, that's going to be tough to see," wide receiver Torry
    Holt said. "But I know one thing: what we can handle is our end of the deal."

    On the other hand, even if the division title no longer is a realistic goal,
    there are two wild-card playoff berths to be had in the NFC.

    "We've got a whole lot to play for," defensive end Leonard Little said. "We
    could win 11 games, go 11-5 or whatever."

    The Rams would have to run the table over the rest of the regular season to
    make that happen. Realistically speaking, the Rams probably must win six of
    seven to earn their sixth playoff berth in seven seasons.

    As quarterback Marc Bulger put it: "We don't have much margin for error
    anymore. We've got to start winning games. If we don't win the division for
    some reason, we've got to put ourselves in a position to get a (wild-card)
    playoff spot."

    Entering the Dallas-Philadelphia Monday night game, nine teams had better
    records than St. Louis. Four of those nine probably will end up winning
    division titles, leaving St. Louis the task of somehow moving ahead of four
    other teams to earn a wild-card berth.

    The task is daunting, but not impossible. For one, there are a whopping 17
    head-to-head matches remaining among those nine teams currently ahead of St.
    Louis. Somebody has to lose those games, which gives the Rams a chance to make
    up ground if they can start stringing together victories.

    But this year, it will take more than eight victories to grab a wild-card. Last
    season, both Minnesota and the Rams claimed wild-card berths at 8-8 in what was
    a very weak NFC. Records were deflated in the NFC because of a near-record
    dominance by the AFC in inter-conference play. The AFC...
    -11-15-2005, 04:26 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams need a magic ride to add up to playoff berth
    by RamWraith
    By Bryan Burwell
    ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
    Monday, Nov. 14 2005

    This was not how it was supposed to be. All around the visitor's locker room in
    Seattle, the Rams quietly sorted through their belongings and began stuffing
    them and their regrets into garment bags and shoulder sacks for the long ride
    home. The game was over, the race for the NFC West was reduced to a pipe dream,
    and the Rams were suddenly staring at a second-half itinerary full of
    uncertainty.

    "I'm mad right now, but I can tell you one thing for sure, this season is far
    from over," Tyoka Jackson said. "We blew a chance to get back in this playoff
    hunt, but we got some help because several teams lost games, too. We know we're
    not out of it. I may not know very much, but I do know that."

    The Rams are 4-5 with seven games to play, and all we have to go with is the
    evidence in front of us. Right now, the Rams look like an 8-8 team, tempting
    you with promise one game (beating Jacksonville), only to frustrate you with
    maddening failures (Seattle) the next. This loss to Seattle - just like the
    opening-season loss to the woeful ***** - probably are going to be the ones
    that will keep them out of the playoffs.

    Yet even with those wasted opportunities, the Rams still have a chance to alter
    our beliefs that they've already defined themselves as a frustrating
    middle-of-the-road pretenders. The opportunity is still there for a little old
    championship magic to resurface and produce an improbable late-season surge to
    the postseason.

    "I don't look at the standings, to be perfectly honest," Marc Bulger said after
    the loss Sunday. "But our goal is still to win this division. It can still
    happen. One thing I've learned is that crazy things can happen. Remember last
    year when we were 6-8 and everyone thought we were dead? Well we ended up in
    the playoffs, didn't we? So maybe history can repeat itself."

    Maybe it can, but the Rams are running short on time. They have put themselves
    in the demanding position of probably having to win six out of their last seven
    games to even get a crack at one of those wild-card slots. The road to revival
    begins Sunday at home against the Arizona Cardinals and The Man Whose Name Must
    Never Be Spoken (my little Harry Potter homage to quarterback who used to play
    here; I made a promise after the last Cardinal game that I would let this QB
    rivalry thing go, so I will not stir the pot anymore on the MVP who used to
    play here; I will not dredge up his name as a cheap trick to sell papers, stir
    up controversy or re-open unhealed wounds ... well, at least not until Friday).

    The simple math says...
    -11-15-2005, 04:25 AM
  • RamWraith
    Rams Must Take Long Road to Playoffs
    by RamWraith
    Monday, November 14, 2005

    By Nick Wagoner
    Senior Writer

    After Sunday’s loss in Seattle dropped the Rams to 4-5 on the season, it became clear that the Seahawks have finally staked their claim to the NFC West Division title.

    With a strong possibility that Seattle will claim the division based on its three-game lead and tiebreaker advantages over St. Louis, the Rams must now find an alternate path to the postseason.

    That path will probably consist of a similar trail to the one the Rams had to travel last season when they sneaked in as a wild card at 8-8 while Seattle won the division at 9-7.

    Considering the level of competition and amount of teams competing for a spot in the NFC, that task will be much more difficult than last season.

    But coach Joe Vitt said the Rams aren’t ready to pack it in after their 31-16 loss to the Seahawks.

    “When these guys came in today we didn’t put candles in the room, have organ music playing and violins and the Grim Reaper around the corner,” Vitt said. “We lost a football game yesterday through our own mistakes, through needless penalties, (we’ll) discuss them, coach them, be accountable for them and then we have to move on. That’s what it is. There is nothing I can do about the past except learn from it and come back here Wednesday. We get to go to practice; we don’t have to do anything. We have been doing this job since we were in seventh and eighth grade playing football. Now we are getting paid for it. Why should that change our approach? We get to play a game this weekend, I am excited about that.”

    Vitt expressed that message to the team Monday morning, though that address was probably slightly more, ahem, colorful. So long as the team embraces that attitude, there is still a realistic possibility for the Rams to get back into the playoff hunt.

    St. Louis’ schedule shapes up favorably for the final seven games. Heading into Monday night’s game feature Philadelphia against Dallas, the Rams’ final seven opponents have a combined record of 23-38 with only Dallas having a winning record.

