At times, it looks like an 11th straight losing season for the St. Louis Rams is a done deal.
Then games like Sunday's surprise victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos seem to show the overhaul by coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, now deep into Year 3, could really pay off.
"We're building this team and we're on the right track," Fisher said. "I think we've earned a little bit of respect."
Players have never stopped believing that consistent effort would be rewarded.
"It's fun to beat a great ballclub like that," defensive end Robert Quinn said. "Hopefully, the guys realize what we have in this room and keep building."
So far, though, results have been inconsistent to say the least. They've yet to win two straight, and which team shows up this week at San Diego is anybody's guess.
"It's gone win, loss, win, loss, win, loss," Fisher said Monday.
Three of the victories are against elite teams, with wins over the 49ers and Seahawks as well as the Broncos.
"We did everything right," rookie defensive tackle Aaron Donald said after Sunday's 22-7 victory over Denver. "We finished it off."
A week earlier, the Rams (4-6) self-destructed in the fourth quarter at Arizona, going from a four-point lead to a 17-point loss.
They blew double-digit leads in losses to the Cowboys and 49ers, and spotted the Eagles a 27-point cushion in a six-point loss.
Against the Broncos, the sixth straight opponent in a run of seven in a row against winning teams, they kept building.
"It's clearly as good of a game as we've played," Fisher said Monday. "Overall, just really happy that we got out of there with that win.
"You can't relax anytime Peyton's under center and we made enough plays to make the difference."
The offense that's among the NFL's worst had just one touchdown. But the Rams got close enough for Greg Zuerlein, who had a career day going 5 for 5 on field goals, with two beyond 50 yards.
Quarterback Shaun Hill was a difference maker in his first start since the opener, passing for 220 yards and one score. More importantly, he presided over a turnover-free day that was a key against the defending conference champ.
Rookie Tre Mason had a big game, too, with his first career 100-yard performance.
"Him throwing well helped the run game and us running well helped him throw," Mason said. "It all plays together."
The biggest key to a strong finish to the season undoubtedly will be a much-improved defense that never let the Broncos into the red zone and made two key fourth-down stops in the second half. Donald and James Laurinaitis had a sack apiece, and Trumaine Johnson and Alec Ogletree had interceptions.
The last three games, the defense has given up 34 points. Before Sunday, the season low for the Broncos' second-ranked offense was 21 points.
Manning passed for 389 yards, but the Broncos never took a snap inside the 20, with the lone score coming on Emmanuel Sanders' 42-yard reception in the second quarter. Denver had two more catches of 20 yards or longer and the secondary made the wide receivers pay.
"Yeah, we had some real big hits," said Rodney McLeod, penalized for unnecessary roughness for a perfectly timed hit that sidelined Sanders with concussion-like symptoms in the second quarter. "I hope they don't fine me."
Fisher didn't agree with the McLeod penalty, noting it was shoulder-to-shoulder contact.
The coach found it easier to smile about cornerback Janoris Jenkins' knuckle-headed delay of game call for swatting the ball out of position, because it didn't end up hurting the team. Fisher said he'd been told Jenkins had been winded and attempting to buy time after four straight pass plays.
"I didn't talk to him, but word got back that he was tired and was trying to catch his breath," Fisher said. "So, make sure that gets fixed."
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