ST. LOUIS – After scoring 21 points in the first quarter for the first time since the middle of the 2008 season, the St. Louis Rams looked poised to run away from an opponent for the second game in a row. The Rams dominated the Chicago Bears for the better part of the opening 30 minutes, but just before going into the locker room at the half, a chain of unfortunate events began.
Left guard Chris Williams left the game with a head injury. Running back Zac Stacy soon exited with a similar injury. And at the start of the third quarter, cornerback Trumaine Johnson followed suit. Three of the team’s key starters were out.
Then, with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Rams took their biggest hit by delivering one. Defensive tackle Michael Brockers was flagged for roughing Bears quarterback Josh McCown on a sack that appeared to be so fundamentally sound you could almost hear the applause from Tim Duncan in San Antonio.
Instead of a drive-killing stop, the Bears got new life and scored to get to within six points, at 27-21.
“They just kept playing,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.
For those who have seen the Rams of recent vintage, at least pre-Fisher, "just keep playing" would have equated to something like packing up their briefcases and calling it a day.
What this edition of the Rams did was respond with resilience and gumption, a trend that continues to pop up in tiny spurts.
“Seven points, that’s the only thing we were thinking about,” guard Rodger Saffold said. “That’s what we were saying on the sidelines. I can’t lie. Emotions got into it. I was extremely angry, and then the only way to overcome that is to work.”
The Rams' offense immediately put together a seven-play, 80-yard drive for a touchdown, with Stacy’s backup, Benny Cunningham, doing most of the damage. One minute later, Rams defensive end Robert Quinn forced a fumble, recovered it and raced 31 yards for a touchdown and the final margin.
With the game teetering in the balance, the Rams didn’t flinch. They offered an angry stare and pushed the Bears over the edge.
“This team, we are a bunch of fighters,” Saffold said. “We’re a bunch of dogs caged, so when you cut us loose, you see what we can do.”
Sunday’s win gave the Rams a two-game win streak, but how they achieved it might speak to something bigger. The Rams are 5-6 and still sitting on the outskirts of any realistic playoff discussion. But consecutive convincing wins against teams that are firmly in said postseason picture indicate the Rams just might be a team nobody wants to see down the stretch.
Prosperity has been fleeting for the Rams for most of the past decade. What little they’ve had has soon been frittered away and has often spiraled into further despair.
Over the course of the first 11 weeks this season, the Rams have clearly matured to the point where they can not only embrace prosperity but create it in the face of adversity.
“I think that we are starting to believe, which is what you need,” quarterback Kellen Clemens said. “As a whole, we are starting to believe. Coming off a big win at Indianapolis, I was proud of the guys, there’s no letdown. We didn’t come out flat coming off a bye week, a lot of times that happens.”
Even when in-game letdowns seemed plausible, the Rams found a way to get out of it. Witness the goal-line stop by linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar on the first drive of the third quarter. Or the defense managing to keep the Bears out of the end zone on three plays from the Rams’ 1-yard line before they finally scored following Brockers’ penalty.
A game the Rams had in control nearly slipped away on multiple occasions, yet they discovered ways to hang on.
“We have got a bunch of tough dudes in this locker room,” end Chris Long said. “We knew that. Everybody else is starting to figure that out.”
That may not be the sign of a team ready to make a run at the postseason. But it might be one that signals it’s going to take a mighty blow to knock them out.