    The Rams also benefit from having the chance to play four teams that are still in position to reach the postseason with games remaining against the Cowboys, Eagles, Washington and Minnesota. Of those games, the Rams get Philadelphia and Washington at home. Wins in those games would not only boost the Rams’ record, but also give them a decided advantage were it to come down to tiebreakers.

    “I don’t think we are in trouble,” free safety Mike Furrey said. “We still have seven games left. There is a long way to go. We have four out of seven at home. We are all right.”

    It’s probably safe to say that eight wins simply won’t get it done this year as it did last. It’s also possible that nine wins would also fall short.

    As it stands, there are...
    -11-15-2005, 04:25 AM
  • Rambos
    Well, somebody has to win the NFC West
    by Rambos
    There is an increasingly strong possibility that the champion will have a losing record.

    Not only that, a 7-9 St. Louis or Seattle or San Francisco team could wind up hosting a first-round playoff game against a team that has won 10 or 11 games, maybe more.

    That potentially embarrassing scenario results from an NFL rule that guarantees each division champion a home playoff game.

    With five weeks to go, Seattle and St. Louis are tied for first at 5-6, with San Francisco 4-7 and Arizona 3-8.

    As Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck put it, "Yeah, it's weird."

    In games outside their division, NFC West teams are 10-20. Only St. Louis is respectable at 4-4. The division has played a big role in Kansas City's revival. The AFC West-leading Chiefs have beaten San Francisco 31-10, Arizona 31-13 and Seattle 42-24.

    The coaches of the four NFC West teams don't like to talk about the sorry state of their division. They're understandably consumed by trying to right their respective ships.

    "I don't know. It's hard for me to speculate on that," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said on Tuesday when asked if he thought the division winner would have a losing record.

    Whisenhunt's Cardinals, winners of the NFC West the past two seasons, are mired in a six-game losing streak and were embarrassed on national television in a 27-6 home loss to San Francisco on Monday night.

    "My focus right now is really worrying about what we do. As a Cardinal answer to a non-Cardinal question, I'm really worried about what we're going to do," Whisenhunt said. "I'm not worried about that right now. We have played all the three teams in our division and to me they have all been good football teams."

    To him maybe.

    Here is a look at the "contenders" and what they face to try to finish at least at .500.

    —The Rams: St. Louis could have the best shot. After going 6-42 the past three seasons and 1-15 last year, the Rams are on the rise under second-year coach Steve Spagnuolo and rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. They play three of their last five against NFC West opponents. A sweep there and St. Louis could lose to Kansas City and New Orleans and still finish 8-8. It could come down to the regular-season finale at Seattle on Jan 2.

    —The Seahawks: Seattle has allowed 76 points in its last two games, losses at New Orleans and at home against Kansas City. On the positive side, the Seahawks have a home game against the Carolina Panthers, whose only win this season was against, of course, an NFC West foe — 23-20 over San Francisco. But the Seahawks have Atlanta at home and are at Tampa Bay. Seattle might have to sweep San Francisco and St. Louis to climb to .500.

    —The *****: San Francisco was the preseason favorite but started 0-5. The ***** have won...
    -11-30-2010, 06:03 PM
  • Guest's Avatar
    Despite their 5-5 record, Rams can make playoffs
    by Guest
    Despite their 5-5 record, Rams can make playoffs
    By Jim Thomas
    Of the Post-Dispatch
    11/28/2004

    GREEN BAY, Wis. - They manhandled San Francisco in the first half on Oct. 3. Staged a fourth-quarter comeback of historic proportions in Seattle on Oct. 10. Two weeks ago in the Seattle rematch, the Rams put on a first-quarter offensive display reminiscent of the Greatest Show on Turf.

    But in terms of dominance in 2004, that's about it for the Rams. It's been a season of one step forward, one backward, adding up to a well-deserved 5-5 record.

    "We've been like a roller coaster this year," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We haven't had much consistency, and that's what we're trying to do now. We're trying to find our identity. We can't be up and down. We can't play when we feel like it."

    With six games remaining and a lot left to play for, can the Rams finally kick it in gear? Are they even capable of finding that gear?

    "I'm hoping it starts Monday night," wide receiver Torry Holt said Saturday. "I'm really tired of the talking, because it's the same thing each week. We're preparing well. We're doing this well. We're doing that well.

    "Then we get out in the game and we start well, and then we have some mishaps. Now is the time to shut up and put up. So I'm going to see how we respond on Monday."

    Despite all of the pratfalls and setbacks, the Rams would qualify as a wild-card team if the playoffs started today.

    "I've mentioned that to them," coach Mike Martz said. "That's the reality of the situation, and they have to appreciate that. We have control of our own destiny at this point. And that has to mean something to them."

    Granted, this probably isn't the year the Rams make it to the Super Bowl. But given all they've gone through - including several left guards, a few right tackles, too many safeties to count, and some disastrous special-teams play - simply making the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons would be an accomplishment. And once you get in Paul Tagliabue's postseason pageant, who knows?

    "We're not happy with where we're at," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "That's pretty obvious."

    But, Bulger added, "We're not sitting here at 2-8. We're not where we need to be, but as bad as we've played, we're still in a position to make the playoffs."

    The NFL games on Thursday and Sunday only helped the Rams' postseason hopes. The New York Giants fell to 5-6 with a loss to Philadelphia. Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Arizona, Chicago and Detroit all fell to 4-7 with defeats.

    Most important, NFC West-leading Seattle fell to 6-5 after getting spanked by visiting Buffalo 38-9. So if the Rams can stretch their prime-time winning streak to nine...
    -11-28-2004, 10:22 PM
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