St. Louis is known as the Gateway to the West, but for Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo it appears as if the city will simply be a passage to the unemployment line.
Saturday's 27-0 loss in Pittsburgh handed St. Louis its second six-game slide of the season. It also assured that the 2-13 Rams will finish with three victories or less for the second time in three seasons under Spagnuolo, who won just one game in his first year with the club in 2009 before lifting optimism with a 7-9 record last year.
With quarterback Sam Bradford coming off NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and Steven Jackson still manning the backfield, the Rams figured to be an offensive force this year after adding former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator over the summer.
Instead, St. Louis ranks dead last in the league with an average of 11.1 points per game and is 31 out of 32 teams with 281.7 total yards per game.
Time has never cozied up to NFL coaches, and Bradford missing five games this year due to a high ankle sprain didn't help Spagnuolo either. It now appears that the final grain of sand will drop in Spagnuolo's hourglass after this Sunday's finale versus San Francisco, with the San Diego Union-Tribune reporting on Monday that if Chargers general manager A.J. Smith is fired by San Diego, Rams owner Stanley Kroenke will quickly scoop him up.
That would lead to the exits of both current Rams general manager Billy Devaney and Spagnuolo, with the Union-Tribune stating that Smith is set to bring in Jon Gruden as the new head coach in St. Louis.
Spagnuolo said on Monday that he hadn't had any conversations with Kroenke on his status.
"Those conversations wouldn't happen anyways, so it's not anything out of the unordinary. That's nothing different," he added.
According to the same report, Spagnuolo wouldn't be out of work long, as he would join his former Philadelphia Eagles club as defensive coordinator according to league sources.
For Spagnuolo, he is just trying to figure out what went wrong this season and how he can improve the Rams should he stick around.
"I've got a notebook upstairs I've been writing [lessons] down...I think there always are lessons," Spagnuolo said. "Sometimes we miss them when we're winning because you're thinking more about that, but there'll be a number of them here. Some of the lessons will be good ones. There'll be some great examples of how to handle things or do things a certain way, and I think in a lot of ways you learn more in times like this than you do when it's going good."
Hopefully that notebook is easily transportable.
BENGALS PUSHING FOR SELLOUT
If the Cincinnati Bengals continue to have problems selling out Paul Brown Stadium for this weekend's win-and-in game versus the Baltimore Ravens, they should just buy up as much ad time as possible and run Jerome Simpson's incredible touchdown on loop.
Simpson's acrobatics in this past Saturday's game with Arizona will go down as the highlight of an exciting season in Cincinnati, but it hasn't help generate much fan interest. The Bengals grabbed control of the AFC's second Wild Card spot with a 23-16 win over Cardinals, but the game was viewed by only 41,273 fans in the 65,535-seat stadium.
In fact, Cincinnati has had just one sellout at home this season and has been blacked out locally in 10 of the past 11 games. With so much on the line this weekend versus the visiting Ravens, the Bengals are pushing to fill the seats by offering a buy-one-get-one free offer to season ticket holders.
A win over the Ravens this Sunday will put the 9-6 Bengals back in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons on the heels of a 4-12 campaign. They can also get in with a New York Jets loss or tie coupled with a loss or tie by Oakland, or a defeat for the Jets and a Denver loss to Kansas City.
"We'd love to have the home-field advantage [versus the Ravens]," said rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who has teamed this year with fellow freshman A.J. Green to spark the Bengals. "To get everyone here and to have the place rocking it definitely is an advantage for us. It's going to be big. Hopefully, everyone will come out and support us."
Dalton's plea was echoed by many other Bengals players as well as head coach Marvin Lewis. Should Cincinnati fail to sell the game out, one has to wonder if that will deflate the Bengals before they even step on the field.
"I think people that haven't seen us play in person will have a good time," Lewis said on Monday. "We'll do some incredible things. We'll do some things I wish we didn't quite do, I'll tell you that (laughs). But we'll do some incredible things. It will be a good football game. We are playing a very good football team."
COLTS NOT PUSHING THEIR 'LUCK'
The race for the top overall pick of the 2012 draft figures to net the winner Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, but that isn't that much of a rewarding prize for the two teams in contention for the pick: the Colts and St. Louis Rams.
From the Colts standpoint, getting Luck would most certainly brighten their future, but he would also serve as a very expensive backup at first to the 35- year-old Manning, who Indianapolis figures still has a bunch left in the tank despite his multiple neck surgeries that cost him all of the 2011 season.
The Colts could have secured the No. 1 pick with a loss to Houston last Thursday, but instead picked up their second straight victory following an 0-13 start. They are now tied with the Rams for the worst record in the league, with 3-12 Minnesota no longer in the mix after defeating Washington on Saturday.
Should Indianapolis still land the top selection, it will face a big decision. Does it still take Luck to serve as Manning's eventual replacement? Trade the pick?
Or do the Colts give the prestigious No. 1 selection title to another top prospect, such as offensive tackles Matt Kalil out of USC or Iowa's Riley Reiff?
No matter what happens, Manning is still in the plans for the future.
"I think if the situation is where he's back and he's healthy, then I see him coming back and playing here," Colts owner Jim Irsay said last week. "I think that there is a lot of speculation about the draft pick and all those sort of things, but I think what people have to realize is this: is the likes of Peyton Manning to be seen again? It is not coming, if ever, for a very, very long time. You're not going to go in this draft or the next draft and get another Peyton Manning."