Philadelphia, PA – The good news for the St. Louis Rams is that their brutal opening stretch to the season is almost over.
The bad news? They're still looking for their first victory of the season.
The Rams figured to be against the wall early with the way their schedule set up. Three tough games against expected playoff contenders -- Philadelphia, the New York Giants and Baltimore -- resulted in three losses by a combined 96-36 margin, despite two of those contests coming at home.
St. Louis then failed to knock off surprising Washington at home on Oct. 2, taking an 0-4 mark into the bye week.
With this past Sunday's matchup with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers looming, the Rams put themselves in a tough spot by not stealing a game or two early. Perhaps an extra week of preparation would help them surprise the Packers?
Yes and no.
The Rams certainly ran with the Packers on the stat sheet, outgaining the undefeated club 424-399 in net yardage, but came away with only a field goal in a 24-3 defeat.
Putting up points has been a struggle for St. Louis all season. The club is last in the league with an average of just 9.8 points per game and has found the end zone only four times this season. That isn't the production that was expected out of the offense, which features reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford under center and a new offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels who has a reputation for putting up points.
"In this league, if you want to win you have to score touchdowns," said Bradford, who threw for 321 yards against the Packers but was also picked off once in the red zone. "We did some good things out there, but still, we've got to find a way to score touchdowns."
In fact, the Rams came away without a touchdown despite three trips inside Green Bay's 20-yard line. In addition to Bradford's interception, the Rams settled for a Josh Brown 36-yard field goal in the final moments of the second quarter and turned the ball over on downs in the fourth frame while down 21 points.
Penalties also hurt the Rams, who were flagged seven times in the game.
"That is the frustrating part," running back Steven Jackson said. "We continue to move the ball, but as we get closer to the end zone, we allow a mental error or something that we do to ourselves -- and not the opponent -- to halt our drive and to stop our momentum. We have to continue to work through that."
That lack of production prompted the Rams to make a notable move prior to Tuesday's trade deadline, acquiring wide receiver Brandon Lloyd from Denver in exchange for a conditional 2012 draft choice. Lloyd led the NFL with 1,448 receiving yards and scored 11 touchdowns in a breakout season with the Broncos in 2010, when McDaniels was then that team's head coach.
St. Louis will hope for some improvement, and a victory, this weekend against an underachieving Dallas club that is 2-3, but then must find a way to slow down the high-scoring New Orleans Saints on Oct. 30.
After that, the Rams can at least try to get back in the mix in the NFC West, though the 5-1 San Francisco 49ers are threatening to run away with things. St. Louis gets its first division game in Arizona on Nov. 6 and then visits Cleveland (2-3) as the schedule begins to lighten a bit.
The next four games on the schedule are all NFC West clashes, including back- to-back home games against Seattle and Arizona, a road test in San Francisco and a visit to the Seahawks.
A clean run through those games could make things interesting in the division race, and the Rams won't settle for anything less.
"I want to make sure I make clear, we're not accepting losing and there's no moral victories but...the motto is still going to be 'continue to get better', and we're going to reach a certain point [where] we're going to turn this thing around," said head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
HARBAUGH HAS SOME GROWING UP TO DO
At 5-1, the San Francisco 49ers are one of the league's biggest surprises, and they showed they are for real by dealing equally-as-shocking Detroit its first loss of the season on Sunday.
The 25-19 victory over the Lions featured great back-and-forth action and made head coach Jim Harbaugh just the third Niners coach in team history to win his first three road games. He is also the fifth rookie head coach in team history to post a 5-1 start.
Those should be the accomplishments getting all the talk this week, but instead Harbaugh took the positive focus away from his club by acting like well, a rookie, during his postgame handshake with Lions head man Jim Schwartz.
With the victory clinched, Harbaugh jumped up and down on the field and pulled up his shirt while celebrating with some of his players en route to meeting Schwartz. The Niners' head coach then hardly acknowledged Schwartz in giving him a quick handshake and pat on the back. Schwartz took quick exception and chased Harbaugh towards the tunnel, with players having to separate the Detroit head coach from Harbaugh, who didn't seem interested in re-engaging their conversation.
Schwartz offered his explanation afterwards, apparently upset with something Harbaugh said.
"I don't know. [I] went to congratulate Coach Harbaugh and got shoved out of the way," he said. "[I] didn't expect an obscenity at that point, so it was a surprise to me at the end of the game."
Harbaugh insisted that he didn't say anything to Harbaugh and sort of mockingly took the blame for the incident.
"Yeah, yeah, I was just really revved up and it's totally on me," said the Niners' coach. "I shook his hand too hard. I mean, I really went in and it was a strong kind of slap, grab handshake. So, that was on me -- little too hard of a handshake there."
Though both coaches deserve some of the blame -- it is safe to say that Schwartz may have overreacted to the incident -- Harbaugh did show a complete lack of professionalism on the field. Getting excited about a big win -- which it was -- is totally understandable, but Harbaugh needed to only control himself for a few minutes before he could go nuts in the comfort of the locker room.
That being said, it's not like the coach needs to undergo a lobotomy. His passion has ignited a franchise that has been struggling to be relevant since its last playoff appearance in 2002, and he's also instilled a confidence that is showing on the field.
"No question," said quarterback Alex Smith, who is in the process of reviving his career under Harbaugh, when asked if whether his new head coach has energized the team. "I think that spark, that attitude that coach has brought in -- I mean a true blue-collar in the details of what you do, love what you do, passion for the game, football 24/7 -- that to me is what jumps out."
Under Harbaugh, the 49ers appear to be on a track that could end with an NFC West title. Let's just hope that Sunday's postgame antics were just a small bump on the way.