As a regular NFL game has four quarters, so does the NFL season. The sixteen week schedule is divided into four segments, or four quarters. Like a game, the season has a half-way point. Despite the existence of a bye week, it comes after the first two quarters or the first eight games. Let’s take a look back at the Rams first three quarters, their wins and losses, the highs and the lows.
The Rams started their season losing wide receiver Donnie Avery to a knee injury during the pre-season. They then traded with the Baltimore Ravens for Mark Clayton, a veteran wide receiver that showed playmaking ability early in his career with the Ravens. The trade paid dividends, as rookie quarterback Sam Bradford connected with Clayton for 10 receptions, 119 yards in the season opener at home vs. the Arizona Cardinals. However, the team made too many mistakes and lost that game. The Rams then took their first road trip out to the west coast to take on the Oakland Raiders. Bradford gave the organization and fan base hope and a lot to cling to. Unfortunately the defense struggled to stop Darren McFadden, along with a blocked and missed field goal, not to mention and dumb penalties, and the Rams were defeated and stood 0-2.
Then the Washington Redskins walked in the LOU with their chests poked out and chins arrogantly high in the air for several reasons. Their roster touted double digit playmakers and difference makers starting with Donovan McNabb, and Super Bowl winning Head Coach Mike Shannahan. Rams defense took over and put the pedal to the metal with creative blitz packages and helped get the ball back in Bradford’s hands, keeping the Redskins off the field while controlling ball possession, leading to the first victory of the season, 30-16.
Flying high and into St. Louis came the Seattle Seahawks, the NFC West division foe that the Rams struggled to defeat for the past several years. All phases of football (offense, defense and special teams) slapped the Seahawks around and sent them packing back to the Pacific Northwest with a 20-3 defeat, putting the Rams at 2-2.
With the Rams gaining confidence with every win, this young team still had a few lessons to learn about how to handle losing and winning. They can’t get too low on the losses and high on the wins. The Rams went to Detroit with a little swagger and feeling good about where they are as a team and their overall record. The Lions took the opening kick-off and didn’t look back, pounding the Rams 44-6. Oh yes and former Head Coach Scott Linehan put it to the Rams organization until the final seconds ticked off the clock.
The former AFC West champion San Diego Chargers limped into St. Louis with a poor overall record, several injuries to their playmakers and a special teams unit that was losing games for them. Pro Bowl quarterback Phillip Rivers took the field and his unit struggled to run the ball while the offensive line struggled to protect him. They lost their Pro Bowl tight end to an ankle injury in the first half and Patrick Crayton emerged as the leading receiver, while rookie Ryan Matthews limped around the LOU with only adequate production. The Rams defense rose to the occasion, again displaying pressure on San Diego’s pocket, causing turnovers and playing downhill against the run. The Rams offense played smart fast and together, making plays when needed and outscoring a team that was extremely talented despite injuries.
The Rams were 3-3 and headed to southwest Florida to take on the red hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The clash of what I called the two top elite quarterbacks in the National Football League (this includes Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco). The game lived up to the hype. This game went back and forth with both offenses playing very well, and both defenses bending but not breaking. The Rams held the Bucs to field goals until the final drive. Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman led the Bucs on a fourth quarter comeback and passing for the game winning touchdown, snatching the victory away from the Rams with only 10 seconds remaining.
My former organization the Carolina Panthers made a pit stop in St. Louis. They were out coached, out played and outscored. Bradford took the command of the offense and the defense performed very well.
After the bye week, which came at a great time because injuries were mounting, the Rams made the west coast trip to the city by the bay, San Francisco. The 49ers came off their bye week as well and a trip back across the pond (London, England). This was a divisional game that I was looking forward too. I still feel the 49ers have the best defense in the division and are only a quarterback away from winning the division and competing deep in the playoffs. Both teams played well and the competition was fierce on the field. Both coaching staffs had good game plans and attached each other’s weakness. In the end the game went into overtime, were the 49ers made more plays and won 23-20.
The NFC South leaders, the Atlanta Falcons, then traveled to the ED. One of the NFC Conference best teams this season, they came in with a very potent attack in the air, a scrappy defense and Head Coach who I know very well. They were determined to push past the up and coming Rams. The Dirty Birds flew in, took care of business and flew out of town with a 34-17 victory.
The Rams next opponent lives one mile above sea level. The Denver Broncos were struggling on defense and special Teams. Quarterback Kyle Orton and receiver Brandon Lloyd are one of the best combinations in all of football. It was Bradford’s day, though, as he threw for 300 plus yards and 3 touchdowns. The defense bent but didn’t break, shutting down the Denver offense when they needed to, winning their fifth game of the year.
The Rams next road trip took them West to the desert to play the Arizona Cardinals. The Cards have struggled all season at the quarterback position despite having playmakers and difference makers on the roster (their overall record doesn’t really tell the story of the talent level). The Rams dialed up several blitz packages that the Cardinals offensive line struggled to block. Arizona went through three quarterbacks and lacked production from all three combined. What kept the game close was the Cardinals’ defense, some grown men that played very salty down the stretch. The Rams pulled off a back to back win and flew home 6-6.
Entering the fourth quarter of the season, the Rams have a split of home and away games. Starting with Sunday’s contest against. the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the Super Dome. Then there’s a trip home to face the Kansas City Chiefs. San Francisco comes to the LOU on December 26th, and the final game, in Seattle on January second, could be the most important with the NFC West Division on the line.
My prediction is that the Rams will finish 8-8 and be crowned NFC West Champions. Once in the tournament the sky is the limit. Kroenke, Demoff and Spagnuolo sounds like a law firm, but it’s not. It is the Rams brain trust!